Here are 20 questions to ask prospective buyer agents you are considering buying your home through. Explanations are also provided to further help you understand why the question should be asked and what answers you should be seeking. Use these questions and the answers to them as your guide to deciding which real estate licensee you want to use to help with your homebuying adventure.
Agent Question #1
“Do you, or the Company you are with, take listings or represent sellers?”
The answer you want to hear is, “No”. However, nearly all companies and agents take listings and represent sellers. The larger the company and more dominate it is in a particular marketplace the higher the risk and greater the chance that you may end up interested in one of the “in-house” listings.
Your position could be compromised if you decide to continue a purchase of such a listing through any agent with that company as they all represent every seller who has their home listed with that company. The law may require that agent to compromise or reduce their representation of you in the transaction.
If you are using the services of an agent who doesn’t specialize with listings or who is with a smaller company, such a conflict is diminished greatly and they are in a better position to fully represent you on most property you might be interested in. However, there still is a chance of a big conflict of interest on the part of the real estate licensee and hence the inability of that licensee to fully and properly represent you. Caution is advised.
TIP: Look for exclusive buyer agents or single agents who guarantee to look out for your best interest at all times and for any property, listed or for sale by owner and who never practice dual or designated agency. They will guarantee to look out for your best interest at all times and in every situation.
Agent Question #2
“Will you try to sell me one of your listed properties before you show me listings from other Real Estate Companies?”
Again, the answer you want to hear is “No”. But, the majority of agents will try to sell you one of their listed properties first, as the majority of agents either take listings themselves or are with a company that takes listings and represents sellers. Agents who take listings are required by law to attempt to sell their listings first and their company listings next before showing other properties, those listed by other agents and companies or for sale by owner.
Be prepared for this practice and make sure that the agent you decide to work with shows you ALL properties available that meet your criteria right from the very beginning, including properties for sale by owner. If an agent is unwilling to do this, find another agent with another company who will.
TIP: If you start working with an agent who primarily shows you properties that they or other agents in their company have listed and very few other properties, fire the agent and go find another agent, preferable one who represents buyers only.
Agent Question #3
“What information do you have about FiSBO (For Sale By Owner) properties that are available?”
You should work with an agent who has access to information on for sale by owner properties or who is skilled and comfortable with working with for sale by owners as a buyer agent.
In some markets many sellers are trying to sell their homes on their own without an agent. Many will try it for a few weeks and then if not successful, list the home with an agent. While it is for sale by owner, not many buyers will know that it is available, and thus you may have an advantage by getting in to see it before it gets listed. There are for sale by owner web-sites where you can search online for fsbo properties.
TIP: Make sure the agent you decide to work with is willing to and has experience working with for sale by owners in putting together purchases on behalf of buyers, including knowing how to structure the commission so that it is included in the purchase price and not paid by you as a separate expense.
Agent Question #4
“Do you represent Buyers as a Buyer’s Agent?”
The answer you want to hear is “Yes”! But, beware. Real estate salespeople also know that the answer you want to hear is, “Yes”. They therefore are eager to answer your question in the manner that you want to hear, regardless of their actual experience or training or ability to properly represent a buyer.
The challenge that this presents to you is that you need to do more probing to make sure you are working with the very best buyer agent available to you.
TIP: Keep in mind that you are looking for a “true buyer agent”. One that won’t compromise their fiduciary duties to you. Keep digging and continue to ask more of the 20 Questions To Ask Agents.
Agent Question #5
“What percentage of your business involves being a Buyer’s Agent?”
The answer you want to hear is 75% or higher as a buyer’s agent. You don’t want to hear 50% or less. That means the agent is spending the majority of their time “selling” houses and not helping people “buy” homes.
It is very hard for an agent who spends the majority of their time representing sellers, taking listings and “selling” homes to get into the proper mind-set to truly represent buyers. If you decide to work with an agent who does take listings or who is with a company that takes listings, make sure that company is a small one and make sure that the agent spends the majority of their time representing buyers.
Many large real estate companies discourage their agents from specializing in representing buyers and many require all of their agents to concentrate on listings and “selling” real estate. They may even pay a higher split with their agents for “in-house” sales thus encouraging their agents to sell houses rather than properly representing buyers and helping buyers buy another agent’s listing or a for sale by owner property.
