What if a buyer and seller talk directly without their Realtors involved as intermediaries? This can happen, sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes before closing a buyer and a seller have an occasion to meet each other and talk. What are the pros and cons of a buyer and seller talking to each other?
Buyer and Seller Talking! OMG!
Most Realtors get paranoid at the very thought of a buyer and seller talking to each other. Realtors want to “control” their clients, because they fear their clients will say something wrong. There are many stories about the seller who says to the buyer, “Since we got rid of the termites, we haven’t had any issues.”
Buyer and Seller and Ethics
There is an ethics issue for Realtors. A Realtor cannot communicate with the other Realtor’s client directly or indirectly. That’s why a seller should communicate through his listing agent, and the buyer should communicate through his buyer’s agent. But the clients themselves are not subject to the Realtor’s Code of Ethics, so if they talked to each other, they would not be in violation.
As a general rule it certainly is not a good idea for a buyer and seller to talk directly with each other during negotiations. But I have had buyers who did talk to a seller to get instructions on how to operate an irrigation system. And frankly, if buyers and sellers have to go through their Realtors just to say, “Hello,” or something else that does not effect the transaction, especially when the buyer and seller get along very well, a Realtor would be hard pressed to stifle the clients when it would just be rude and offensive.
I believe there’s a bigger danger. If a Realtor does not communicate well with their own client, and they are making poor decisions on behalf of their client without telling their own client what is really going on, the Realtor can be the cause of a transaction dying.
Good communications between the buyer and seller are important, and that also means that both Realtors need to be good communicators, too.
Update: This article has received many comments as you can see below, and the questions and my answers will help address many common issues on this topic. I’m glad so many around the Unites States are finding this information helpful. I do all this free, so it warms my heart to know I’m helping people.
Last Updated on August 5, 2022 by Chuck Marunde
Agreed. Our realtor is doing a very poor job in communicating our needs and wishes to the sellers. It’s a rather complex deal and we’ll write a letter to the sellers only to have the realtor change the letter on our behalf (because he thinks it’s better his way, even though his grammar and spelling are much worse than ours).
We’ve had several direct meetings with the sellers with both realtors present as we try to hash out our details. In several instances, our realtor (who is new) has misinformed the group about real estate details and had to be corrected by the other realtor. Even in the complex real estate environment of the North East, we still feel this is unacceptable. But as we are on contract we have no choice. It’s frustrating.
Craig, I feel your pain friend. After a lifetime of working with real estate agents on the other side of transactions, I have seen your scenario many times, and worse. I get emails from other agents full of ambiguous proposals, typos, bad grammar, and lousy thinking about how to resolve an issue between our clients. I have no desire to pick on real estate agents, but the vast majority are not the competent professionals clients expect to get, especially for those big commissions.
What should I do if the seller’s agent is not communicating with my (buyer) agent? We have submitted the sellers agent 3 offers and have called multiple times, but no call backs or emails. Is this allowed. We have given a time limit on my offers.
Answer: That’s not supposed to be happening, at least if the Realtors are professional and courteous. Unfortunately, I have heard way too many stories like this over the past 40 years in real estate. There are both legal and ethical obligations on the part of the listing agent representing the seller, but the remedies are not readily available. In other words, you can lodge complaints verbally or in writing to the right broker, association, or state agencies, but honestly, none of that seems to provide practical remedies for consumers, and none of that seems to stop bad behavior. I gave up years ago calling another Realtor’s managing broker to discuss unprofessional conduct, because none of the broker/managers I called ever gave a darn about the unethical conduct, and would not do anything to stop it or create a better environment for their own agents. Sad but true. I guess the bottom line is more consumers (buyers and sellers) need to do a very thorough job hiring the right Realtor, because the nightmare if you don’t could be big.
Samantha, my realtor, whom I didn’t really want but my sisters did and they are the executor and executrix, has not provided the same info to me that he has provided to them. I found out through a third party that my family’s farm had been sold and the agreed upon land I was going to keep on the family farm was sold to the buyer without my consent by the executor. The acreage I wanted was used to “seal the deal”. Was this legal? Also, I only found out about the change of the amount of land through the buyer. I called him to congratulate him and welcome him as a neighbor. He asked me about where the markers of the acreage were and I told him, without knowing of the change, where I thought our property would continue. He said, letting the cat out of the bag, “I thought you guys were keeping only 10 acres instead of the 15 I said and thought. He immediately called the realtor and all three, both sister and the realtor called me up and chewed me out. Said I couldn’t talk to the buyer. I’ve known this man for 40 years and was just calling to congratulate him!! Without this communication I wouldn’t have found out until the mapping came out or closing!!
