The Difference Between a Listing Agent and Selling Agent

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As a consumer, no matter what side of the real estate equation you’re on, things can get confusing — especially when dealing with industry jargon. The terms “listing agent” and “selling agent” can throw both sellers and buyers for a loop. 

In short, a listing agent represents the person selling their home, and a selling agent represents the person looking to buy a home.

But let’s dive into this deeper: What roles do each type of agent play in a home sale transaction, how do their responsibilities differ, and how do they work together?

What is a listing agent?

If you’re selling your home, you’ll enlist a listing agent to help you get the job done. A listing agent is the real estate agent who looks after the party selling their property. Their job is to appropriately price and effectively market the home they’re aiming to sell. Ideally, they’ll help the seller find a buyer for their home as quickly as possible while helping them make a top-dollar profit. 

When choosing a listing agent, you’ll want to find one who has a strong knowledge of your specific housing market. Ask friends and family for recommendations if you’re unsure of where to start. 

A listing agent is in charge of the following tasks:

  • Listing the home on listing services
  • Negotiating with potential buyers about prices, contingencies, and conditions 
  • Scheduling, promoting, and managing home showings
  • Pricing the home
  • Advertising the home
  • Assisting with closing paperwork 

But house hunters, listen up! Because listing agents are sometimes referred to as a “seller’s agent,” it’s super easy to confuse that role with one of a “selling agent.” Despite the similar names, these two roles are very different. We’ll break these differences down shortly.  

How is a listing agent compensated?

Technically, the home seller pays the listing agent’s brokerage. Generally when you work with a listing agent, you need to sign an exclusive selling agreement to only work with that specific listing agent to sell your home. This arrangement ensures that the listing agent gets a commission on behalf of their brokerage when you close on the sale. 

The brokerage then shares the commission with the listing agent. You can enter into what is called an “open listing” with this listing agent, where you’re allowed to list your home with multiple real estate agents, but this arrangement doesn’t occur often. 

In some cases, a listing agent will accept a flat fee to put your home for sale into the listing services, but not take on the rest of the responsibilities associated with selling a home. This is also a less common arrangement. 

What is a selling agent?

A selling agent represents the buyer and assists them in finding a home to buy

Keep in mind: Before you sign a contract with a selling agent, they’re referred to as the buyer’s agent. After signing the contract, they become the selling agent. 

Working with a selling agent or buyer's agent (remember, these two terms refer to the same person) can help buyers navigate the home buying process. Selling agents can save you a lot of time by researching all the available houses in your area that match your search criteria. They’ll also help you form your offer when you do find a home you want to buy. 

Selling agents take care of:

  • Finding potential properties and showing them to buyers 
  • Helping buyers find financing
  • Assisting with closing paperwork
  • Making sure buyers are paying a fair price for the home

How is a selling agent compensated?

Buyers luck out here, as they can take advantage of all the benefits that come with working with a selling agent without having to pay anything. The listing agent’s brokerage pays the selling agent — the buyers they represent don’t have to foot any of the bill.

Selling agents cooperate with the brokers selling the home to receive compensation for helping connect them with the right buyers. The listing broker pays the selling agent a commission for finding a buyer to buy the property. Once the selling agent’s client submits an offer and the seller accepts it, the selling agent is eligible for their commission — which is called a co-op commission. 

Can an agent take on both roles? 

A real estate agent can work as both a listing agent and a selling agent, but typically they don't take on both roles for the same property. That being said, two real estate agents from the same brokerage may represent each side of the process, in which case the sale is referred to as “dual agency.” 

It’s a common misconception on the buyer side that if you find a home you love on your own, you can call up the listing agent and ask them to be your selling agent. The thought behind this is that the potential of a double commission on their end might make them willing to cut you a “deal.” While this may tempt some agents, it isn’t an ethical approach to take. You wouldn’t want to work with an agent who is willing to ditch their fiduciary responsibility and potentially prioritize their needs and the seller’s needs over yours.

A buyer can make an offer on a home without the help of a selling agent, but the listing agent won’t take on the role of acting as the buyer’s selling agent. 

The bottom line: listing agent vs. selling agent

If you’re selling a home, you’ll work with a listing agent to help you price your home, find the right buyer, and close on the sale. If you’re looking to buy a home soon, you’ll enlist a selling agent to help you find homes that match your requirements, take you on home tours, confirm you’re paying a fair price, and walk you through the closing process. 

A listing agent and selling agent will work as a team to ensure the home buying process goes smoothly for both the buyer and the seller, even if they didn’t know each other before the sale. Both agents can act as a mediator between the buyers and sellers to work through any negotiations and make sure everyone is happy with the sale.

If you’re the seller, working with a real estate agent does cost money, as you’ll have commission fees to pay, but they do a lot of the heavy lifting when selling a home. Between finding buyers and managing all the paperwork, the costs can be well worth it. 

The listing agent and selling agent will share the commission that the property seller agreed to. For example, if the commission on a home is 8%, each agent will get 4%. If the listing agent does manage to find a buyer for the home on their own, they get to keep the entire commission. No matter how the home sells, the home seller pays out the same amount.

Whether you’re buying or selling, make sure you take your time finding the right agent to help you. Not only do you want someone with experience, but you’ll want to work with someone who you trust to look out for your best interests. 

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