TIP: You need an agent with the proper mind-set of helping people buy a home and not selling a home to a buyer. You don’t want a salesperson. If they appear to be sales oriented, stop the interview and call another agent.
Agent Question #6
“What training have you taken that specifically relates to being a Buyer’s Agent and representing buyers?”
There are numerous courses and certification programs specifically geared towards representing home buyers. However, many agents don’t take advantage of these course and educational opportunities.
The fact is that very few “so-called” buyer agents have taken these courses or obtained these certifications and many that have use them as a bait and switch and still don’t understand the nuances of true buyer representation and they still operate with the mentality of a salesperson and not a consultant or advocate for your best interest.
TIP: It is important that you use the services of a buyer agent who is experienced but also who is well trained in the specialty of buyer representation and who has the proper mindset. Continue with the 20 Questions To Ask an Agent for a description of these designations.
Agent Question #7
“What specific Buyer’s Agent professional designations do you have?”
These are the primary designations available for the specialty of buyer representation:
- CEBA – Certified Exclusive Buyer Agent obtained through NAEBA – The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents.
- ABR – Accredited Buyer Representative obtained through REBAC – The Real Estate Buyer Agents Council.
- CBR – Certified Buyer Representative obtained through the Real Estate Training Institute.
- CBA – Certified Buyer’s Agent obtained through the Buyer Broker Institute.
- CHEC – Certified Homeowner Educator and Counselor obtained through AHECTI – the American Homeowner Education and Counseling Training Institute.
TIP: Look for agents who have one or more of these designations as it shows that they are serious about representing buyers and it may indicate that they have some specialized knowledge and skills with regard to representing buyers.
Agent Question #8
“What other Real Estate Professional Designations do you have?”
These would include designations such as:
- GRI – Graduate Realtor Institute (only 7% of Realtors nationally have this designation).
- CRS – Certified Residential Specialist (only 3% of Realtors have this designation).
- ABRM – Accredited Buyer Representative Manager.
- CSP – Certified New Home Sales Professional.
- CNE – Certified Negotiation Expert.
TIP: Look for agents who also may have one or more of these designations as it indicates that they are very serious about the real estate business and their career. It also means that they have more knowledge and skills in representing buyers and sellers than agents who haven’t taken the time or spent the money for such additional training.
Agent Question #9
“What are the fiduciary, client level duties you would owe me if I decide to work with you as my Buyer’s Agent?”
Here we need to get somewhat technical. True Real Estate Agents owe fiduciary duties, client level services to clients just as Attorneys and CPAs do.
An easy way to remember these duties is through the acronym, “CAR LOAD”.
As in, “A real estate agent owes a CAR LOAD of duties to their Clients: Confidentiality, Accountability, Reasonable Skill & Care, Loyalty, Obedience to Lawful Instruction, Advocacy and Disclosure!”.
Let’s review the fiduciary duties in more detail:
- Confidentiality – Prohibits the agent from disclosing confidential information obtained from you such as: the price you are willing to pay, the amount of mortgage you are actually qualified for, how much cash you have to work with or the level of your motivation to buy a particular home.
- Accountability – Requires the agent to properly handle all money received, e.g. escrow deposits.
- Reasonable Skill and Care – Requires the agent to protect you from foreseeable risks and to recommend that you obtain expert advice when your needs are outside the scope of the agent’s expertise.
- Undivided Loyalty – Prohibits the agent from advancing any interests that are adverse to your own. When a real estate licensee tries to work both sides of a deal and tries to represent both a seller and a buyer on the same home they can not provide undivided loyalty as their loyalty is compromised. They are attempting to help both a buyer obtain the lowest price and best terms for themselves and a seller obtain the highest price and best terms for themselves. These are opposing goals and thus the agent can’t be loyal to either party.
- Obedience to Lawful Instructions – Requires the agent to act subject to your continuous control and for the agent to obtain and follow all lawful instructions from you.
- Advocacy – Requires the agent to act in your best interest at all times and for the agent to proactively support your position.
- Full Disclosure – Requires the agent to disclose all information concerning your home purchase which might effect your best interest; things such as the seller’s motivation for selling, the price the seller paid for the home, deferred maintenance or defects in the home, price comparable’s for similar homes and the listing history of the home, etc.