My house is currently in escrow, as of Jan 4th. (19 days)
I’ve asked MY realtor if she could talk to the buyer about mutually canceling the contract. But, she hasn’t & keeps asking me “are you sure that’s what you want to do”?
I have many reasons for wanting to back out of the contract and continue to live in my home. But the number 1 reason is my mother (78) is over the last few weeks her mental illness has become worse. So, this is not the appropriate time for her to move.
When I first listed the home, I explained to the realtor that her health is not the greatest and am looking for an investor to allow me to lease the home for at least a year.
Note: There was not a clause or contingency written in the contract.
Anyway, when an offer came through, at full purchase price. My realtor assured me she would help us relocate to a comparable home. Then, realtor ceased conversation with me and only sends me emails with documents to sign.
I accepted the offer and have gone through inspection and appraisal.
So i understand it’s too late for me to cancel (breach of contract). But, I was hoping for a miracle.
Possibly, If the buyer was aware of the circumstances WE can come to a mutual agreement and cancel the sale.
Of course, i would pay him back for all his costs, ect….
What should I do?
Can I contact the buyer… To have a simple conversation? (without Brokers & realtors).
Then, after speaking, if he still wants to go through with the purchase of my house then, I’ll have no other choice but to go forward with the sale.
Theresa, I’m very sorry to hear that you and your mother have been treated so badly by your own Realtor. My own practice is to place my client’s interest at the center of the Universe in everything I do. For me that means my business model was designed from scratch with that uncompromising goal, including every aspect of how I market myself, how I work with clients, what I do for clients, how I communicate with them, how I place their needs and wants above my own even if that means not earning a commission. I don’t share this to boast or to put myself above any other Realtors, but to simply state the obvious. This approach of putting my clients’ best interest at the center of the Universe should obviously be what all Realtors do. There’s no question about that, right?
Not to get on a rant here, but I pulled my membership from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which is the organization that trademarked the name “Realtor” and I’ll tell you why. A person becomes a Realtor if they are a dues paying member of the NAR. The number one reason all Realtors and the NAR give for being a member of the NAR is this, “Well, we have a Code of Ethics, and so if consumers want ethical agents, they should hire only Realtors,” or words to that effect.
Try this sometime: Ask any Realtor why they are a member of the National Association of Realtors, and I’ll almost guarantee the first words out of their mouths is the standard narrative, “Because we have a code of ethics.”
The problem with their argument is that you cannot legislate or regulate honesty or ethics. And just saying Realtors are ethical does not make it so. Many are, but not all. Your own Realtor did not put your interests at the center of the Universe subservient to her own interests. That’s unforgivable in my world. I truly hope and pray all works out for you and your mother, despite your Realtor’s bad and selfish behavior.
Realtors love to put “Realtor” on their business cards and brand themselves everywhere as Realtors, as though it is some kind of badge of honor. I’m proud to say I’m not a Realtor. I find my own practice of honesty, integrity, competence, loyalty, and professionalism to be far above the vast majority of Realtors out there. I would say to every consumer, don’t look for someone who has the label of Realtor just because they are a dues paying member of the NAR. Instead look for an individual who has a background of honesty, integrity, competence, loyalty, and professionalism. That individual may or may not be a Realtor, but my argument is that the label Realtor proves nothing about a person’s character.
Hi would it be possible if i (Buyer) talk to the (Sellers) regarding a subsidy that is prolonging the process. Just to explain to them why the process is taking longer than usual instead of talking to the Agent because it seems as if the Agent doesnt understand, maybe the sellers will understand more..Would it be possible?
Chandre, there have been many times in a transaction with a Realtor on the other end of a transaction when I was certain the other party was not hearing the facts right or the proposed resolution clearly from their own Realtor’s mouth (or email). So there’s nothing wrong with your thought process at all. You may be right that you would be a better communicator that the Realtors involved.
I’m not suggesting you go around your own agent or the other party’s agent, but the only ones in your transaction prohibited from contacting the other party are the Realtors under specific rules issued by their associations, like the NAR and their state and local associations (if they are dues paying members). There’s nothing in the standard purchase agreement that prohibits a buyer from contacting a seller directly or a seller from contacting a buyer directly. The Realtors get all hot and bothered if you do, but there’s no law , no contract provision, and no ethical code that prohibits you from doing that. Only Realtors are prohibited from directly contacting the opposing party who is represented by another Realtor.
It is my personal and professional opinion after watching Realtors for 40 plus years, and having been a dues paying Realtor for much of my career, that the number one reason they don’t want clients talking to each other is because they’re trying to protect their commissions. I could explain that in excruciating detail, but I’ll stop here.
