Realtor relationships

Q: Dear Lara, we were thinking of putting our house on the market eventually, so we invited a realtor over to look it over and give advice about the market and the best time to list it. We didn’t fill out papers, just talked.

The other day someone stopped by our house and seemed interested in it, possibly to buy. What’s the protocol here? Am I obligated to go with the realtor we talked to, even though the house was never listed with him? 

A:  This is a great question as many people are often confused on real estate agency relationships and when you are obligated to use a certain Realtor.  

Because, in this case, you only spoke to the agent about your house and never actually signed listing paperwork, the answer is no, you have no obligation to that Realtor.  Once you have signed an exclusive listing agreement, though, you are obligated to compensate the Realtor if you sell your home.  If, when you list your house, there is someone you already know who might purchase your home, you can have those people “excluded” from the listing and if they purchase the home you are not obligated to compensate the real estate agent (but then you will represent yourself and will be responsible for all your own paperwork, etc).  

Another question people ask often is if you meet an agent at an open house are you obligated to use that agent if you purchase the home? The answer again is no.   You may use whomever you choose to represent you in your purchase. 

What if you have been looking at homes with an agent and you no longer want to use that agent?  Well, this starts to get sticky.  If you have signed a Buyer Representation Agreement you typically are obligated to purchase the home through that agent (so be sure you know what you are signing and agreeing to if an agent asks you to do this).  And if an agent has shown you a home they may be able to argue “procuring cause” to earn the commission, even if they don’t write the offer for you.   

As I mentioned before, real estate agency relationships are confusing and I could write endlessly about different scenarios. (If you have a specific situation you’d like the answer to feel free to post it below or email me directly at and I will get you the answer).  But here is some general advice on how to handle these situations and to avoid those sticky situations: 

•Be honest with agents:  In the first scenario above, call the agent you spoke to and explain the situation. A good agent understands this is part of the business and will respect the communication.  In the open house example, let the agent holding the open house know that you are already working with another agent.  Agents appreciate knowing this up front.  Honesty is still always the best policy.

  • •Understand what you sign: Before signing any agreement obligating you to pay compensation to a Realtor, make sure you know what you are getting into.  If you’re feeling uncomfortable, ask to have some more time to review the documents and to ask questions.
  • •Ask questions: If you are uncertain how an agency relationship/compensation works, ask the agent to explain it.  Or, if you don’t feel comfortable asking the agent, call the local real estate association. Typically each board will have written guidelines establishing procuring cause.
  • •Find an honest, ethical agent you can trust:  Real estate agents are in the business to make money, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be looking out for your best interests.  I personally don’t make my buyers sign agreements, and I always guarantee my sellers can cancel the listing agreement if a personal situation changes or they become unhappy.  I count on the fact that I will have loyal buyers and won’t have unhappy clients based on the service I provide. 
  • So find an agent you trust and who will put your interests – not their commission – first.
  • Contact Lara Wells Osborn at Coldwell Banker C&C Properties – Westside, 1801 Buenaventura Blvd., Redding, CA 96001. Cell: (530) 276-3026. Fax: (530) 419-1167. Email: or

Lara Wells Osborn

is a Redding Realtor for Coldwell Banker C&C Properties - Westside, 1801 Buenaventura Blvd., Redding, CA 96001. Reach her at 530-276-3026 or or