TIP: A true buyer agent understands the above duties and will be able to share them with you when asked. Casual buyer agents on the other hand won’t understand them or if they do their company might not allow them to provide such duties as this increases the risks and liability for the real estate company. Make sure the real estate licensee you use provides true fiduciary duties to you and doesn’t compromise them by trying to represent a seller and you.
Agent Question #10
“What happens if I am interested in one of your listings or a listing by another agent in your company?”
In the event that you end up in this situation, and you are interested in one of the agent’s or company’s listings, the agent has two basic choices. One, they could refer you to an agent with another company. That would allow you to receive full representation. Or Two, they could try to keep the transaction “in-house” and revert to dual or designated agency or other limited representation position as they now have a serious conflict of interest.
Ask the agent before deciding to work with them if they will let you out of your contract if they can’t fully represent you on a particular property and you do decide to work with a new agent. If they will make sure that is written into any buyer agency contract that you sign that they will relieve you of any financial liability in such a case and that they won’t interfere with the compensation that the new agent earns by representing you in the purchase of a home.
Many buyers, however, don’t want to work with a new agent, but would rather continue to work with the agent they started with. That will leave you with option two. You will probably be asked to consent to a form of watered-down, compromised representation or non-representation. These services go by such names as dual agency, designated agency, transaction brokerage and facilitator, to name a few.
As will be discussed below in another of the 20 Questions To Ask An Agent, none of these services are equivalent to full representation. The danger for you is that, without full representation, you could end up buying the wrong home, paying too high a price or not dong proper inspections or having them done by the right professionals resulting in unexpected repairs later on.
However, If you know what to look for, you can protect yourself from such disasters and perhaps be able to continue with that agent in such compromised representation position.
TIP: If you are a first time home buyer, I would not recommend that you work with any agent under option two, the compromised representation position. You need full fiduciary duties given to you into to be fully protected when buying a home. Stop the interview if the agent only will allow option two and continue to interview other agents using the 20 Questions To Ask An Agent.
Agent Question #11
“Will you want me to “consent” to you being a “dual agent”?”
The most common position taken by agents and real estate companies when dealing with the in-house transaction is dual agency.
If you are using the services of a buyer agent who is with a company that takes listings and represents sellers, dual agency will probably be their default position of choice for in-house transactions. You need to know this up front before deciding to work with a particular agent. Many times the agent will have you sign a disclosure form or buyer agency contract which, in advance, gives them the right to renege to the default position of dual agency for in-house listings.
TIP: Try to avoid any agreement that automatically reduces your representation from full to compromised. Tell the agent you want full representation at all times and that you don’t want to sign any agreement that locks you into some form of compromised representation.
Agent Question #12
“What are the fiduciary, client level duties I give up if I consent to you being a dual agent?”
A dual agent no longer owes you the duties of “Undivided Loyalty” and “Full Disclosure”. These are pretty important duties.
The dual agent can’t be an advocate for you, can’t negotiate for you, can’t suggest an offering price, and can’t point out potential defects or problems, unless they are known to the agent.
The dual agent can’t provide you with information about the seller such as motivation for selling, price they paid or how long or how many times the property has been on the market.
In general, a dual agent can’t give you any information which could be detrimental to the seller’s position.
They also aren’t supposed to give the seller any information which could be detrimental to your position. The agent(s) are supposed to remain neutral.
TIP: If you consent to dual agency be sure you fully understand what you are giving up. In most states the agent still must treat you fairly, honestly and in good faith but these are duties that fall short of the other ones given up by you in dual agency.
Agent Question #13
“Is it really in “my” best interest to continue to use your services as a dual agent?”
It depends. Buyers and Sellers have conflicting needs and deserve true, full and independent representation at all times.
Yet, buyers do proceed with dual agency all the time. They meet an agent they like. They spend lots of time with that agent. They feel obligated to that agent. As mentioned previously try to work with agents who specialize in buyer representation and who are affiliated with smaller companies so that the potential for dual agency is greatly reduced.
If dual agency does occur understand what you give up and what the agent can and can not provide you with. The agent still has the duty of confidentiality to you. They aren’t supposed to provide the seller with any information that would be detrimental to your position.
