Buyer Clients vs. Customers

Your state real estate laws dictate the types of working relationships you are allowed to have with buyers and they probably give you the option of working with them as clients or as customers. A buyer client is someone you sign a contract with, agreeing to do everything possible to help her secure the best price on a property and get it to closing. A customer is someone you work with more informally, facilitating the transaction, but without a contract and without as much personal involvement. You must work ethically with both types of buyers but you can offer more in-depth advice to clients than to customers.

Most real estate agents are required to make a written or verbal disclosure during their first contact with buyers, providing them with facts about whom they legally represent. Disclosure usually reveals that the agent works for the property seller, even if the listing is held by another agency. That happens most often when real estate firms belong to an MLS.

An important clarification to know is that a seller's agent is legally bound to work in the best interests of that seller, passing on any information about the buyers that might help the seller obtain a better offer for the property. Buyers working with a seller's agent are customers, and although you must treat them honestly and fairly, you cannot provide them with personal information that violates your contract with the seller, including the seller's bottom dollar or motivations to sell.

Your state laws probably give you the ability to sign a contract with buyers to represent their interests, making you a buyer's agent and turning them into clients. Buyer's agents can advise their clients about nearly any aspect of the transaction, including personal information about the seller, such as an impending divorce or relocation — details that give insights into a seller's motivations to sell.

Alert

During disclosure, you must make buyers understand that they should not tell a seller's agent anything they do not want to be repeated to the seller. Making your legal responsibilities clear from the beginning helps you avoid complaints from buyers who are unhappy that their statements are passed on to a property owner.

Many states determine who you are representing by your actions, regardless of how you are being paid. If you are acting as a buyer's agent, even if you do not have a contract with that buyer and even if you are being paid through the MLS by the seller, you may be considered a buyer's agent in the eyes of your real estate commission.

Your role can change if you are a buyer's agent and your buyers decide they want to look at a home listed with your firm. When that happens, you might become a dual agent, as you and your firm are personally contracted with both the buyer and the seller. Dual agency is not allowed in all states and when it is, state law usually requires written acceptance from both the buying and selling clients. Dual agency is a little tricky sometimes, because you must make sure that you protect the confidentiality and needs of both clients.

Some states allow agents to work as facilitators, people who bring the parties together and help them get to closing but who remain neutral and are not advocates for either side. Learn your state laws regarding agent duties and be sure to follow them exactly.

Fact

While seller's agents cannot disclose personal information about their seller clients, they are obligated to inform buyers of known problems and defects associated with a property, often referred to as material facts.

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