Buying a House: Working with Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents love working with people, but there are always clients who may unintentionally cross the line. Here are a few simple protocols you can use while shopping for a home that will keep you out of hot water and on good terms with real estate agents—especially your own agent.

Choose a Real Estate Agent

  • If you are interviewing agents, let each agent know you are in the interview stage.
  • Decide whether you want to work without representation, dealing directly with listing agents, or if you want to hire your own agent.
  • If you decide to hire your own agent, interview agents to find an agent with whom you are comfortable.
  • Never, never, never interview two different agents from the same company.

Understand Agents Work on Commission

  • Most real estate agents are paid a commission. If an agent does not close a transaction, they do not get paid. Agents are highly motivated to do a good job for you.
  • Agents are not public servants and do not work for free. Do not ask an agent to work for you if you intend to cut the agent out of your deal.
  • Very few real estate agents work on salary and if they do, you probably don’t want them.

Keep Appointments and Be on Time

  • If you are running late, call and let your agent know when you expect to arrive. Just show respect.
  • Be respectful, use common courtesy, and don’t expect an agent to drop what they are doing to run out and show you a home. You are probably not that agent’s only prospect or client. And if you are, it’s not a good sign.
  • Do not make an appointment with an agent and then forget to show up.

Do Not Call the Listing Agent If You Are Working With a Buying Agent

  • Listing agents do not want to do the buying agent’s job. Let your buyer’s agent do their job.
  • Listing agents work for the seller, not the buyer. If you hire the listing agent to represent you, that agent will now be working under dual agency. Conflicts of interest may occur.
  • If a listing agent shows you the property, the listing agent will expect to represent you. Ethics prevent a listing agent from showing preferential treatment. If you ask a listing agent to do you a favor and try to discount the price, it’s compromising integrity, and most won’t do it.

Sign a Buyer’s Broker Agreement With a Buying Agent

  • Ask about the difference between an Exclusive and Non-Exclusive Buyer’s Broker Agreement.
  • If you’re not ready to sign with a buyer’s broker, do not ask that agent to show you homes. Otherwise, a procuring clause may pop up.
  • Ask your agent if they will release you from the contract if you become dissatisfied. If they refuse, hire somebody else. Your agent should also be respectful of your goals.
  • Expect to sign a buyer’s broker agreement. It creates a relationship between you and the agent and explains the agent’s duties to you, and vice versa.

Always Ask for and Sign an Agency Agreement

  • The best and most practiced type of agency is the single agency. This means you are represented by your own agent, who owes you a fiduciary responsibility.
  • By law, agents are required to give buyers an agency disclosure. This document varies across state lines.
  • Signing an agency disclosure is your proof of receipt. It is solely a disclosure. It is not an agreement to agency. Read it thoroughly.

Make Your Expectations Known

  • Set realistic goals and a time frame to find your home. Ask your agent how you can help by supplying feedback.
  • If you expect your agent to pick you up at your front door and drive you home after showing homes, tell them. Many will provide that service. If not, they will ask you to meet at the office.
  • Let your agent know how you want them to communicate with you and how often. Do you want phone calls, emails, text messages, IMs, or all of the above?
  • If you are displeased, say so. Agents want to make you happy. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

Do Not Sign Forms You Do Not Understand

  • Realize agents are not lawyers and cannot interpret law. Don’t ask agents to give a legal opinion, prefaced by the statement you are not asking for a legal opinion.
  • Do not feel silly for asking your agent to explain a form to you. It’s their job. Many forms are second nature to agents but not to you, so ask for explanations until you are satisfied you understand.
  • Try not to sign forms titled “Consent to Represent More Than One Buyer.” This is never in your best interest. But sometimes you can’t help it because your agent could work for a large brokerage. That brokerage could represent more than one buyer, not your agent.

Be Ready to Buy

  • Bring your checkbook. You’ll need it to write an offer because an​ earnest money deposit may be required to accompany your purchase offer. And please, be preapproved.
  • If you aren’t ready to buy, you don’t need a real estate agent. You can go to open houses by yourself and call listing agents for showings—but be honest. Say you are “only shopping.” Look at homes online, but don’t waste an agent’s time if you aren’t ready to act.
  • If possible, hire a babysitter to care for children who are too young to stay out all morning or afternoon touring homes.

