Listing Agent vs Selling Agent – Key Differences You Need To Know About
What You Will Read In This Article
- What is a Listing Agent?
- What is a Selling Agent?
- Is it Possible for a Listing Agent to Also Represent the Buyer?
- Differences Between Listing Agent and Selling Agent Fees
- Do You Need a Listing Agent to Sell a House?
- Do you Need a Buyers Agent to Buy a House?
- Differences Between Finding a Top Listing vs Selling Agent
- Alternative Types Of Listing And Selling Agents
Real estate transactions are complicated affairs with most individuals and businesses opting to hire a professional such as a Realtor, real estate agent or real estate attorney to help them navigate the selling timeline from pre-listing to closing.
No matter if you’re buying or selling, a real estate agent will likely play a big role in the process, offering sage advice, consultation and a myriad of supporting services that aid in ensuring that your best interests are looked out for and that everything goes smoothly.
Buying or selling a home most likely represents the biggest financial transaction you’ll ever participate in. This makes hiring the right agent a challenge in and of itself, with terminology further muddying the waters.
Even those who deal with agents regularly get hung up on terminology. One of the most misunderstood titles in real estate is the agent’s classification. There are two types of real estate agents operating within the industry: listing agents and selling agents.
Despite having the same licensure, a listing agent and a selling agent have vastly different roles and responsibilities. Think of them as representing two sides of the same coin, with the coin being the real estate transaction itself.
Why should you care? Knowing the responsibilities of each type of agent can help you better prepare for the process, better understand contracts and agreements, and know what to look for when making a hiring decision. For example, you may not be able to back out of a purchase agreement once signed and an agent will help you understand what you are signing.
This guide will take you through an in-depth exploration of each agent type and their respective responsibilities and roles.
By the end you should feel more confident about your next real estate transaction.
Sellers vs Selling: It’s Just a Name….Right?
Confusion surrounding these two roles comes from just a few letters (‘ing’ vs ‘er’), yet this small difference on paper makes a world of difference in reality.
Selling Agent vs. Seller’s Agent
Wow, they sure do sound alike, don’t they? This similarity on paper is both deceptive and confusing. Each represents an entirely different party (the ‘seller’ and the ‘buyer’ of the property in question).
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What is a Listing Agent? (Also called a seller’s agent)
A seller’s agent (listing agent) is a licensed real estate agent who works with and exclusively represents a home seller. Making the right hire for your property listing can make all the difference in the world. From making the process go smoothly, to marketing your property in order to attract the right type of buyers and ultimately helping you get the highest price at closing.
Listing Agreement and Exclusivity
A listing agent will require you to sign a “listing agreement” that authorizes them to represent you (the rightful owner and seller of the property) throughout the process. This agreement is often “exclusive”, meaning that for the term (duration) of the agreement, the home may only be sold by that listing agent. With an “exclusive” contract, even if you find and bring your own buyer to the table, the listing agent still gets the commission.
Listing Agent Responsibilities
A listing agent has a lengthy job description, with responsibilities spanning from the pre-listing stage all the way through closing and transfer of the property to the new owners.
- Act as a source of knowledge and information for sellers
- Provide advice, counsel, guidance and consulting at each stage of the process
- Conduct a thorough comparative market analysis
- Assess the property’s market value
- Assist with guidance on a pricing strategy for the listing
- Write sales copy for the listing
- List the property on the MLS (multiple listing service)
- Market and promote the property on and offline
- Professional photos (and possibly video) of the property for showcasing in listings
- Assist with staging the property
- Field prospective buyer inquires
- Schedule and host open houses and property showings
- Negotiate deals and present the best offers to sellers
- Coordinate with buyer agents, title companies, home inspectors and lenders
- Assists with the closing paperwork
What is a Selling Agent? (Also called a buyer’s agent)
The word “selling” is what throws people off here. It implies that this agent might have something to do with the “seller” of the property. However, the exact opposite is true.
Also commonly referred to as the easier to remember “buyer’s agent”, this individual exclusively represents the needs and interest of the buyer in a real estate transaction.
