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Real estate agents show you homes, answer your questions, help you get insurance and loans, handle settlement paperwork and act as liaisons between you and the seller. Legally, they can play one of three roles: seller’s agent, buyer’s agent or dual agent. It's important to know what role your agent is playing.

Seller’s Agents

Unless you find a property that is "for sale by owner," the houses you look at will be listed through seller’s agents, that is, agents hired by the homeowners or developers. They represent the sellers, but they’ll also help buyers interested in their properties. Even if an agent represents the seller, he or she must give you honest answers to your questions about the property, reveal any problems related to it and, if you decide to put a contract on the home, promptly present your offer to the seller. However, a seller’s agent isn’t obligated to get you the best deal when it comes to contract negotiation. If you want, you can simply find properties you like and call the seller’s agents listing them. Look in the paper, check online real estate listings and look for for-sale signs posted in front of homes. Seller’s agents almost always represent multiple properties, so if you don’t like the first home you see, ask what else is available. Avoid signing exclusivity contracts. It’s okay to request information from multiple seller’s agents, just remember they are not working for you.

Buyer’s Agents

Unless you are a seasoned homebuyer, it’s best to get your own agent. This "buyer’s agent,” will try to get you the home you want at the best possible price and terms. Your agent can show you any property for sale, even those not listed with the company he or she works for. Your buyer’s agent will tell you things a seller’s agent won’t, such as whether the seller’s willing to accept a lower price, how long the property’s been on the market, how eager the seller is to sell, the status of any other contracts on the property and any inside information that could affect the home’s price or terms. How do you find a good agent? Start by asking friends, relatives or coworkers for referrals. You’re usually limited to one buyer’s agent, so choose wisely.

Dual Agents

Dual agency occurs when the buyer's agent and the seller’s agent are affiliated with the same real estate company. Because the company’s legally bound to represent both you and the seller, the amount of confidential information that can be revealed to either of you is limited, unless you and the seller agree to disclose this information.

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