Couple and a buyer's agent, sitting on sofas looking at a document

What Is A Buyer’s Agent In Real Estate?

Carla Ayers8-Minute Read
UPDATED: March 16, 2023

Buying a home is a major undertaking, particularly if you’re a first-time home buyer. You may think you know what’s involved: find a house with a For Sale sign, offer to purchase it if you like it and just wait to move in. When you find out it’s not like that at all, you might feel as if you need to learn absolutely everything for yourself to make sure you don’t get ripped off.

The truth, however, is that teaming up with a real estate agent who specializes in working with home buyers – a buyer’s agent – means that you can rely on the services and counsel of a real estate expert. And the best part is that you don’t have to pay for their invaluable help.

Let’s take a look at what a buyer’s agent is, learn how they can help you navigate the real estate market and how to find the right one for you.

What Is A Buyer’s Agent?

A buyer’s agent is a licensed real estate agent who represents the buyer and their interests during the home buying process. That means they represent the buyer and only the buyer. The seller has their own agent to represent their interests.

First and foremost, they can help you find homes that suit your needs and preferences. That might include flagging listings or open houses for you to check out and then scheduling showings on your behalf.

Once you’ve located your ideal property, they can also write offers and counteroffers for homes you would like to buy and assist with inspections. They’ll take you through the mortgage loan and closing processes. Essentially, a buyer’s agent will serve as your go-to resource for anything related to buying a home.

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What Does A Buyer’s Agent Do?

In real estate, a buyer’s agent helps home buyers find their home and make it theirs. That means that they work with buyers from start to finish as they move through the process of buying a home.

Most home buyers imagine that the agent is done once they choose a house to buy. But that’s just the start of the process. From this point, their real work begins.

They’ll Adopt Your Interests As Their Own

Buyer’s agents have what’s called a “fiduciary duty” to their clients. Legally and ethically speaking, that’s the highest duty of care that a professional can owe their client. In legal jargon, the client is referred to as the agent’s principal. In all respects, agents must do what they can to advance their client’s interests as they relate to the home purchase as if they themselves were making the purchase.

They’ll Put Your Agreement In Writing

When you choose a buyer’s agent, you’ll be asked to sign a contract referred to as a buyer agency agreement. This is the document that defines the responsibilities of the agent, the real estate brokerage they work for and the client with respect to their relationship.

Buyers will choose whether they want an exclusive arrangement with this agent and for how long the relationship will last. It will also transparently explain how much and under what circumstances the agent will be compensated.

What Exclusivity Means And How It Affects Your Relationship

Your agent may ask you to give them an exclusivity clause in your agreement. That would mean you’d be legally bound to work only with this agent for a specified period of time, often 30 days.

You can decline the exclusivity clause simply by crossing it out and having both parties initial the change. In a buyer’s market, where you see one For Sale sign after another on your daily commute, you might want the freedom of working with several agents so you have the widest number of choices.

But in a seller’s market – or one where there is a limited inventory of available houses – you’ll have to consider the consequences of doing so. A buyer’s agent who hears of a new listing in a tight market is likely to pitch it to their exclusive clients first because they aren’t aware of what you’ve been shown or how far you’ve gotten with other agents.

What Communication You Can Expect From The Agent

When you’re working with an agent, they put you first. But, obviously, you’re not their only client, so it’s important to make clear how frequently and how quickly you can expect them to respond to your questions.

Don’t forget – while buying a house is the most important thing in your life right now, it’s all in a day’s work for these professionals, so they know how best to schedule their day while furthering your interests in other pursuits.

What Responsibilities You Have In Paying Commissions

In general, the home seller pays both the seller’s and the buyer’s agents commissions on the sale at closing. But beware: if you find and buy a home through another buyer’s agent during your exclusivity period with your agent, you may be on the hook for what your agent lost by your breach of the agreement’s terms.

They’ll Get You In The Door

An important aspect of a buyer’s agent’s job is to provide you access to MLS listings that interest you. Your agent will consider your key home buying wants and needs, then work with you to narrow down the houses that fit your search criteria.