When to Use Each Name
Although the terms “selling agent” and “buyer’s agent” are often used interchangeably in real estate, this type of agent is officially called a “buyer’s agent” PRIOR to the signing of a real estate contract. Once a deal is inked and signed, this agent is then officially referred to as a “selling agent”. Why the difference? Once a buyer officially purchases the property, it is said that the buyer’s agent “sold” them on the deal/house.
Selling Agent Responsibilities
- Leverage the power of the MLS (multiple listing service) to search for homes that match your needs and desires
- Assistance with locating and evaluating adequate financing
- Coordinate with listing agents to schedule showings
- Accompany you to showings to ensure your best interests are looked after
- Work with you to devise a competitive offer on homes you’re interested in
- Negotiate price and deal terms
- Act as your guide, counsel and advocate from home search to closing
What is the Selling Agent’s Overall Role?
A selling agent represents the buyer and the buyer’s interests at all stages of the transaction. This relationship begins with signing a contract to enlist the services of a selling agent to help you find a home that meets your specific needs, from style to budget.
Selling agents have a deep understanding of local real estate market conditions, projections, laws, amenities, safety/crime rates, school systems, employment opportunities, cost of living and more. In other words, they have information that would take you countless hours to find and evaluate.
They know what’s a bargain, what’s not, and how to expertly negotiate to ensure you get the best value on your dream home.Learn how to sell a house and save thousands with ISoldMyHouse.com.
Is it Possible for a Listing Agent to Also Represent the Buyer?
Traditionally, the process of selling and buying a piece of property entails both parties (the seller and the buyer) having their own representative real estate agent.
Both the buyer and seller’s respective agents have what is referred to as a “fiduciary responsibility” to uphold their clients’ best interests. This is both an ethical and legal responsibility.
But what about having the SAME agent represent both the buyer and the seller. Is that even possible. Turns out, it is, and although saving big on commissions might be a driving factor when considering this option, it is not without its challenges.
When a listing agent represents BOTH the buyer and the seller, this is known as dual agency and the agent a “dual” agent.
Is it Legal?
Yes, but sometimes no. The first legally required aspect is that the dual agent must first obtain the consent of both parties (in writing) before any form of representation. They must also become a neutral party, equally representing each party and with no fiduciary duty to either.
This means that they are no longer legally able to ensure that the buyer OR seller gets the “better” deal. As you can imagine, this may cause a conflict of interest (more on this below).
The next requirement is that the real estate transaction be carried out in a state that legally allows dual agency.
Currently All States EXCEPT the Following Allow Dual Agency:
In the above states, dual agency is illegal even with the consent of all parties involved.
Conflict of Interest?
As a facilitator of the deal representing both parties, the dual agent is required by law to be impartial, with no specific fiduciary duty to either side.
It is not uncommon that a listing agent will already be working with a seller, but then the buyer and/or the seller proposes that they use the SAME agent to save money and streamline the process. When this happens, the moment the clients both sign the dual agency agreement, that agent no longer has a fiduciary responsibility to the seller and instantly is required to transition to a totally neutral party representing each client equally.
A dual agent handles all aspects of paperwork, communication, and negotiation for both parties, acting as a mediator and facilitator of the deal. However, this process itself can cause some inherent problems with conflicting interests.
The appraisal comes back from the buyer’s lender and the buyer requests a $9000 reduction in price. In this situation, the sellers agent would normally negotiate to get the seller the most money at closing, whereas the buyer’s agent would negotiate hard to get the price reduced.
A buyer’s home inspection reveals a mildly aged roof and some repairs that need doing. The buyer is demanding a credit for these (or other concessions).
As a seller, if the agent pushes for the cost reduction or concessions you may feel like “hey, who’s side are you on anyway?”
Brokerage Policies May Prohibit
Understanding the complex and difficult situation that a dual agent is put in, some brokerages have their own internal policies to prevent any of their agents from acting in a dual agency capacity. Although it wouldn’t be considered illegal for an agent to do so, violating their brokerage’s policy would put them in breach of their employment contract, and likely making them subject to termination and potentially a civil lawsuit.
