Would-be buyers in the market for an agent as well as a house should choose just as carefully as a seller.
Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, suggests using a real estate broker whose office works exclusively with buyers. You might not get great service when a Realtor's loyalty is divided between you and colleagues working with sellers, he says.
An "exclusive buyer agent" works in an office that does not take listings. The great majority of agents work with sellers as well as buyers, though you can find "buyer agents" who deal only with buyers but are based in an office that also sells.
Jon Boyd, past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, suggests you quiz several agents in these areas:
Negotiation. What's their level of experience? How will they get you the best deal? What evidence can they show about how they've saved previous clients money on the contract price, the extras (seller help with buyer closing costs, for instance) or the loan terms?
Property evaluation. How will they help you tell if the house is a steal or a dud?
Representation. Ask how they intend to deal with potential conflicts of interest (i.e. the listing agent for the house you want is your agent's boss).
Brobeck also suggests asking if they will search for all properties that meet your specifications, no matter what the commission split. The seller's agent typically splits his or her commission with the buyer's agent, and there's always a danger that a home on the multiple-listing service with a stingier-than-usual split will get "overlooked." Many agents will let you search the MLS in their office if you ask, Brobeck adds.
John F. Sullivan, an exclusive buyer agent with Buyer's Edge in Bethesda, notes that you'll want to know when - and how - you can get out of an agreement with your agent if you're not happy with the service. The standard agreement can be terminated before the expiration date only if both parties OK it, he says, but some are more flexible.
Find Jamie's blog at baltimoresun.com/realestatewonk