The Wall Street Journal recently reported that a growing number of homebuyers are choosing buyer brokerage and most of these are actually signing contracts with their buyer agents.
The article, which was, overall, not particularly favorable to buyer brokerage, quoted figures from The National Association of Realtors' (NAR) that 67% of buyers are now represented by their own agents, up from 47% in 2001 and that the majority of these buyers do sign contracts with their agents.
While some states require contracts for buyer brokerage and many of the large real estate companies insist their agents get it in writing, other agents are willing to represent a buyer on a handshake or an informal verbal agreement.
WSJ was skeptical about many facets of buyer agency, stating that signing a contract could force a buyer to continue to work with an agent with whom he was not happy or require a buyer to pay a commission should the seller refuse to compensate the buyer's agent. They also cite possible conflicts of interest should the agent manage to collect a commission from both the seller and his client or undertake to represent both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction.
It is probably true that a contract does more for the agent than the buyer, but loyalty is a two way street and a buyer should be willing to commit to a geographical territory and a specific time frame in which they will demonstrate that loyalty. Time and territorial limits can easily be included in a contract. Buyers seldom have to pay their agent's commission. Most sellers have little interest in how the commission they pay their listing agent is divvied up at the closing table and buyers' agents should know enough to include their commission as a condition of any offer.
The fact that buyer agency, unheard of before the mid-1980's, is now used in more than half of the residential sales transactions, should be taken as an endorsement of the practice. Most agents, once they have gotten over their preconceptions about buyer's agency (and there are lots), absolutely love it and I have never known a buyer who regretted employing an agent to represent their interests.