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As a prerequisite to selling real estate, a person must be licensed by the state in which they work, either as an agent/salesperson or as a broker. Before a license is issued, minimum standards for education, examinations and experience, which are determined on a state-by-state basis, must be met.

Using an agent and the

obligations included

An agent is bound by certain legal obligations. Traditionally, these common-law obligations are to: put the client’s interests above anyone else’s; keep the client’s information confidential; obey the client’s lawful instructions; report to the client anything that would be useful and account to the client for any money involved.

The difference between a

buyer’s and a seller’s broker

Suppose you sign an offer to buy a home for $150,000. You really want the property and there’s a chance other offers are coming in, so you tell the broker that “We’ll go up to $160,000 if we have to. But of course don’t tell that to the seller.”

If you’re dealing with a seller’s agent, he or she may be duty-bound to tell the seller that important fact. In most states, the seller’s agent doesn’t have any duty of confidentiality toward you. Honest treatment might require that the agent warn you that “I must convey to the seller anything that would be useful so don’t tell me anything you wouldn’t tell the seller.”

These days many home buyers prefer to hire a buyer’s broker, one who owes the full range of duties, including confidentiality and obedience, to the buyer. A buyer’s broker is often paid by the seller, regardless of the agency relationship.

How to evaluate an agent

In making your decision to work with an agent, there are certain questions you should ask when evaluating a potential agent. The first question you should ask is whether the agent is a Realtor. You should then ask:

n Does the agent have an active real estate license in good standing? To find this information, you can check with your state’s governing agency.

n Does the agent belong to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and/or a reliable online home-buyer’s search service? Multiple Listing Services are cooperative information networks of Realtors that provide descriptions of most of the houses for sale in a particular region.

n Is real estate their full-time career?

n What real estate designations does the agent hold?

n Which party is he or she representing — you or the seller? This discussion is supposed to occur early on, at “first serious contact” with you. The agent should discuss your state’s particular definitions of agency, so you’ll know where you stand.

n In exchange for your commitment, how will the agent help you accomplish your goals? Show you homes that meet your requirements and provide you with a list of the properties he or she is showing you?

Courtesy of the National Association of Realtors

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