Differences Between Listing Agent and Selling Agent Fees
The majority of real estate transactions are made under an agreement of exclusivity. An exclusive right to sell agreement means that only that listing agent (not you or anyone else) may “sell” the property for the duration of the agreement. Even if you bring a buyer to the table, if they purchase, you will still need to pay the listing agent the agreed upon commission rate. If the listing agent works with a brokerage, the agent shares a percentage of this commission with the brokerage.
What Does the Commission Cover?
Although some sellers might balk at the sticker shock of their listing agent’s commission rate, that cost covers a broad range of high-value services that help you get the most out of your listing, while taking away a lot of the stress and anxiety associated with home sales.
They help with marketing, promotion, listing, sales copy, staging, photography/videos, open houses, showings, negotiation, paperwork, legal issues and more. They also coordinate and are present for home inspections, appraisals and are always looking out for your best interests.
Is it worth it?
Hiring an agent isn’t always the best route, but on average it can save a lot of time and headaches while getting you top dollar for your home but if you have the know-how and time to sell on your own, you should highly consider flat fee MLS listing services.
Is Commission Covered in Closing Costs?
Although the commission fee is DUE at closing, a common misconception is whether or not it is part of the actual closing costs when selling.
Closing costs are comprised of several fees and monies due, separate and distinct from agent commissions. For example, closing costs include but are not limited to: title insurance, lender fees, appraisals, local and state taxes, and more. Closing costs generally total around 2-5% of the purchase price.
Do you Have to Pay Commission if Your Home Doesn’t Sell?
This is a loaded question, but the answer is “likely not”. Your agreement with an agent is based on a performance contract, the payment contingency being that the home must be sold in order for the agent to obtain their commission fee. In most cases, if the home is NOT sold, the agent does not get their fee.
HOWEVER, as with anything in life, very few things are absolute. The longer answer is that you should always review the fine print in your contract.
Situations Where you May Still be Required to Pay Out:
- The term of the agreement with your listing agent has lapsed, but the individual who ended up purchasing the property (after contract expiration) was a prospect generated by the listing agent during the contract term.
- You back out of a sale after an offer was accepted
Traditional Real Estate Transaction (2 Agents) Commission
When two agents are involved, the seller is who ultimately pays the total commission based on the closing price of the home.
Seller Normally Pays Both
In a traditional real estate transaction where there is a listing agent representing the seller and a selling agent (buyer’s agent) representing the buyer, the total commission on the closed property is split 50/50 between each agent.
- Closing price on home = $300,000
- Listing Agent Commission = 6%
- Total Commission = $18,000
In the above scenario, the selling agent keeps 50% ($9000), with the buyer’s agent getting the other half ($9000).
For Sale By Owner (FSBO) Commission
One of the primary attractions of the FSBO model is the money saved on commission. However, just because you save money on commission doesn’t mean that you pay no commission at all.
While you may not have hired an agent, your BUYER likely did. If that buyer is brought to you by a selling agent (buying agent), and that buyer ends up purchasing your property, you have to pay that buyer their commission at closing.
- Closing price on home = $300,000
- Listing Agent Commission = 0%
- Buyer’s Agent Commission = 3%
- Total Commission = $9000
In the above scenario, an agent (that you did not hire) represents a buyer interested in purchasing your property. At closing, you owe that agent whatever commission was agreed upon.
If you do not want to pay commission to a buyer’s agent, you need to find a willing buyer who is NOT under contract with a selling agent.
Dual Agency / Duel Agent Commission
In situations where an agent is acting in a dual agency capacity, that agent is the sole representative of the deal, representing both parties (buyer and seller) and carrying out double-duty in terms of responsibilities.
As such, that agent is the only one who receives a commission from the sale at closing. The rate of this commission is can be lower than if both parties had their own agents if the listing agreement states a variable commission in this scenario, meaning that the seller of the property usually saves money. However, if they do not have such language in the listing agreement, then the seller would be responsible for the full commission amount.
Situations Where a Buyer Would Pay
Buying a FSBO
If a homeowner is selling by way of FSBO (for sale by owner), or if a buyer purchasing a home that is being marketed via the FSBO route, there may be situations in which the buyer will be responsible for (or will need to) pay the commission for their own “buyer’s agent”.
A seller often chooses to go with the FSBO route to save money on commissions. As such, they might not be happy to learn that your own agent has included a commission rate on the agreement to buy the home for sale.
