Do Home Seekers Need to Sign a Contract to Tour Homes?


It's human nature for folks to want to sneak a peek at their neighbor's open house—even if they're not truly home seekers looking to buy. Trust us, stopping by to grab a cookie and gawk is something we've all done (or at least thought about doing).

Casual lookers can wander in without so much as leaving their name, but if you're actually serious about buying a home, do you have to sign a contract with a buyer's agent before making the rounds to visit homes for sale?

You certainly don't need to be with an agent to drop in on an open house—and visiting a few can help you refine what you're looking for, which in turn helps your future agent help you.

But smart buyers will reach out to a real estate agent to help with the process, says Steve Ujvagi, owner of Atlanta-based Keller Williams Results Team.

“Assuming you, as a buyer, have found an agent who is kind, sane, hardworking, and knows the local market. It would be in your best interest to commit to that particular agent,” he says.

There might be some agents who are fine spending days with a client with no contractual obligation, but others might refuse to work with a buyer who won't sign one, Ujvagi notes.

Why home seekers should sign a contract with an agent

Once an agent knows you have committed to working exclusively with him, you are likely to see his level of service ramp up.

“A contract confirms that the buyer has essentially committed to making sure the agent gets paid for their efforts,” Ujvagi explains.

And in return for that loyalty, the agent should do all he can for the client, making the contract a win-win for both parties.

Yes, the contract is binding

But, wait! Let's say you've signed with one agent but you meet another agent who would love to represent you. Sorry, the contract between the buyer and agent is binding for the designated amount of time (usually three to six months). Technically, you can work with multiple agents as long as you haven't signed an exclusivity agreement with someone.

Risks of not signing a contract

If you do decide to consult more than one agent, proceed with caution.

“If you work with more than one real estate agent, chances are none of them will put forth much effort because you may purchase through another agent," says Beverley Hourlier, an agent with HC Realty in San Diego. “They will work harder for you when they know they'll eventually get paid for their efforts.”

And here's a reality check: You probably won't find your dream home any faster by asking multiple agents to search listings for you.

"All real estate agents have access to the same information through their multiple listing services,” Hourlier says.

How to avoid a misunderstanding

Any agent who is trying to work with you should ask questions such as "Are you currently represented by an agent?" and "Have any other agents shown you homes?” says Denise Shur, a Realtor® with 1:1 Realty in San Jose, CA. But if not, you, as the buyer, can be very clear with an upfront statement such as “I will let you know if I choose you as my buyer rep; I am currently interviewing other agents, too."

But if you still feel unsure about signing a contract to look at homes, consider asking for a short-term arrangement to make sure the agent is a good fit.

By Cathie Ericson


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Javier Alvarez

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