A real estate agent is a licensed professional who is authorized to conduct real estate business in a given state. Real estate agents are educated in real estate matters, and have passed a state board exam in order to obtain their credentials.

Some real estate agents may be dual licensed and can practice law, and others are licenced notaries. As real estate agents are licensed professionals, they have a duty of care and are held to a standard of care that is reasonable for real estate agents.

Agents have access to the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, which allows them to locate residential properties the very day they are listed on the market. Additionally, they are often knowledgeable about the housing market in their specific area. This means that often real estate agents know what homes in the area are selling for, and they know everything required throughout the homebuying or selling process.

Real estate agents may perform some of the following duties:

  • Handle standard client forms and questionnaires;
  • Review real estate contracts;
  • Negotiate pricing, up to the closing of a deal; or
  • Showcase properties and guide clients through walk-throughs and open houses.

Can I Sell My Residence Without an Agent?

The law does not require homebuyers or sellers to use a real estate agent. However, different states may have laws that require a real estate agent’s involvement with the closing paperwork process. Additionally, agents do take a commission. This means that part of the sale of the residence will be given to the agent.

While some people choose to buy or sell a home without the help of a real estate agent, there are a lot of rules and requirements involved in real estate transactions that may be better handled by a licensed professional. Real estate agents will generally be knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the process which could make it easier on homebuyers or sellers, especially those that are buying or selling for the first time.

If you choose to work with a real estate agent, you will need to sign a listing agreement. This is a contract between you and the agent which determines the obligations and rights of the business agreement. A listing agreement will generally detail:

  • The amount of commission the agent expects as compensation;
  • When the broker will receive the commission, or whether they will receive a flat fee;
  • The beginning and ending dates for the relationship between the agent and the buyer or seller;
  • The amount of time that the property will be listed; and
  • The list price.

What Should I Know About a Property Before Attempting to Purchase It?

Before pursuing a property, you will need to learn about any disclosures on the property. Disclosures refer to any problems with the property. Although states’ requirements vary, the property’s seller must reveal these disclosures to the buyer. Generally, the seller will complete a checklist of all of the major, typical disclosures. 

These could include flood damage, cracks in the foundation, termites, property line disputes, etc. Sellers are legally required to disclose any major defects that they have knowledge of. The active concealment of a known defect is illegal.

In addition to the seller’s disclosure, prudent buyers should hire an inspector to conduct an independent survey of the property in order to uncover any defects. The inspector may find problems that the seller was not aware of, or did not disclose. Buyers have the right to place a clause in the purchase contract stating that the sale of the property is contingent upon the completion of a property inspection, and that the inspection must be completed by qualified engineer or construction expert and at the buyer’s expense.

Additionally, you should ensure that there is not an encumbrance on the property. This could prevent the buyer from obtaining the legal title to the property, or even possession of the property. Encumbrances may include easements, encroachments, and other kinds of boundary and title disputes. Most encumbrances will be recorded and can be located at the county recorder’s office.  Related to encumbrances are mortgages and liens.

A piece of property may be sold subject to a mortgage, or some other type of financial lien. Buyers should check whether a piece of property has a lien or mortgage by doing a title search through the county recorder’s office. Alternatively, a title insurance company can check instead, and provide information regarding any such encumbrances on the property.

Do I Need an Attorney for the Purchase and Sale of a Residence?

It is possible to buy or sell a residence without the assistance of an attorney. However, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney before signing any legal document or contract, such as a listing agreement. 

A skilled and knowledgeable real estate attorney can help you navigate the home buying or selling process, as well as help negotiate a fair price while protecting your interests. Finally, they can represent you in court as needed.