When this happens, a seller may refuse to pay the commission. Because buyer’s are on an exclusive contract with the selling agent, they cannot purchase the home without the agent being involved. If they want to move forward with the purchase, they may need to pay their agent out of their own pockets.
When a Seller is Offering a Lower Commission than Buyers Agreed to Pay Their Buyers Agent
Another situation may arise in which a seller is only willing to offer a set (often lower) commission rate than the buyer’s agent is willing to accept. When this happens, the buyer may opt to make up the difference in commission by paying the selling agent out of their own pocket. Or if their signed agreement with the agent specifies a minimum amount of commission to be paid, then they will have to cover the difference!
Standard Commission Rates
The majority of agents work as an independent contractor, relying entirely on commissions for their income. The particular structure of commission and the percent they may have to share with their brokerage varies.
Although there are regional and even local differences, the typical commission rate for real estate agents runs between 4-8% and is based on the final closing price of the home. This commission is usually split 50/50 between the listing and buyer’s agent. For example, around 36% of all agents in the USA are paid based on a fixed commission split with their broker, while another 23% receive an increasing commission based on performance, with 16% on a capped commission split, and 13 percent receiving 100% of the commission. On the fringes, another 12% work under various miscellaneous compensation plans with a minuscule 1% working for a salary.
You may also come across “flat rate” real estate agents who charge a “flat fee” for a specific set of services. The services included will vary broadly based on the rate and agent.
Typical Listing Agent Commission
This generally ranges between 4-8% of the property’s sale price.
Typical Buyers Agent Commission
Generally comes in around 2-4% (or 50% of the listing agent’s total commission rate).
Are Listing Agent Commissions Negotiable?
Although commission rates are fairly standard across the board, there is no legislative or regulatory body that sets commission rates. Because of this, agents may have discretion to negotiate with buyers and sellers for a lower rate.
We all like a good deal, but this is one case where you sometimes get what you pay for. Remember that a big portion of the commission goes into the promotion and marketing of your property. Because of this, a reduction in commission may mean less promotion, thus increasing the time needed to sell your home, and potentially bringing you fewer buyers who may compete for a higher price point.
Are Selling Agent Commissions Negotiable?
Similarly to listing agent commission rates, selling agent commissions are not legally prescribed, giving the agent the ability to potentially negotiate for lower fees.
Learn how to sell a house and save thousands with ISoldMyHouse.com.
PRO TIP: In some cases, agents may be contractually barred from negotiating a lower rate. Such a situation occurs when the employment contract with their brokerage prohibits them from negotiating or accepting a reduced commission rate.
Do You Need a Listing Agent to Sell a House?
When weighing your options regarding the selling of your house, you have two primary ways to evaluate the situation:
- Are you legally required to use a listing agent?
- Can you realistically (and practically) handle the sale of your house and all the challenges that go with it on your own?
For reference, only around 10% of sellers opt to go the FSBO (for sale by owner) route, with another estimated 10% starting out as a FSBO but later hiring an agent.
Do you Legally Need a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your House?
Despite an overwhelming number of people who think it’s required by law to use an agent for at least part of the home sales process, there are in fact NO laws in the USA requiring you to do so. In fact, it is legal in all 50 US states to list, sell and transfer ownership of your house to another individual or party without using a real estate agent.
PRO TIP: Although using an agent is not legally required, there are some states in the USA where it is required to hire a real estate attorney to handle or simply be present at the closing of a real estate transaction. These states include: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia and the District of Columbia (D.C.).
*State requirements may change as new laws are passed. Always do your own due diligence to keep apprised of any local and state laws regarding the selling of your home.
Do you Realistically Need a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your House?
Selling a home on their own isn’t for everyone. It takes adequate research, knowledge, time and resources to pull off. The average time it takes to sell a house (from listing to closing) comes in at around 65-93 days on average nationwide. Although there may be some local variance, you’ll still need to plan on investing a lot of time and energy into getting the deal done.
What You Should Consider Before Deciding to Sell on Your Own
- Do you have enough spare time to dedicate to the process?
- Are you familiar enough with the local real estate market conditions?
