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Commonly Asked Questions

Straight Answers for Home Sellers

How can the seller’s agent help me and what can’t they do?

   A seller’s agent can provide you, the buyer, with many important services. Here are a few:

Prepare your sales contract and present it to the seller; walk you through the home buying process and keep in contact with lenders, inspectors, and sellers through the settlement. Since the seller’s agent is required to share with the seller any information you provide, you may want to keep certain money and other confidential matters to yourself. Common sense should be your guide.

For instance, you may not want to say that you are willing to pay more than the price you’re offering, or that you’d agree to pay more points or closing costs, or that you’re especially motivated to buy. Remember, the seller’s agent can’t offer an opinion of the property’s condition, the value of improvements, any urgency the seller may be able to under to sell, and if the seller will accept a price below the asking price. The seller’s agent assisting you also must respond to such questions as "What do you think I should offer?" and "What do you think the home is worth?" with the answer, "I can only quote the listed price." When it comes to price and terms, at the negotiating table, you must be your own representative. The seller’s agent will present your offer and bring back to you the signed contract, a rejection, or a counteroffer. You respond as you see fit.

Should I be represented by a buyer’s agent?

There is no simple answer. Some buyers want the help of an agent in whom they can confide. A buyer’s agent can discuss relative advantages and disadvantages of a particular home, advise on how much to offer, evaluate improvements, and actively participate in negotiating favorable price and terms for the buyer.

I know the seller’s agent is paid by the seller,
but who pays the buyers agent?

Buyer’s agents generally receive a share of the commission paid from the sale proceeds. Many listing agreements between seller and seller’s agent note whether the commission will be split between the seller’s agent and buyer’s agent or must be negotiated.

There are however, other ways buyer’s agents may be paid. Occasionally sellers lower their sales price by the amount that would have been paid to other agents so the buyer can pay the buyers agent directly. Other home sellers prefer to negotiate the payment for buyer’s agents on an offer by offer basis, or, in rare instances, still other sellers refuse to pay the buyers agent. Either way, the buyer may end up paying the buyers agent. Some buyer’s agents collect a retainer fee from the buyer at the beginning, some may charge by the hour, and some charge a flat fee or a combination. Often these fees are applied against any subsequent commission received by the buyer’s agent.

If the buyer’s agent I use will split a commission based on the sales price, doesn’t the buyer’s agent have a conflict of interest when it comes to negating the lowest price for me?

While theoretically this could be true, in practice buyers agents would benefit only slightly by failing to negotiate the best price. For instance, for every $1000 paid above the bottom price a seller would have accepted, the buyer’s agent only receives a few dollars extra in commission. Most buyers agents prefer to negotiate the lowest possible price and ultimately receive much more valuable referral business from satisfied buyers. Some buyers and buyers agents agree on a payment formula not tied to the sales price, such as a commission based on original asking price or a flat fee.

Can a buyer’s agent show me all the homes for sale in the area?

A buyer’s agent generally can show buyers almost all available homes, including homes not in the Multiple Listing Service. The listing agreement made between the sellers and the seller’s agent often specifies whether the buyer’s agent may show the home. Most sellers want their home made available to the largest possible audience of potential buyers. It is rare, but possible, that a seller may refuse to work with a buyer’s agent. A special in company situation occurs when you want to see a home that your buyers agent has listed for sale as a sellers agent. Individual company and local practices vary. Ask the agent whether the company or agent would then modify the agency agreement and act as a disclosed dual agent, or, perhaps, would suspend the buyers agent agreement and refer you to another agent who could show the property. Naturally, the buyer’s agent can still show you other listings in the area.

Straight Answers for Sellers

I’m selling my home. Should I agree to let buyers agents show my home?

Although only you can decide whether you want to permit buyers agents to show your home, remember the greater exposure your home gets to qualified buyers, the more likely you are to sell it quickly and at the highest possible price. The majority of sellers and seller’s agents let any agent help sell the home. Sellers typically don’t care who brings a buyer or how the broker splits the commission as long as the house sells.

If a buyer is using a buyer’s agent, do I have to pay the buyers agent commission?

Practices vary by area. Check with your agent to learn about your choices. As the seller, generally you can indicate on the listing agreement whether you are willing to pay the buyers agent. Most sellers choose to work with a broker who splits the commission with a buyer’s agent even though that agent does not represent the seller’s interests. This, of course, maximizes the number the number of potential buyers for your home because the listing is already prepared to share the commission with a subagent who produces a buyer, most sellers don’t mind when their broker shares the commission with a buyers agent.

Can the seller’s agent represent me in the sale of my home and then continue to represent me as a buyer’s agent when I purchase my next home?

If the sellers agent also works as a buyers agent, then the agent can go on to represent you as a buyer’s agent – under a separate agreement – as you purchase another home, provided both you and the agent agree to the representation.

How and when will I find out who an agent is working for?

Most states, including Massachusetts, require real estate agents to disclose to buyers and sellers their agency relationship. The National Association of Realtors supports disclosure laws requiring real estate agents "to provide timely, meaningful, written disclosure to consumers of all possible agency relationships available under state law and the most significant implications of choosing one type over another." This disclosure should take place early, certainly either before a seller signs a listing agreement, a buyer is shown properties, or the real estate agent is told any confidential information. The consumer usually signs a form acknowledging the agency disclosure.

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