I’ll only add this. If you can’t figure out why someone is doing something or behaving like they are in this kind of scenario, just look to the horizon and say out loud, “Follow the money.” As silly as this sounds, it answers a lot of questions in this life.
If I have already spoken via email and phone to a sales agent for a new construction builder, can I still use a realtor during the purchasing process?
All of the interactions with the seller have been informational and nothing has been agreed upon or signed. I would like to use a realtor throughout the process.
Jesse, yes you can retain your own buyer’s agent, but don’t get hung up on hiring a “Realtor” who is a dues paying member of the NAR. Hire a really good real estate broker, who may or may not be a “Realtor,” which is just a trademarked label of the NAR. The sales agent for the builder understands he/she is there to show model homes and answer questions, but pretty much all buyers end up hiring their own buyer’s agent.
What if my broker knows the seller and wants him to be considered for the contract but not the other party?
Answer: Everything needs to be above board, everyone on the table, full disclosure and honesty.
I am selling my home and it is in a flood zone. The buyer is aware and we also included in the disclosure form that the retention pond behind our home will overflow during periods of excessive rainfall. We are in one of those periods, the pond has overflowed and there are about 6 inches of water in our entire backyard. Our concern is, although we have disclosed this to the buyer, he will see it at the walkthrough and say “forget this. Sue me.” At that point we will have already moved out of the house and moved into the house we are buying from a neighbor. They will have moved out of their house and utilities will be moved. We can not buy their house without the sale of ours. Both closings are on the same day. I have asked our realtor to discuss the water issue with the buyer’s broker so there are no surprises at closing. Our broker’s response is, “let’s just wait and see. If they back out we can sue”. That’s all fine and good but two families will be in a world of hurt if the deal falls apart at the eleventh hour. If the brokers won’t communicate this to the buyer now so they can see for themselves just what the situation is, should we communicate this ourselves to the buyer. Since we are in Florida and it is the hurricane season, the water can and will probably get. Deeper with more tropical systems. This only affects the back yard and neither the house nor the front yard is in any danger of flooding. What should we do?
Chuck, your concerns are certainly valid, and you are quite right in thinking it is a good idea to do some advance disclosure on this. The consequences of not communicating articulately with the buyers are too severe to “wait and see” if they decide to terminate at the 11th hour. Full disclosure, up front honesty, transparency, and heading off potential tragedies is always good in real estate as well as in all areas of life, right? Your own agent should deal with this as you requested. You have the right to demand your agent address this. You are the Principal and your agent is the “Agent” under the law of agency. Your agent must obey you, not the other way around.
We seven children decide to sell our 50 year old house in Tamil Nadu in India. There is a broker who comes forward to make a deal. The broker says he will take care of the dealings between seller and buyer. He says he will not show the buyer to us right in the initial stage. He says that after all dealings are over, he will take us to the buyer and arrange for settlement. Please clarify this.
Hmm. Sounds to me like someone is protecting their commission over open and transparent communications.
FOR SALE BY OWNER….i SPEAK TO SELLER THEN GET MY REALTOR TO WALK US THROUGH THE DEAL…is this illegal??
Nothing wrong with that at all. I represent buyers who come to me after they’ve found a FSBO they want to buy and after they’ve talked with the sellers and walked through the property. Then I draft the offer and work with the seller to work through the whole process. It always goes smoothly for me and my clients.
There is nothing that forebids sller and buyer to talk to each other. The agents job is to bring seller and buyer together and get commission for doing so. Perhaps historically, agents want to have control and are scared, particularly Listiing agent is scared where seller may chose to avoid an agent and go through “sale by owner” and direcly deal with buyer.
summary is agents job is to bring seller and buyer together
Danny, you are right on my friend!
Our agent in Bellevue recently told it would be illegal for us as buyers to send a thank you card to the sellers while under contract and before closing. As far as I know, it could be considered premature but in what way could it be illegal?
On multiple purchases I have met and spoke with sellers who happened to be at their “open houses,” this may be ill-advised on their part but hardly illegal.
Similarly, buyer “love letters” may also be not a treat idea for various reasons but they are not illegal. Although some in Oregon are trying to make it so in that state.
A thank-you card after all negotiations are settled and waiting for closing doesn’t change it from being arms-length. I think the agents just want to control all communications, which in most cases is probably a good thing.
