Gun or No Gun
In the good ol’ days, the wild, wild, west of Maine real estate, a buyer would call on a listing, ask to see it, and make an offer through the listing agent. You’d then be at the mercy of the seller agent’s exclusive loyalty to the seller. Any confidential information such as clues about negotiating strategy, motivation, buyer finances, etc. would be conveyed to the listing agent and used to benefit only the seller. It’s like two gunslingers facing off, except one doesn’t have a gun!
In 2005, the Maine Real Estate Commission introduced “buyer agency”, a way for buyers to be professionally represented with an exclusive buyer agency agreement. This service is free and levels the playing field between buyer and seller in the process of buying real estate. The seller pays a “co-broke” fee to the buyer’s agent, and for that fee, the buyer agent is duty-bound (with a signed buyer agreement) to keep all information confidential, explain contracts, disclosures, review buying options, and pitfalls and advocate for the buyer’s best interests. This includes researching town records, sales comparables, and anything else relevant to the sale.
Here we are in 2020 and the general public is still largely in the dark about this important tool available to them at no cost. In fact, I’ve encountered buyers who are suspicious when I tell them about it. Trying to persuade them to sign a buyer’s agreement is often like selling snake oil, and can be awkward at best. Few people want to sign something they don’t understand, but it can be challenging to explain all the benefits when a customer just wants to see a property. So, that conversation often gets put off longer than it should.
In the thirteen ensuing years, the real challenge has been to get agents themselves to realize that the Real Estate Commission is firm on having these agreements signed by buyers. We are all subject to fines for not doing so. The moment a signed buyer agreement is needed is immediately prior to “real estate services” being dispensed.
These services include showing a house, believe it or not! They also include giving any advice or doing any research, such as finding sales comps for a prospective buyer. Until a buyer agreement is executed, the buyer is considered a “customer” and should not expect any real estate services whatsoever. That expectation changes completely with a signed buyer agreement. “Customer” becomes “client”, with a dedicated agent to guide and educate.
Until the entire real estate community practices this way, much of the public will continue to operate as before – with suspicion, and bewilderment. We are here to serve the public, and that can only happen for buyers when they are on equal footing with sellers, each with their own “gun”.