Once you’ve found properties that you’re interested in, they will act as a liaison between you and the seller or seller’s agent to set up appointments for you to get a first look at those houses.

They’ll Have The Tough Talks

Agents can talk to each other in a way they can’t to you or the seller. That’s because there’s so much emotion in this particular type of transaction compared to most sales deals.

The home, in a buyer’s mind, represents their future. The home, in a seller’s mind, is an icon of past memories made within its walls. Both sides view the property as their own. Compare that to the experience of buying and selling stocks or bonds. You’ve probably never wondered what the people that bought your shares of some corporation were like.

With such high stakes, the presence of agents who are about the business aspects of the deal can be very helpful to maintain a sense of perspective when emotions are running hot.

For example, most buyers find it difficult to have hard conversations with the seller about improvements they expect to be made to the home before finalizing the transaction. Fortunately, this is where having a buyer’s agent working on your behalf comes in handy, as they are used to these conversations and can handle them with confidence.

They’re The Problem Solvers

A buyer’s agent will be there throughout the buying process to protect all of your interests and take on any issues that may arise. This can include negotiating with the sellers to take care of items that may quickly need maintenance such as the roof, water heater or HVAC. Your agent is there to work with the seller and solve any problems you have prior to closing.

They’re On Top Of The Paperwork

If you’ve ever gone through a home purchase before, you know there is almost endless paperwork that can be confusing. Buying a home involves various types of documentation, including:

Your buyer’s agent can help guarantee that important documents are not overlooked and can also walk you through each one to clarify any details that aren’t clear to you, and give you the information you need to complete them properly.

They’re On Your Side

While it may be tempting to contact the listing agent when you find a seemingly perfect house online, it’s important to remember that the listing agent is acting in the best interest of the seller, not you. A buyer’s agent will be there to represent your best interests, ensuring that you make a competitive offer on the right house for you and your family.

They’re The Expert

As an experienced professional, your buyer’s agent will have specific skills and bring a level of expertise that will make the entire home buying process run more smoothly. For example, your buyer’s agent can provide additional information on specific things, like if you and your family decide you like a house but want to know more about the school district or commuting options.

They Can Work For You Long Term

The best thing about finding a buyer’s agent you trust is that you can use them again and again. Even after you’ve found a home that checks the boxes for what you and your family currently want and need, it can be wise to stay in touch with your agent beyond the closing in case you decide to move again in the future.

By forming an extended relationship with your buyer’s agent, they’ll be able to develop a stronger sense of what kind of house would be ideal for you and direct you toward listings that better reflect your needs the next time you want to look for a home.

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What Should You Look For When Choosing A Buyer’s Agent?

Because hiring a buyer’s agent, in general, will leave you better equipped to buy a new home, there are traits that some buyer’s agents have that set them apart from the rest in terms of their ability to provide clients with excellent service.

They Take The Time To Understand You And What You’re Looking For

A good agent is a great communicator and listener. That means that when you meet, they’ll take the time to thoroughly discuss what you’re looking for and what your future goals are. They’ll ask you as many questions as it takes to understand what you want and gently point out where your goals conflict so that they can be resolved.

For example, let’s say that you have your heart set on owning a historic home, but you also want to live in the best school district in your metro area. But if that premier school district is located in a newly developed community where those types of homes simply aren’t available, you might have to make a hard choice between those two aims.

Or the historic home in your dream historic district might simply be out of your financial reach. Your agent might steer you to a starter home while promising to keep an eye out for the home of your dreams

They Focus On Your Needs Rather Than Their Payday

Once they understand what you're looking for and your budget, your agent should treat them as their own while looking for homes that meet their needs and they can afford. If they immediately start sending you listings that don’t match your stated goals or are outside of your budget, it’s a red flag. An ethical real estate agent won’t waste your time or their own.

