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Listing agent vs. selling agent: What’s the difference?

Relator with prospective home buyer
Jupiterimages/Getty Images
Relator with prospective home buyer
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

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

Listing agents help you market and sell your home. 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, also commonly referred to as a seller’s agent, represents the seller in a real estate sale — they literally list the house on the market. 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 without one, working with a listing agent gives you access to their expertise and 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 hire professional photographers to take high quality pictures. Listing agents not only show the home and hold open houses, but they help evaluate potential buyers as well, ensuring that you receive only serious 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 earn around a 2.3 percent commission on the sale price.

What is a selling agent?

A selling agent represents the buyer in a home sale. That might sound confusing, but there’s logic behind the terminology: Prior to a contract being signed, the agent representing the buyer is usually 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 terms selling agent and buyer’s agent are typically used interchangeably, and their duties are the same.

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.

The services of a selling agent can be especially valuable amid the current overheated housing market. Having an experienced agent at your side can help you navigate the competition more successfully, particularly at a time when bidding wars are common. A selling agent’s fee is typically paid for out of the commission paid by the seller. The average commission paid to agents representing buyers is about 2.69 percent.

Do you really need one (or the other?)

The internet changed the ways people shop for homes, and the pandemic changed them even further. In fact, more than half — 51 percent — of the homes purchased in 2020 were found online, according to the National Association of Realtors. Still, 87 percent of buyers use representation to manage the transaction, and 90 percent of sellers use a listing agent.

You can certainly go house hunting or put up a “for sale” sign on your own, but enlisting the help of a professional does offer benefits. In some cases, it might even be necessary: Some listing agents will only accept offers from a buyer’s representative.

If you’re interested in working with a listing or selling agent, interview multiple agents and ask for references from 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.

Bottom line

For most people, buying or selling a home is one of the largest financial transactions of their lifetime. Before embarking on a house hunt or listing your property for sale, be sure you understand the role that the listing and selling agents play, and how they can help you. Engaging the assistance of an industry professional to guide you through the process, whether you’re buying or selling, can help ensure you avoid pitfalls and secure the best possible deal.