Relator with prospective home buyer
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Whether you’re in the market for a new home or selling the one you own now, chances are you’ll want a real estate agent to help you navigate the process.

Listing agents help you market and sell your home, while selling agents help you find and buy one. And while their titles might sound similar, their roles in the transaction are quite different.

If you’re serious about buying or selling a home, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the role each type of agent plays, and the advantages of having one in your corner.

What is a listing agent?

A listing agent represents the seller in a real estate sale. Their job is to set a competitive price for the home and then bring in potential buyers to see it. While it’s certainly possible to sell a house yourself, working with a listing agent gives you access to their knowledge of the local housing market. They have the most current and detailed information on the sales of comparable properties in your neighborhood, which allows them to price your home competitively.

Once you’ve set a price, listing agents actively market the property. They’ll help stage and style the home to present it in its best light, and even will hire professional photographers to take high quality pictures of your home looking its best. Listing agents not only show the home and hold open houses, but they help evaluate potential buyers to, ensuring that you, their client, receive only serious offers.

Looking for a great mortgage rate? Check out these mortgage offers.

When an offer is received, the listing agent walks the seller through the negotiations, helping handle any paperwork and ultimately closing on the sale. For those services, listing agents typically charge around a 6 percent commission on the sale price, which is typically shared with the selling agent.

What is a selling agent

A selling agent represents the buyer in a home sale. That might sound confusing, but there’s logic behind that terminology. Prior to a contract being signed, the agent representing the buyer is often called the buyer’s agent. After the two parties agree to terms and the house is under contract, the buyer’s agent is then referred to as a selling agent. Why? Because they produced a buyer who purchased the home. The titles selling agent and buyer’s agent are typically used interchangeably and their duties are the same.

Do you know how much house you can afford? Find out with our mortgage calculator.

A selling agent identifies properties their clients might be interested in purchasing; contacts the listing agent to set up showings; presents the sellers with offers from their clients; and guides them through closing once an offer is accepted. These services are typically paid for out of the commission paid by the people selling the home.

Do you really need one (or the other?)

The internet has changed the way people shop for homes. In fact, half of the homes purchased in 2016 were found online. Still, 88 percent of buyers use representation to manage the transaction and another 90 percent of sellers use a listing agent.

You can certainly put up a “for sale” sign or go house hunting on your own, but you might consider enlisting the help of a professional. In some cases, it might be a necessary: some listing agents will only accept offers from a buyer’s representative. Those agents feel they can’t fairly represent the interests of both parties involved.

If you’re interested in working with a listing or selling agent, interview multiple agents and ask for references from their former clients. Taking the time to find the right agent could help you realize your home’s best value or get you into your dream home.