- Are you capable of conducting a comparative market analysis and properly pricing your home to sell?
- Can you realistically remove your emotions from the process and treat it as a business transaction?
- Have you come to terms with the fact that you may still need to pay the Buyer’s agent?
- Do you have exceptional marketing skills adequate to generate enough interest in your property from the right kind of buyers?
- Are you familiarized with local and state laws, rules and regulations regarding real estate transactions?
PRO TIP: Even a small (accidental) compliance error can land you in hot legal water. For example, you cannot write that your roof is new, even if it was installed last week. You have to say it was “recently updated” and include the date. Failure to do so opens you up to liability and lawsuits.
How to Sell a House Without a Listing Agent
FSBO and similar options such as flat fee MLS services (read our agents guide here) have increased in popularity over the last decade. Below we’ve detailed the steps in (mostly) sequential order of what you’ll need to do to take your home from pre-listing to closing.
1. Home Prep
The home preparation stage begins well before listing it for sale. Similar to filters on your favorite selfie, home preparation prepares your home to look its best for prospective buyers. Putting in the work to prepare your home can help you get top dollar, attract more buyers and close faster.
Overview of Steps Involved:
- Remove clutter
- Remove and store excess furniture
- Remove personal items, photos, etc. (you want a clean slate for a new owner)
- Deep cleaning
- Small repairs
- Fresh coats of paint on interior walls (use neutral colors)
- Rearrange furniture to fill large spaces and highlight features
- Update cabinet hardware
- Consider carpet replacement
- Replace outdated fixtures and appliances
- Add accents such as decorative candles and area rugs
- Invest in landscaping to increase curb appeal
2. Market Research and Pricing
An agent performs a Comparative Market Analysis to find “comps” (similar homes sold in the area). This and other market data is used to help you set a competitive price that is attractive to buyers. Remember, the buyer’s lender will conduct their own appraisal, so your valuation needs to be on point if you expect your buyer to get financed for the purchase. Too high and you’ll miss out on attracting buyers, too low and you may leave money on the table.
3. Supportive Information, Media and Listing
Home Information: Square footage, size of the lot, year built, bedroom and bathroom counts, home systems (such as HVAC) and other relevant details for a home listing.
Photos and Video: At a minimum, you’ll need a high quality real estate camera or professional real estate photos that highlight the best features of your home and make it attractive to prospective buyers. Emphasize sweeping views, closeups, and more. Real estate drones are also becoming quite popular for video tours in a post COVID19 world.
Description: The description needs to be legally compliant (there are a lot of nuances here that can get you in hot water). It should also be a mix of factual information with sales copy that intrigues buyers.
4. Listing on the MLS
Even when selling on your own, leveraging the power of the MLS (multiple listing service) is a cost-effective way to gain immense exposure for your property. As far as marketing goes, you can’t do better than the MLS.
5. Advertising and Marketing
Investing time here can pay off big in the long run. Consider the following options:
- “Selling” sections of social media sites
- Classified listings online
- Real estate directories
- FSBO sites
- A dedicated blog/website you set up for the property
6. Hosting Open Houses
Open houses are a great way to get the word out about your listing while showcasing the property to prospective buyers and “selling” them on the property in person.
- Make laminated sales brochures (hand them out to attendees)
- Schedule and host on weekends
- Promote your open houses similar to how you promoted the listing itself
- Dress professionally and put your best foot forward (a friendly demeanor goes a long way)
- Be patient with viewers and take the time to answer all questions thoroughly
- Collect contact information to follow up with interested parties
7. Private Showings
Private showings are a key component of every home listing. This gives a prospective buyer one-on-one time with you, and a more in-depth tour of the property absent of other interested parties.
You’ll need to purchase a lockbox (generally around $15), and you’ll need to keep spare keys in there. Alternatively, you can purchase a multi-code lock for around $75 or less and simply give prospective buyers a code unique to them.
PRO TIP: Always verify the identity of any buyer’s agent by checking their license code against state records before giving them access to show their clients.