George, I address these issues in some of the other answers I’ve given to the many questions and comments on this article, so may I suggest you review those relevant answers? I will add here that there is a lot of smoke and nonsense in the industry on buyers and sellers communicating with each other. There’s no law in my state or any state I know of, and no contract provision in the typical purchase agreement that prohibits you from contacting the other party directly. Just ask your agent to give you a copy of the law that makes it illegal. They won’t be able to do it,
What if you look at a property & find out you know the seller.
Is it wrong to talk to the seller directly to let them know you are interested?
ANSWER: Nancy, there’s no contract or ethical prohibition against you as an individual buyer not licensed as a Realtor talking to a seller. The prohibition is for a licensed buyer’s agent talking directly to the listing agent’s seller. Of course, you can’t work with a buyer’s agent and talk to the seller in an effort to bypass the prohibition for your Realtor. Your Realtor could get in trouble.
I am purchasing a home out of state, I had a video showing and then flew in for an in person showing. My realtor took me to the house knowing the selling agent is also the owner of said home. Turns out the owner/agent was home. My agent stood at the entrance while the seller/ agent took me on the tour. I am not happy about that but I also feel like my agent has put me at a disadvantage. Buying in Oregon from out of state.
Went, I understand your discomfort with how the showing went, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem or disadvantage for you. Whether there is any unethical or selfish behavior below the radar depends more on the personal character of the two Realtors.
The seller and seller’s agent were aware that there were Title issues and that the issues would not be resolved prior to the 2nd or 3rd extension of the contract. What rights do I have as I will have to start the approval process over in a couple of weeks?
Sam, what a mess, and I’m sorry you find yourself in such a miserable place. The answer to your question is very involved, because it requires a detailed explanation of all the facts, all the communications and representations, and of course, the contract provisions in your own purchase agreement. Contract rights and responsibilities between you and the seller are governed by the contract language, so one would have to examine the main contract and all addendums attached and apply those contractual rights and responsibilities to the facts at hand. The other issue in your situation involves legal issues of disclosure. You probably should sit down with a good real estate attorney to get definitive answers to your question based on your contract and based on the laws in your jurisdiction.
We recently put an offer on a home and it was accepted. We already knew the first buyers fell through, but we did not know why. After we signed all our paperwork and scheduled the inspection, the sellers realtor disclosed that the first buyers had done an inspection and found out certain things were wrong. I.E: termite damage, crawl space issues, etc… The sellers realtor represents a very elderly woman. I know this because I looked on the county website at the property details. He did not disclose to us before we signed our papers any of these issues even though he knew about them. I also think he denied our first offer without even consulting the homeowner. I feel he is taking advantage of her and is already in breech of our contract since he did not legally disclose to us these issues. If I were to reach out to the seller and ask if our original offer was proposed to her and find out he did not in fact consult her, could I get in legal trouble for that and if that turns out to be true (Which I think it is, just need proof) What legal rights do I have? I live in the state of VA if that matters.
Sterlyn, you might be surprised to learn that your nightmare scenario is actually a common scenario all over the United States with an incredibly similar fact pattern. I’ll share my thoughts from the great State of Washington, but as a disclaimer I need to say that you should consider seeking legal counsel in the State of Virginia. I am not sharing legal advice here, but I can and do help to educate the public on real estate issues.
Virginia does have a Seller Disclosure Law just as I think every state has, although I don’t know about Louisiana. The Virginia statute includes this clause:
§ 55.1-712. Duties of real estate licensees
A real estate licensee representing an owner of residential real property as the listing broker has a duty to inform each such owner represented by that licensee of the owner’s rights and obligations under this chapter. A real estate licensee representing a purchaser of residential real property or, if the purchaser is not represented by a licensee, the real estate licensee representing an owner of residential real estate and dealing with the purchaser has a duty to inform each such purchaser of the purchaser’s rights and obligations under this chapter. Provided that a real estate licensee performs those duties, the licensee shall have no further duties to the parties to a residential real estate transaction under this chapter and shall not be liable to any party to a residential real estate transaction for a violation of this chapter or for any failure to disclose any information regarding any real property subject to this chapter.
Notice the Virginia politicians slipped in a clause that states by law that real estate agents will not be liable for seller misrepresentations, even if they know. That is indicative of the power of the real estate lobby, which in this case is contrary to consumer protection.
Of course, just because an agent may be protected by state law from liability, that doesn’t excuse unethical or immoral conduct by an agent, and believe me the industry is full of such agents.