Regardless of whether they’re “exclusive,” a good buyer’s agent should always strive to satisfy the needs of the home buyers they work with and to make sure that their clients end up happy with the house they choose – and the price they pay for it.

They should also be excellent negotiators on a buyer’s behalf and work hard to make sure that the buyer receives the best deal possible on their chosen home, taking into account such factors as days on the market and comparing prices to make sure you’re not overpaying.

The Terms Of Your Relationship Are Clear

When you sign the buyer agency agreement, you should be given an opportunity to get all your questions answered, both by the agent and brokerage they work for. The document you sign should clearly reflect the answers you receive, in addition to clearly explaining the amount of time you’ll be working together, the services they’ll provide and the cost of their services – and who pays for them.

If you’re hiring an exclusive buyer’s agent, the contract should plainly state that your relationship is exclusive.

They Connect You With Other Professionals

Your agent is just one in the cast of characters you need for a smooth real estate transaction. You’re also likely to need a mortgage lender, real estate attorney, title company, home inspector and contractor to perform any needed improvements.

You may also need a reputable moving company. A well-connected buyer’s agent can recommend professionals who will offer high-quality service at reasonable rates, so you don’t have to start from scratch lining up these other services you need.

How Much Is A Buyer’s Agent’s Commission?

You are likely wondering how much you’ll be paying for all this attention and service. As the home buyer, if the agent you choose is an exclusive buyer’s agent, it shouldn’t cost you any additional money (beyond what you’re already bringing to the closing table)!

But don’t worry, they’ll still be paid. That’s because the seller typically covers all the seller and buyer agent commission, which is split evenly between your agent and the seller’s agent. A real estate commission averages 2.5% – 3.5% of the home’s sale price for both agents once it’s divided between them.

Other Agent Titles And What They Mean

Real estate professionals go by a wide variety of names, which can be confusing. Read on to learn more about the many different agent titles you might come across in the home buying process.

Real Estate Agents

While many people assume that anyone in real estate is a REALTOR®, that actually is a specific term that refers to a licensed real estate salesperson who belongs to the trade group National Association of REALTORS®.

The phrase “real estate agent” is a blanket term that can apply to a buyer’s agent or a seller’s agent, depending on the context and their role in the process.

However, bear in mind that a real estate agent who doesn’t specifically identify themselves as an exclusive buyer’s agent will often have the best interest of their brokerage firm and the sellers, so you may run the risk of receiving fewer objective property recommendations based on your needs as the buyer.

Listing Agents

A listing agent represents the seller's interests in the sales. They’re trying to maximize the seller’s proceeds and minimize the contingencies in the contract, just as the buyer’s agent is trying to minimize the purchase price and include as many protections as possible for the buyer in the purchase agreement.

Dual Agents

Dual agency means that the agent can work as a buyer’s agent and seller’s agent in real estate transactions. As you might imagine, that doesn’t always work in your favor.

After all, if the agent is handling affairs on both sides of your transaction, you might not get the same quality of service as you would if you had someone who was solely representing you. That’s because the agent will need to balance your and the seller's needs without a conflict of interest.

Exclusive Agents

An exclusive agent is the opposite of a dual agent. They work for just one side of the transaction and could work exclusively as a buyer’s agent or a seller’s agent.

That’s why you might want to consider this arrangement as the best option when choosing your buyer’s agent since an exclusive agent will be working solely on your behalf and will make your needs their top priority.

The Bottom Line: A Buyer’s Agent Helps You Complete Your Home Purchase

A buyer’s agent is an invaluable resource, hand to hold and shoulder to cry on during the home buying process. They’ll help you find a home you love, at a price you can afford.

Ready to work with a buyer’s agent of your own? We can help you find the right buyer’s agent for your home buying journey.

Carla Ayers

Carla is Section Editor for Rocket Homes and is a Realtor® with a background in commercial and residential property management, leasing and arts management. She has a Bachelors in Arts Marketing and Masters in Integrated Marketing & Communications from Eastern Michigan University.