Realty Agents Dont Ask Dont Tell

Real estate stories radiate from the water cooler and cocktail parties like a brush fire out of control. Like early stages of fires, real estate transactions start out manageable, but occasionally real estate consumers fan the flames because of inexperience, and some real estate agents misplace the water buckets. How can consumers be more proactive before the fire starts? By asking qualifying questions of realty agents to determine if they carry a fire extinguisher in their briefcase.

Under license law whom do you have a fiduciary responsibility to?

Ask this question the first time you speak with a real estate agent. In some areas all agents have a fiduciary responsibility to the seller under license law, even if they are working with a buyer. In other areas unless you have a signed buyer representation agreement your agent under law must represent the seller. To add to the confusion, some states require agents to have a fiduciary responsibility to whom they bring to the transaction, be it the buyer or the seller.

How are you compensated?

The majority of agents are independent commissioned-based contractors of the brokerage with whom they're affiliated. Real estate commissions vary from one to ten percent and can't be fixed under anti-trust laws. The broker through a listing agreement with a property seller is paid a commission, who compensates the buyer's broker cooperatively. Require your agent to show you properties that offer lower than customary cooperative commissions. If you retain an agent under a buyers broker agreement, you will compensate your agent's broker. Brokers split their commissions with their agents usually keeping 5-50 percent for the brokerage and compensating the agent with the remainder on a sliding scale based on previous sales volume. This is known as the "commission split". Agents can only be compensated by their broker and can't receive compensation directly from attorney's, home inspectors or any other non-broker under the Real Estate Settlement Act.

Do you show all available properties in the market I'm interested in?

Require your agent to show you all available properties listed by all companies. The problem with being shown only the agent's or their companies listings is two fold. If you decide to purchase the agent's listing, in most cases they will become under real estate license law a "dual agent". State laws restrict what a dual agent can and can't do for both sides in a transaction. Dual agency benefits the agent by doubling their commission, and offers no benefits to either the seller or buyer. When you purchase a property that is listed with an agent in your agent's office it is known as an "in-house sale". If you can be confident that the two in-house agents are acting in their respective clients best interest and the agents are not being awarded a bonus for selling an in-house listing, than you could proceed. Require your agent to disclose to you any property that they show you that they have an ownership interest in. Your agent should always show you For-Sale-By-Owner properties, isn't it about your housing needs being met?

Are you a Realtor®?

Not all real estate agents are Realtors®. Industry sources report that there are 2.6 million real estate agents nationally. Only 1.1 million are Realtors® or members of the National Association of Realtors®, who are required to have ethics training which defines their obligations to clients, customers, the public and other Realtors®. Working with a Realtor® adds another option for dispute resolution should you need it.

Have you been disciplined by your licensing authority?

All real estate agents are licensed in states where they sell property. Ask to see their current real estate license. Find out the name of the department in your state government who regulates real estate agents, go on-line to the website to look up information about your agent's license status, including disciplinary actions. Most brokerages require real estate agents to have errors and omission insurance, ask your agent if they are covered under this type of policy.

How long have you worked full-time in real estate?

Your home sale or purchase is one of the largest assets you own. Would you use a new or part-time accountant to fight the IRS? It takes an experienced full-time agent to be up-to-date on market inventory, documentation and property histories. Using a rookie or part-time agent is the best way to fan any real estate transaction fire.

Will I be working exclusively with you during my property sale or search?