How Many Real Estate Agents Can a Buyer Work With?

Hiring More Than One Buyer's Agent To Find Homes

real estate agent showing house to couple
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While listing a home for repeat clients, Mrs. Seller told me her next-door neighbor wanted to talk with me about finding a home for his son to buy. She was excited to make the introduction. The neighbor said he began his house-hunting search by thinking he could buy a nice home for a much lower sales price than he actually could, and he has since discovered that he needs to raise his expectations.

He initially wanted to buy a preforeclosure.

Of course, the problem with buying preforeclosures is a preforeclosure, unless it is a short sale, is not really for sale. But that doesn't stop websites from advertising preforeclosures or making those listings appear attractive to unsuspecting buyers. Next, he thought it would be prudent to try to buy a foreclosure, except that the foreclosure market is better suited to the pros who buy them on the courthouse steps or investors who can buy them in bulk from the bank.

Then, the neighbor lowered the bombshell. He already has a real estate agent. My first thought was why didn't the agent explain how preforeclosures work to the buyer? My second thought was why didn't they talk about the extremely narrow REO market and the drawbacks to buying foreclosures. My third thought was what is the buyer doing talking to this real estate agent?

I asked the question.

Why was he talking to me? The buyer appeared confused. Why couldn't we both send him listings? Because we would be using the same MLS database and sending the same homes for sale, that's why. Although, granted, I might create a broader search and capture more listings but both agents would essentially access identical data.

However, the bigger issue was his loyalty to one real estate agent.

We are paid on commission. When working with buyers, we get paid if a buyer purchases a home through us. An agent is unlikely to work very hard for a buyer if a buyer is not committed to working with that agent. I asked the buyer how long he has been working with his agent and whether he was happy. No, he was not happy, and he had been trying to buy a home for more than a month.

Not meaning to be rude, I looked straight into his gray steely eyes and asked, "May I please ask why you would continue to work with a real estate agent who makes you unhappy?" He wasn't ready for such a direct question. He stared at the ground. Hey, life is short, and it's too short for you to be unhappy, I suggested. This was a possibility that seemed to be news to him, although he was obviously old enough to collect Social Security and most likely retired. I realize not every person on earth believes he or she is entitled to happiness.

On the other hand, a REALTOR® is supposed to work under the Code of Ethics and cannot interfere with another REALTOR's client. My nature is not to try to swipe some other agent's client. But when the client comes to me to ask for help, it's a different story.

In the end, I suggested that the buyer continue working with his present agent because he hadn't really given me any solid reason to be unhappy. I think he was just confused about how real estate works. 

Almost every listing goes into MLS and all agents have access. Very few of us in Sacramento work with pocket listings, so we don't keep our inventory a secret. We expose our homes for sale to the largest pool of buyers possible because that practice brings the highest price. Buyers should choose a buyer's agent the buyer likes and trusts and stick with that agent.

Very few buyer's agents would agree to take on a buyer much less show the buyer homes if that buyer wanted to work with more than one agent. Those types of buyers are often called principals, and they call only listing agents because they don't need nor want representation.

They often don't care if they are involved in dual agency.

The very first question most buyer's agents will ask a buyer is: are you working with another agent? If the answer is yes, then the buyer's agent will generally not agree to work with the buyer. If the answer is no, but the buyer has lied, it will come out sooner or later because the truth always does. It's best just to be honest. It is acceptable to work with more than one agent when the agents work in different areas and each has given permission for the buyer to work with the other. Otherwise, no.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, BRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.