Should a home-buyer and home-seller use the same agent?

Dual agency is the devil’s breath…

Dear Glen,

My husband and I have been approved for a home loan and are ready to take the plunge and buy our first house! One thing, though, is that we’re not sure what to do about how to deal with all these Realtors.

My husband just calls the number on the sign or on the website, but I think we should call my cousin, who sells real estate on the side.

Does it really matter?

Please help,

Anxious in Altoona

Dear Anxious,

You raise a couple of great questions and, frankly ones that should be asked waaaaay more often.

Most people do what your dear hubby is doing. They call the number on the sign or contact the agent on the website, figuring it’s the easiest way to get what they want. For some people, this works out just fine. For others, not so much.

To get you where you need to go, how about a short lesson in agency. (Sorry—I wouldn’t do this to you if there were any other way).

In the world of real estate, there are only a handful of agent options: Buyer agents, Seller agents and Dual agents.

Buyer agents work only for the buyer with the goal of finding them the best house for the least amount of money and the fewest headaches.

Seller agents work only for the seller with the goal of getting the most amount of money in the least amount of time from the strongest buyer they can find.

Dual agents work with buyers and sellers with the goal of…um…closing the deal. I guess you could actually say dual agents work for neither buyer nor seller. They can’t—it’s illegal. Here’s a quote from our friends at that helps explain it:

“A dual agent is supposed to be neutral, helping clients on both sides of the deal equally. But staying truly neutral can be difficult. For instance, since an agent’s commission is a percentage of a home’s sales price, it’s inherently in an agent’s best interest to get a high selling price, because he’ll make more money. That’s good for the seller, but not so much for the buyer.”

OK—lesson over. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Based on what you read above, it seems like dual agency is the devil’s breath—and you’d be right. In fact, in some states, it’s no longer legal. That said, it happens every day in real estate.

One agent can legally represent one side (buyer or seller) or NO sides (dual agent). But the real question is should they represent both sides as a dual agent? As an illustration, you are being sued. Would you choose to use the other guy’s lawyer because it’s more convenient? Not too many people would do that.

So why would anyone use a dual agent? Usually, because the buyer and seller don’t fully understand what’s happening. In short, both sides assume the agent is looking out for their side. Fatal mistake, and one that most dual agents will happily let you go on making.

What your husband is doing is classic risky buyer behavior and can lead to unwanted dual agency in no time. Calling the number on the sign means you are calling the seller’s agent. Their job is to get the most amount of money and the very best deal they can for the seller.

Is that your goal? I didn’t think so.

Your goal is to find the best house for the money. This agent, by planting a giant sign in the seller’s yard, is declaring that they are working primarily for the seller. So when you decide to pursue that particular house, here’s the reality:

If you don’t have your own agent, the seller’s agent is probably going to be a dual agent and work for neither of you.

No bueno.

The best way to buy is to go get yourself a good buyer’s agent (probably not your cousin) and work exclusively with that agent. A good buyer’s agent will be able to save you a lot of time, money, and hassle.

And for the record, I already know your cousin isn’t the best fit. Here are two solid reasons off the top of my head:

First, you should be very, very cautious about doing this kind of business with a family member. If you are close to your cousin, it’s not worth losing them over something like this. If you are not close, you don’t really care what they think anyway, and vice versa, so where’s the loyalty?

Second, the fact that your cousin is part-time is enough to disqualify them as your agent in my book. Trust me. No disrespect to the minority of part-time agents in the world who are truly gifted, trained, and experienced–it’s just not the norm. Most PT agents are woefully undertrained and under-experienced due to the fact that their professional lives are segmented.

Would you hire a part-time lawyer or doctor? Even if they have gobs of experience, are retired, and handle a few clients here and there, a part-timer still has the challenge of keeping up with the market and legal changes.  When I retire, I will write and maybe help other agents, but I don’t plan to work with active clients. Feel free to call me out on this in 80 years when I finally decide to hang up my spurs.

If you want to help your cousin, tell them you don’t want to jeopardize your relationship over one transaction and ask them to refer you to someone they trust. Your cousin gets a referral fee, and your relationship stays safe. That is how I handle all relatives, and it has never backfired.

Anyway, for now, tell your hubby to use the web for research instead.  I suppose it’s ok to call the seller’s agent if you just have a quick question but stop there. Do not give the seller’s agent any information that could come back to haunt you later.

For example, they might ask, “What are you looking for?” Your boo innocently replies, “Oh, I dunno, something in the $250-275k range close to the city.”  No big deal, right?


Fast forward two months. You and your new agent are in the heat of battle with a seller, and guess who represents that seller? That’s riiiiiiiight.

While your agent is busy trying to convince their agent that you can only go to $235k, their agent heard it right from your other half that you can go up to $275k. You just lost a lot of leverage.

Information that seems innocent at first can cost you many dollars down the road.

When you get serious, choose your agent before you start any heavy-duty house hunting. Declaring your loyalty upfront will make sure your agent is all in on your purchase. It also gives them a chance to get to know you and your goals from the get-go.

They will no doubt cover agency in a more formal way, but once you establish that they will only ever work for you and not for a seller, you’re on the right track.

You’ll thank me later. You might even name a room after me. That’s how good this advice is.

Best of luck on your journey. Buying a house is fantastically exciting—I’m kinda jealous. But if you ever want some quick research on a property you’re considering, let us help, especially if you’re buying a For Sale By Owner property.

For a complete, up-to-date market breakdown on a specific property, why not get our free Realist® Report? This 10-20 page comprehensive data bundle contains mountains of rich details like current pricing analysis, the Real AVM®, Sell score, local comps, neighborhood data, market trends, and flood plane information. Very useful before buying or making an offer. Just ask us for it here, and we’ll send it. 

In the meantime, keep sending your questions. Your best bet is to send me a message at I read and respond to every email…eventually.

Take care,


Ohio Property Group, LLC
Author: “You Can Sell It”

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