The Difference Between a Listing Agent and a Selling Agent

A real estate listing agent shows a property to potential new buyers.
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It is all right not to know the difference between a listing agent and a selling agent. If it makes you feel any better, journalists and television reporters don't really know the difference between a listing agent and a selling agent, either. Why should anybody know the differences except those of us who work in the real estate business? You'll know what to call the respective agents in a transaction, and that piece of knowledge should provide you with a bit of confidence as you finagle your way into buying or selling a home.

The Listing Agent

Listing agents come in all flavors, sizes, and shapes. A listing agent typically represents the seller. Most transactions are completed under an exclusive representation listing agreement. There are a few instances in which a listing agent might accept a small flat fee to act like a clerk and put a home for sale into MLS, yet not really represent the seller. In this type of instance, the listing agent might execute an open listing with the seller, and the seller could also list with a variety of real estate agents, but it is uncommon.

For all practical purposes, the listing agent represents the seller. But the listing agent is generally not the selling agent.

The most common form of seller representation is when the listing agent has signed an exclusive right-to-sell listing with the seller. This means only the listing agent is entitled to a commission, or more accurately stated, the listing agent's brokerage is entitled to a commission. Exclusive listings are bilateral agreements between a broker and a seller. Listings agents like to believe the listing belongs to the agent, but if the agent is not the broker of the company, then the listing is not the property of the listing agent.

Listings belong to the broker or brokerage.

The Selling Agent

A listing agent is also referred to as a seller's agent because the listing agent represents the seller. Although the listing agent is typically not the selling agent, it doesn't mean the agent might not work in dual agency capacity as a selling agent as well. OK, I promised I would not confuse anybody and there I go. Please don't bite me. Most of the time, in most of the real estate markets across the country, the listing agent represents the seller and a different agent represents the buyer as the selling agent.

That selling agent could work at the same brokerage as the listing agent or at a competing brokerage. Generally the listing broker "cooperates" with another brokerage when that competitor represents the buyer, and the listing broker pays the selling brokerage for bringing the buyer who submits an offer the seller accepts. It's referred to as a "co-op" commission. If the selling agent works at the same brokerage as the listing agent, the sale is referred to as dual agency, even if the listing agent and selling agent do not know each other.

When the Listing Agent Is Also the Selling Agent

A listing agent can also be a selling agent, which means the listing agent is either engaged in dual representation, which is a form of dual agency and legal in some states, including California, or the legal relationship between the parties could be transactional in nature only. Transaction agents generally can't represent either party and must remain neutral.

Sometimes buyers wrongly believe they can call the listing agent to show a home and that the listing agent will somehow get them a "deal" with the seller, either directly or indirectly. Sad to say there are unscrupulous agents in the industry who would love the prospect of earning a double commission so much that they might do whatever it takes to appease the buyer by violating a fiduciary to the seller, but most are ethical and do not work that way. They would not throw the seller in front of a moving train just to make the buyer happy and are insulted by the implication.

But it doesn't stop some buyers from believing that myth.

To keep it simple, just remember, the listing agent, also known as the seller's agent, represents the seller. The selling agent represents the buyer, also known as a buyer's agent.