Practice Open House Protocol

  • Do not ask the open house host questions about the seller or the seller’s motivation. Let your agent ask those questions for you. Your agent will probably use a different approach that works.
  • Ask your agent if it’s considered proper for you to attend open houses alone. In some areas, it’s frowned upon to go to open houses unescorted.
  • Hand your agent’s business card to the agent hosting the open house. Sometimes this agent will be the listing agent, but often it is a buyer’s agent also looking for unrepresented buyers. Announcing you are represented protects you.

With a little respect and courtesy on both sides, you and your agent can have a successful relationship and smoothly navigate the process of buying a home.

The Real Question: Buying or Renting?

Millennials accounted for the largest share of home sales last year, with 24- to 35-year-olds making up a full quarter of all homebuyers. Another 20% of buyers were 35 to 44 (older Millennials and younger Gen Xers). But will the next up-and-coming generation of Gen Zers follow in their footsteps? Recent data seems to suggest so.

Furthermore, economists expect Gen Zers to have a higher homeownership rate when they’re age 35 to 44 than Millennials did at the same age. Still, the renting versus buying debate is never clear-cut despite where current trends seem to point. There are pros and cons for both situations. The right choice depends on your budget, location, long-term plans, and many other factors.

The Pros and Cons of Renting a Home


One of the biggest advantages of renting is that you don’t have as much financial responsibility to your home as a homeowner would.

Generally, your landlord or superintendent will handle the bulk of your unit’s maintenance and repair needs.

Renting is a more flexible option for moving, too. If your job changes or you simply want to move to a new place, it’s just a matter of putting in notice with your landlord.

Also, the startup cost of renting is usually the more affordable option. The cost of your application fee or security deposit is generally much lower than a down payment, closing costs, and other up-front costs of buying a home.

Renting isn’t without its faults:

  • You have to deal with a landlord
  • You may have to live in close proximity to your neighbors
  • Usually, you can’t make any updates or customizations to your property
Most importantly, though, you won’t be building equity. While you may get your security deposit back, you won’t see a large portion of your renting costs ever again.

According to Apartment Guide’s 2020 Annual Rent Report, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in 2019 was $1,808.70. Over the course of a one-year lease, your rent payments would total $21,704.40.

With a home, the money you pay into your mortgage likely will come back to you in part or in full when you sell the home.

The Pros and Cons of Buying a Home


There are some big benefits to buying a home, too. For one, you build equity. You can use that equity later with a home equity loan, HELOC, or just in cold, hard cash when you’re ready to sell the house.

You also get a number of tax benefits as a homeowner. You can deduct your mortgage interest and a portion of your property taxes. In some cases, you can reduce your tax bill with a mortgage credit certificate, too.

Owning your home creates peace of mind and pride. It’s all yours, there’s no landlord you answer to and you can truly make the place your own.


Owning a home comes with significant up-front and ongoing costs.

The two main financial commitments you’ll face are your down payment and closing costs. Your expenses for maintenance and emergencies likely will be higher, too:
  • Average yearly home maintenance/improvement spending: $1,521
  • Average closing costs in 2018: $5,779
  • Average down payment in 2018: $15,490
Additionally, owning a home makes it harder to do a quick move. Homes were on the market for an average of 65 to 93 days in 2018.

If you want to move or your job changes, it might not be as easy to pick up and leave as it would if you rented.

Making Your Decision to Rent or Buy

Your location will play a big role in the rent-vs.-buy debate.

A recent report from real estate and property data firm ATTOM Data Solutions shows that buying a home is more affordable than renting in just over half of U.S. markets. Conversely, renting is the more budget-friendly choice in 47% of markets.

In addition to location, finances play a role in your buying-versus-renting decision, too

Buying a home requires you to make a down payment, cover closing costs, and foot the bill for things like homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, maintenance, and more.

With the average down payment and closing costs totaling more than $25,000, homebuying’s financial demands are high. If you choose to buy a home instead of renting, make sure your finances are prepared for the up-front costs.

The Bottom Line

It’s clear there are arguments for both renting and buying. Recent trends do point toward a higher interest in homeownership among younger generations. Future trends indicate Gen Z homeownership rates will outpace Millennials.

However, trends shouldn’t dictate your choice. The buying-versus-renting decision is a very personal one. It’s one you should make with careful thought and consideration of your finances, goals, and needs as a household.