An agent I know, who knows that I write this column for the Oro Valley Voice, asked me to write an article about Rules of Engagement for Buyers searching online for a home. She is often frustrated by buyers working with other agents who fail to mention this when they engage with her online advertising. She wants you to know that if you are working with an agent, you should ask that agent to answer your questions and to show you the property if you want to see it. This is the correct and proper etiquette to follow so that you are properly represented by your own agent. You really should not engage with the listing agent at all, but if you do, you should clearly disclose that you have an agent. Of course if you don’t have an agent, the listing agent is only too happy to help you. This very simple Rule of Buyer Engagement brings up all kinds of additional issues that are handy for consumers to understand. I will attempt here to address a few of them.

How do listings get onto Zillow or other web sites? 
If the seller lists with an agent who belongs to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), and the seller agrees, the listing photos and data will be syndicated from the MLS, to other web sites (more than 1000 of them!) such as Zillow and, and advertised to consumers. If you are a buyer who has teamed up with an agent to help you acquire a home, and you find a listing online that interests you, contact your agent and they can get you more information and show you the property. If the online listing is a For Sale By Owner Property, you should contact your agent if you have one. If you don’t have an agent by all means let the listing agent answer your questions and show and sell you the property. If you like them, but not the property, you may consider asking them to represent you going forward.

How do the Listing Agent and Buyer’s agent work together and how do they get paid?
The MLS is designed as a vehicle to disseminate listing information and for listing and selling agent cooperation. The listing agent typically signs a contract with a seller to sell their home for a commission, and through an offer of cooperation in MLS can share any part of that commission with the agent for the buyer. If the amount offered for buyer agent cooperation is less than what the listing agent will receive if they sell the home without another agent involved, this is called a variable rate commission. The existence of the variable commission must be disclosed and the amount of the difference must be disclosed upon inquiry. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with the Listing Broker?
The Listing Broker (agent) represents the seller and cannot be the exclusive agent of the buyer. Due to the conflict of interest, the seller and buyer, with informed consent, may agree to Dual Agency and limitations on the agent’s fiduciary duties. This usually authorizes non-disclosure of confidential information such as the negotiation of price and terms, but also involves conflicts in the duties of loyalty, obedience, disclosure and confidentiality. The agent must exercise reasonable skill and care in assisting both parties, be truthful and honest and disclose all known facts which affect the consideration to be paid or the ability to perform. If there is a variable rate commission, working with the Listing agent may save the seller money and all or part of that savings could be passed on to the buyer. In a multiple offer situation, working with the listing agent is usually faster and more efficient.