Real estate representation simplified

So you walk into an open house and there is a broker at the open house, who does he represent? What should you tell him or not tell him? You meet an agent who you emailed through streeteasy about a loft in Soho, who does she represent? In whose interests is she working? An email through yields a flurry of calls from agents wanting to “work for you”, are they really working in your best interests?

A real estate transaction is complex and can be made even more challenging by ambiguous representation. Legally, the agent has to disclose to you in writing who they are representing be it for a purchase, or a rental.

NYS agency disclosure form with explanation

For Manhattan real estate, typically, the agent represents the buyer, seller or both. Huh? How can an Manhattan real estate broker represent both the buyer and seller? Well, they can not give undivided loyalty to either but they can practice what is called dual agency.

The broker can represent the buyer in which case she negotiates on the behalf of the buyer, trying to convince the other side as to why the terms of the buyer are appropriate and should be accepted. Represent yourself as a buyer? Usually, this is a mistake because the agent at the open house likely is representing the seller and will negotiate the terms most favorable to the seller.

In the case of the agent at the open house, most likely they are representing the seller and will secure the best terms for the seller. For example, if you tell the seller’s agent that you will offer a price but are prepared to go higher, by law, the broker must tell the seller that. So be careful what you say to a seller’s agent. It is the same if you tell the seller’s agent that you need to move in a one month because of a job transfer, they will tell the seller that information and that may weaken your ability to negotiate a better sale price.

In all cases, the real estate broker that represents you will among many other things owe you confidentiality. So anything that you disclose can be kept to himself unless you instruct him otherwise.

So next time you meet an agent for the first time, see if they disclose to you who they represent and if they do not, ask them. It is the law.