8. Offers and Negotiation
Being that you’re acting as your own agent, you’ll need to field and negotiate any offers that come in.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind:
- You are under no obligation to respond to any “low ball” offers
- Be patient, there is no need to accept the first offer that comes in
- Brushing up on your negotiation skills is a great idea
9. Hire a Title Company or Real Estate Attorney
This is one aspect of the transaction you’ll need a professional for. An escrow agent is necessary to help facilitate the transaction and ensure the funds are properly distributed only once all parties have lived up to their obligations under the purchase agreement.
Depending on both local laws and customs, the escrow agent may be a real estate attorney or title company. They will act as your primary point of contact for handling all of the paperwork associated with closing, as well as associated costs such as taxes.
10. Legal Paperwork and Closing
Real estate transactions are governed by a myriad of rules and regulations (state and local dependent) that govern the process of closing and transfer of a home from one owner to another.
An escrow agent or real estate attorney will help ensure you are in compliance.
Do you Need a Buyers Agent to Buy a House?
There are no laws or regulations requiring you to hire a buyer’s agent in order to purchase a house. However, as with selling a home, some states (previously mentioned) require that a real estate agent be present at closing. So while you don’t need a buyer’s agent, you may still need to hire other professionals to assist with the process.
How to Buy a House Without a Buyers Agent
1. Get Pre-Approved for Financing
Pre-approval by your mortgage lender will show you exactly how much you can afford so that you keep your search realistic.
2. Research the Neighborhood
Do your homework to understand the local real estate market conditions, trends, and sales data. This will help you evaluate how to position your offer to get the best deal.
3. Discover Properties
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a community, town/city or neighborhood its now time to look for homes that meet your wants and needs. Online searches are your best bet. Once you find a home, reach out to the owner or agent (the contact information is usually on the listing). Check out our listings here.
4. Obtain Seller Disclosures
Sellers are required by law to disclose certain aspects about the condition of the home and its various home systems.
5. Make an Offer
Making an offer on a house can be tricky. Consider its condition, results of your home inspection, seller’s disclosure and lender appraisal when factoring in how much you’re willing to spend. Remember, everything is up for negotiation.
6. Hire a Lawyer to Handle the Final Transaction
Real estate transactions are complex, and you need someone in your corner checking the fine print and looking out for your best interests.Learn how to sell a house and save thousands with ISoldMyHouse.com.
Differences Between Finding a Top Listing vs Selling Agent
How to Find a Top Listing Agent
- Talk to lenders (they often have a list of top agents they work with)
- User average days on market data to see how fast they have sold homes
- Check price change data to see how close to asking price they were able to get
- Leverage your network to obtain referrals
- Look for the Realtor designation
- Look for other certifications such as: Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) or Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES)
How to Find a Top Selling Agent
- Talk to lenders (they often have a list of top agents they work with)
- Leverage your network to obtain referrals
- Look for the Realtor designation
- Look for other certifications such as: Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR)
Alternative Types Of Listing And Selling Agents
Flat Fee MLS Listing agents – These agents provide sellers with access to the MLS (multiple listing service) for a low flat fee instead of a high listing commission but you are selling your house on your own. Read more about this service here.
Flat Fee Listing agents – These agents perform a set package of services for a flat fee. What is or is not included varies, so be sure to ask questions and make sure you have all of your bases covered.
Discount Listing agents – Discount listing agents often provide the same full-service offerings as a traditional agent, but have a more systemized and automate process that enables them to make up the difference in fees with volume of properties sold/purchased. Read more about these agents here.
Buyers Rebate agents – These agents give their client a portion of the commission received from the purchase of a home.
Listing Agent Vs. Selling Agent: The Bottom Line
If a real estate transaction is in your future, you’ll likely be working with both listing and selling agents. Although the titles sound similar, as you learned in this guide, they are as different as night and day. Using the information in this comprehensive guide, you’ll be better prepared for what lies ahead.
About the Author: Kris Lippi is the owner of ISoldMyHouse.com, the broker of Get LISTED Realty and an official member of the Forbes Real Estate Council. He actively writes about real estate related topics such as buying and selling homes, how-to guides for around the house and home product recommendations. He has been featured in Inman, Readers Digest, Fox News, American Express, Fit Small Business, Policy Genius, Lending Tree, GoDaddy, Manta as well as other major websites. Read more about us here.