With respect to your question about contacting the seller directly, I don’t have all the facts, so I have to be careful here, but I can share some general rules. Real estate licensing laws and the law of agency which prohibit a buyer’s agent from contacting the seller directly when the seller is represented by a listing agent apply to licensed agents, not to non-licensees like yourself. This means you are not prohibited from contacting the seller directly, unless there is a prohibition under Virginia law found elsewhere. But even if you did, you have to be prepared for an onslaught by the listing agent’s attorney with accusations that you are harassing an elderly seller, and a host of other false accusations. Even if you found out the listing agent’s behavior is what you suspect, what would you do with that information? Remember our judicial system is severely broken, and the odds of you winning a case against such an agent are slim to none, and that’s after you spend $40,000+ on your attorney.
I recommend you read the Virginia law on Seller Disclosure, which you’ll find at: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodepopularnames/virginia-residential-property-disclosure-act/
I hope this is helpful, but again I recommend you seek a good real estate attorney to consider your options.
Thank you Chuck. This thread and your answers are a public service.
I recently bought my first home after 30 years in business, many as an entrepreneur. Gave me a different perspective from most buyers.
In all my business deals I ALWAYS have communicated/negotiated directly with my counterparty principal.
I felt uncomfortable with the “telephone tag” communiation style of the agents. I told my agent, she told seller agent, seller agent told seller, then back through the chain.
Not only was this process slow and inefficient, I had no idea how my agent was presenting our position. I had no idea how seller presented his position, or even what was important to the seller.
I recognized immediately that my agent was NOT “looking out for my best interests.” She was trying to get the deal closed and get her commission. Same for the seller agent. By the way, both agents worked at the same brokerage.
My agent was NOT my advocate at all. For example I wanted a sewer scope inspection in addition to the basic inspection. She did not want that, and argued that the inspection addendum didn’t include it. She was wrong about that. Then she said “seller doesn’t want it either.” I smelled something funny. So I contacted seller directly myself. He said “Sure no problem.” That proved beyond a doubt that agents use their control over communication to make up stuff all the time.
Then after contingencies closed I discovered my agent was communicating with my attorney. No big deal, just closing logistics. I asked her politely to cc me on all emails. She responded she cannot cc on everything due to “confidentiality.” What? I cannot be cc’d on emails to my own atty? Never have I seen such absurdity in my career. had had it at that point. Any remaining trust destroyed. I instructed her not to contact my atty without cc-ing me, and not to call him at all.
To be clear, I liked my agent. She’s not a bad person. It’s the system that is broken. Agents conceal their massive conflict of interest with their clients. They control everything to maximize getting their commissions, not getting you a good deal.
Nothing wrong with that — business is business, not charity.
My big problem with the real estate industry is the lying — they tell you constantly “I work for you!” But it’s not true. Embarrassing actually. Just follow the money. Incentives matter.
Charles, you make excellent points, and you’re not alone in your experience. The real estate industry has a lot of problems as you point out. Of course what makes it full of problems are agents who are less than what they should be.
After recently selling a property that I spent a decade on renovating, I am tempted to reach out to the new homeowner as a resource for any questions or curiosities they may have. It just seems like the decent thing to do, but my agent was pretty firm about maintaining zero direct communications during the sale process. Just looking for advise and potential issues that may cause for consideration before contacting the new owner.
Glen, after four decades in the real estate business, I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reason agents tell their seller clients not to talk directly with the buyer is . . . are you ready for this . . . to protect their commission. Seriously! They are terrified you will say something that the buyer will find objectionable and then they won’t close on their purchase. But is that really a justified paranoia on the part of your agent? Probably not. I heard once in my career about an alleged story of a buyer who asked the seller if there were any issues, and the seller said, “No problems at all, not since we got rid of the termites.” That story has been repeated at agent seminars for decades. It’s probably not even true. But today a seller has to disclose everything by law anyway, so you can’t get away with misrepresentations to a buyer, but I don’t know anyone who would lie to a buyer. Not in all these years. I have no problem at all with my buyers talking to sellers, and if I had a listing, I would have no problem with my seller talking to a buyer. The information a seller can pass on to a buyer is invaluable, and even their agent doesn’t know the details they can share with a buyer. A buyer appreciates information they may not otherwise figure out, and so as far as I’m concerned, it’s a good thing for a seller to talk to a buyer. Your agent cannot prohibit you from talking to the buyer. You’re not restricted by law from doing so. They just want to protect their commission. By the way, there’s one other reason agents don’t want buyers and sellers talking with each other outside the presence of the agent. This may sound a little sarcastic, but there’s a lot of truth to it. If clients talked to each other, they just might find out how useless their agents really are. A lot of buyers and sellers know more than agents, and a lot of agents are incompetent. God forbid a buyer should talk to the seller and find out the seller’s listing agent lied to them. It happens! Sorry to break the news, but it’s true.