What is the difference between a listing agent and a buyers agent?
Basically, a listing agent represents the seller and the buyer's agent represents the buyer. However, any real estate agent can serve in either role depending on the client's needs, or he can serve in both roles under dual agency. Many agents specialize in working with sellers or working with buyers and there may be some benefit to that, particularly if you need the agent to run the whole show for you because you won't be present during the buying or selling or you are purchasing the property sight unseen.
When an agent is acting as a listing agent, she generally has the following duties:
Assist in valuing and properly pricing the property for sale. To sell your property for the highest price in the shortest time with the least inconvenience, you must accurately and competitively price your home. These two things don't always align, so it is important to have an agent who understands how to strike the proper balance and sell your home for a price you want.
Suggest any necessary repairs and improvements. When the market is good, buyers are particular because there are so many houses on the market. When the market is bad, buyers are particular because there are so few houses on the market. Either way, buyers are particular which means that every detail counts in the sale of your home. Listing agents will tell you which details are most important and worthwhile, so you don't go upgrading your kitchen countertops to granite when everyone has moved on to concrete or painting your shutters when they really need replacing.
Market your property. Sure, the listing agent will do things like put a for sale sign up in your yard and host open houses, but the most fruitful type of marketing a listing agent does is to other agents - to buyers' agents. This happens through placing an MLS listing (which generally only real estate agents can do) and networking with other agents.
Present and negotiate offers on your behalf. A listing agent sorts out the difference between low-ball offers and genuine compromise offers, and she will tell you whether the market will allow you to wait around for the offer you really want. As well, the agent will help you understand the legal details of the offer and what things need to be done to complete the transaction should you accept the offer.
Follow through on the contract contingencies until the sale closes. When parties enter into a sales agreement, there are certain things the buyer must do and certain things the seller must do before escrow closes and the sale is complete. A listing agent makes sure those things are done so that the buyer has no reason to back out of the contract or, worse yet, sue.
A buyers' agent generally has the following duties:
Assist in finding properties. A buyers' agent searches for homes that meet your criteria and shows them to you. As well, the agent gets access to houses that you find on your own. Often, through his contacts, the agent is able to show you houses that aren't listed in the newspaper or on websites or houses that are a good deal for some undisclosed reason or another.
Assist in determining which property is best for you. A buyer's agent will research the history of each property and point out those things that could present a problem. An agent should also be able to spot problems when she shows you each house such as explaining whether an addition adds or detracts value or whether the property will be noisy at night.
Make and negotiate offers on your behalf. A buyer's agent will help you make an offer that's fair, not too generous or insulting. He will tell you whether a carport is really worth an extra couple thousand dollars or whether you should push for the pool to be serviced before you move in.
Follow through on the contract contingencies until the sale closes. Just like the listing agent, the buyer's agent makes sure that all contingencies are met and the deal closes.