TIP: So if you have a pretty good idea what the offering price should be, and the condition of the property and the inspections to have and the inspectors to use, being involved with a dual agency situation may not be a problem for you. Again, I would caution first time home buyers from getting involved in a dual agency situation. You simply aren’t equipped for it and it may cost you thousands of dollars as a result.
Agent Question #14
“Will you want me to consent to some other relationship besides dual agency if I’m interested in an in-house listing?”
There are numerous other relationships authorized by law which will vary state by state. Some of the names that these other relationships go by are designated agency, transaction brokerage, facilitator, or non-agent. The definitions of these relationships, even those called the same, will also vary state by state.
Most states have real estate agency disclosure laws which will provide some form of descriptions of the various relationships. Unfortunately, some states have better information then others. In some states, no agency disclosure is required and buyers are on their own to discover their choices, sometimes too late.
TIP: You will need to become familiar with the real estate agency choices available in your state. Ask to see these forms and descriptions. Have the agent email or fax a copy or look them up on the state’s real estate regulatory office’s website. Click here for a list of state real estate regulatory offices and their website. It is up to you to protect yourself and to make sure you are properly represented. “Caveat Emptor” – “Buyer Beware”!
Agent Question #15
“Do you use a written buyer agency contract? Can I have a copy for my review?”
The answer you want to hear is, “Yes” This is an employment agreement, much like a listing agreement between a seller and a seller’s agent. It puts in writing what is expected of the Buyer and the Buyer’s Agent, what services are being provided and the cost of those services.
Agents who don’t use a written buyer agency agreement are very casual about Buyer Agency and probably don’t have the professional experience, skills or knowledge to properly represent you as evidenced by the fact they don’t put their services and costs in writing. Ask to see a copy of the buyer agency contract that you will be asked to sign. Perhaps, have it reviewed by an attorney.
Some things to watch out for are:
- The length of time the agreement is good for. You may want a shorter time period if you aren’t completely sure about the agent and how you will be able to work with them.
- Check out how the compensation works. Will you have to come up with money out of your pocket?
- What if the agent is offered a higher commission split than average or a bonus? Will the agent keep the “extra” or will they pass it on to you.
- Is there a “kick-out” clause with regard to a specific time period following the termination of the agreement in which you might still owe a fee to the agent if you buy a home that you saw with them? A reasonable time frame for such a clause might be 2 to 4 months.
- Is there an automatic clause changing the agency relationship to dual or designated agency if you want to buy an in-house listing. You deserve full representation and should insist on such a clause being removed.
TIP: If you are reluctant to sign a written buyer agency agreement, don’t be. It provides you with protection by specifically listing a time period, compensation and how it is paid, ability to get out of the contract, etc. If you don’t understand it take it to a real estate attorney to review it and explain it to you and suggest changes if applicable.
Agent Question #16
“If I don’t want you to be a dual agent, or if you have a conflict of interest with respect to a property I might be interested in, will you let me out of the buyer agency contract?”
The answer you want to hear is, Yes. Professional buyer agents only want to work with qualified buyers who are pleased with the service they are providing. It only makes sense that in the event of a conflict or disagreement over the services being provided that some mechanism be a part of the buyer agency contract to allow for early termination.
On the other hand, expect that a buyer agency contract may also contain a clause or clauses protecting the agent from abuse by a buyer client who is trying to cheat the agent and that provides some compensation for the agent for time spent before the early termination.
TIP: Conflicts of interest should always be disclosed as soon as they are known. That is common sense and state law in most cases. You should not have to continue using that agent’s services or that real estate company’s services if there is a conflict of interest such as their also representing the seller.
Agent Question #17
“Are you paid a percentage of the purchase price? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? The higher the price I pay the more you will make.”
Most buyer agents are paid on a percentage basis. Is it a conflict of interest? Not really.
Take a price difference of say, $5,000. As an example, let’s say the co-broke or buyer agent commission is 3%, which equals $150.00. Would a buyer agent attempt to get you to pay $5,000 more for a home so that they can make an “extra” $150.00?
Of course not. Why? Because they stand to make a lot more money by saving you money and having you refer them to other people because they did such a good job for you. Many agents build their businesses by referral. They have a real incentive to do the best job they can for you so that they earn your trust and you become an advocate for them and their business in the future.
