Is It Better for Buyers to Work with the Listing Agent or Have Your Own Agent?


All buyers in California have the option of working with an agent who will represent their interests exclusively or work with the agent listing the house they are interested in.  The latter option, working with the agent listing the property, is called “Dual Agency.” And in some states this representation is prohibited because of its “conflict of interest.”  Much like the professional standards for attorneys and accountants, whose standards prohibit even the appearance of a conflict of interest. California is the exception and allows “Dual Agency” under strict disclosure and agreements by both buyers and sellers.

There are many misinformed buyers that believe that if they work with the listing agent, they will get the best deal. My question is HOW?

You see, a listing agent has, first and foremost, a contractual and a fiduciary (fiduciary means; held or founded in trust or confidence) to the sellers of the home and this legally and ethnically supersedes all interests of other parties.

The listing agent can and will know things that are to be held in strict confidence; violation of that confidence can lead to disciplinary actions by their professional board and/or they could even lose their license to practice real estate. 

So the question is still…

How can it be advantageous to use the listing agent to get the best deal when their main legal responsibility is to the seller?

The answer to this is that if the agent is ethical it cannot.

Who is the one that benefits from the Dual Agency?

First is the listing agent:  When an agent represents both buyer and seller that agent gets what amounts to twice the commission.  For example, in a normal transaction the seller of a house signs a contract that they will pay 2.5% of the sale price of the house to their listing agent and 2.5% to the agent that represents the buyers for a total of 5% total commission.

Commissions are 100% negotiable between the seller and their agent, the above 5% is used only as an example.

So if the listing agent represents both buyer and seller their total commission will be 5% rather than 2.5% (using the example above).

Some buyers think “If I make an offer through the listing agent, then I will be able to negotiate a reduced price on the price of the home or a credit from the agent, which will benefit me.” 

The first problem with this thinking is that the seller pays both commissions and the commission rate is set in their agreement with the listing agent. If there were to be any discount on commission due to a “Dual Agency situation, the seller would expect the savings go to him/her – not to the buyer.

And think about this:  Who has the strongest influence with the seller in negotiations?  In my many years of experience as a Broker, I have seen violations of ethical and possibly legal actions by some unscrupulous agents that do their best to get buyers to use them so they can make more money, to very little benefit (if any) and a lot of risk to the buyer.  

SO THEN CONSIDER the value of the buyer’s agent:

If you get the representation from a buyer’s agent you:

·         Do not pay anything for their services.  In almost all instances, the seller pays both commissions.

·         They have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to represent only you and your best interests.

·         There is NO conflict of interest of trying to represent both parties.

·         They (hopefully) have the experience and training to know how to negotiate the best deals and terms for the buyer.

·         They will spend many hours and days working and negotiating in YOUR behalf:

o   Managing contracts

o   Helping with escrow’s needs

o   Helping with lender’s needs

o   Monitoring and complying with contract deadlines.

o   Negotiating additional needs such as repairs and other things that may come up during the escrow process.

o   Coordinating/scheduling inspections, appraisals, clearances, repairs, additional walk throughs and any other inspections.

o   Keeping you informed all along the way of the process.

o   Managing the “hiccups” that arise along the way – and they usually do.

o   And handling of a myriad of other items throughout the transaction.

·         They represent YOU and assist you with all of the documents, contracts, deadlines, and disclosures required by California Law.


The biggest problem with dual agency is the conflict of interest. How can an agent fairly represent both the seller and the buyer at the same time?  You, as a buyer, should want someone who will advocate for you, negotiate on your behalf, look out for your best interests.  The listing agent cannot do that.  It comes down to choosing an agent who works exclusively for you and in most instances at no costs to you.  Or the agent who works for the seller and you and seeks primarily what is best for the seller.