TIP: It is customary for real estate commissions to be based on a % of purchase price. It also is customary for buyer agents to be offered a co-broke or buyer agent fee as part of the commission structure. Your buyer agency contract should clearly indicate what the buyer agent fee is and what happens when the offered co-broke buyer agent fee is higher or lower than that you agreed to. Usually if the co-broke is less you simply indicate in any purchase offer that your buyer agent is to be paid $X as agreed between you and your agent. If the co-broke is more, there should be a provision in your buyer agent contract that the extra be credited to you at closing.
Agent Question #18
“How do you get paid?”
There are many different ways for buyer agents to be paid. The buyer agent could be paid through the listing agency, the seller on behalf of the buyer or by the buyer.
Generally buyer agents are offered compensation through a multiple listing system (MLS) – the co-broke. Sometimes buyer agents make other arrangements to be compensated, especially if the MLS offer of compensation is lower than the fee set between them and you.
However, for the most part a buyer agent’s compensation is built into the transaction one way or the other and paid out as part of the closing costs and the buyer has no “additional” costs to have their own buyer agent.
On occasion it might make sense for the buyer to pay their buyer agent separately and outside of the transaction. Your financial situation and the details of the transaction are going to determine how the buyer agent’s compensation will be handled.
TIP: It is very important that you discuss this up front with agents so that you know how this is going to be handled. You don’t want to learn at closing that you owe money to an agent when you thought it was included in your offer. Also, discuss how their compensation will be handled if you buy a for sale by owner property. Most for sale by owners will pay a reasonable fee to a buyer agent who brings the buyer to their property and who puts the deal together.
Agent Question #19
“Will you shop for a mortgage for me or do you have any special sources of financing?”
The answer you want to hear is, Yes! You want to work with a buyer agent who is aware of mortgage programs, interest rates and closing costs.
They should recommend the services of mortgage brokers who will look out for your best interests and make mortgages available to you with lower rates and lower closing costs than generally other banks and mortgage brokers have to offer.
They should have you pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage depending on the requirements of the marketplace, before you start to look for homes.
TIP: Your agent should make sure that you are provided with a good faith estimate of your cash requirements for down payment and closing costs and that these are in-line with your resources.
Agent Question #20
“Specifically, summarize how you will protect my interests and why I should work with you rather than another agent?”
These are the answers you should hear or at least something close to these:
- I AM A HOME BUYING SPECIALIST AND A HOME BUYING EXPERT: I specialize in representing buyers. As a result I have more experience in looking out for buyer’s best interest and in negotiating on behalf of buyers for the best price and terms. I spend the majority of my time working “for” buyers.
- I TAKE BUYER REPRESENTATION SERIOUSLY: I work as a true fiduciary buyer’s agent. I understand the fiduciary duties a true agent owes to their client and that is my business practice. Casual buyer agents don’t take buyer representation specific courses or certification classes. Real estate training in general deals with how to represent sellers, how to market and sell homes and how to work “with” buyers but not how to represent buyers and how to work “for” buyers. Buyers and sellers have conflicting interests and needs. Serious buyer agents want to fully understand the differences. I have taken many buyer representation specific courses and classes so that I know how to properly and professionally represent buyers.
- I AM A PROFESSIONAL BUYER’S AGENT: Many traditional listing agents call themselves “Buyer’s Agents”. Although this practice may be misleading to the consumer, it is legal. No special training or licensing is required to call oneself a “Buyer’s Agent. Professional buyer agents spend the majority of their time, if not all their time, representing buyers and thus never have to constantly switch back and forth between working for buyers and working for sellers. I am a professional buyer agent and as such never try to “sell” my buyer clients a home. I help people “Buy” homes. There is a big difference between selling you a home and helping you buy one. I legally protect and advocate for home buyers at all times.
TIP: If you find and work with a true buyer agent such as an “exclusive buyer agent” all these conflicts go away. First and foremost, look for an “exclusive buyer agent”. If none exist in your area, go for the next best – an experienced and well-trained buyer agent with a small traditional real estate company. Do everything you can to avoid working with an agent with a large dominant real estate company.
You want to “buy” a home, not be “sold” a home. “Be Served – Not Sold” is more than just a saying. It should be your guiding principle.
We have been Protecting & Advocating for Homebuyers Only since 1992. Give Tom Wemett a call at 800-383-8322 to discuss your homebuying situation.