Does My Real Estate Agent Get Paid If I Don't Buy A House?

If you’re a first-time homebuyer (or a longtime homeowner) out there searching for your new home, you may spend quite a lot of time touring houses with your real estate agent.

But what happens if after seeing what’s out there in this current hot, hot, hot housing market, you decide to not buy any of the many homes you’ve seen? Or if you make an offer on a property, but pull out due to a bad inspection or title search?

You and your agent may be quite close at this point after countless hours together. Your agent probably can guess what you and your partner will disagree on when it comes to kitchen islands. And you might know your agent’s middle name, what college she attended, and her dog’s name. 

Your close relationship might even have you wondering, “Do I have to pay the real estate agent if I don’t buy anything?” After all, real estate professionals typically don’t get an hourly wage, and are paid only when a sale goes through. 

Here’s everything homebuyers need to know about when and if you need to pay an agent a fee—even if you don’t close the deal.

Who pays the buyer’s agent if a sale goes through?

Buyer’s agents typically get paid via a commission amounting to a percentage of the home’s purchase price, says Jason Gelios, top producing real estate agent and author at Community Choice Realty.

The good news for the buyer? The seller is the one who pays the buyer’s agent at closing. The homebuyer typically doesn’t pay the agent. 

Does a buyer have to pay an agent if they don’t close? 

“Under no circumstances is a homebuyer obligated to pay a real estate agent if they didn’t end up locating and purchasing a home,” says Gelios.

Plus, agents typically can’t charge you for their time, gas, or other expenses they incurred helping you look for a property. 

What if you have a buyer-broker agreement? 

A buyer-broker agreement is when a homebuyer agrees to work with a buyer’s agent exclusively to find a home, explains Gelios. This is common practice when hiring an agent to aid in your home search. But this agreement doesn’t put you under any financial obligation if you don’t buy a house.

It simply means the homebuyer can’t revisit homes the first agent showed with another real estate professional. That is, unless the buyer-broker contract is terminated and the homebuyer chooses to work with another agent.   

Are ‘advance fee’ agreements allowed?

Advance fees for buyers are generally considered a no-go.

“Special state permission must be granted to allow someone to charge you a fee before an actual sale is transacted,” says Adam Aguilar, an agent with Reliantra in West Toluca Lake, CA.

How can a buyer respect an agent’s time?

In an effort to not waste anyone’s time, homebuyers should work with a real estate professional only when they are fully pre-approved for a mortgage and really serious about buying a home.

“Reputable real estate agents will want this in place to ensure the buyer is ready to make a move,” says Gelios. Homebuyers should also have an idea of the locations they like and some must-have features that they are looking for in a home to whittle down the search. 

Successful real estate agents also usually set rigid guidelines regarding how they will work with buyers.

“If agents aren’t careful, they can spend a lot of time, effort, and fuel without getting paid,” adds Aguilar.

Still, real estate agents understand the cost of doing business.

“They know, understand, and take that risk, otherwise they would be working in an office somewhere on salary,” says Aram Shah with Florida Capital Realty in Doral, FL.

So if you’re taking a break from the market, consider using the same agent when you get back in the game so she can eventually collect the paycheck she deserves. 

What if an agent demands payment anyway?

In rare cases, an agent may demand some sort of payment for her time, even if a purchase doesn’t happen. But if your agent makes such a request, make sure you understand why, and check with her real estate broker or elsewhere to see if her claim holds water. In most cases, it won’t. 

“If you feel the agent has no grounds, you can contact their employing broker, the local board of real estate professionals, and your state’s Department of Real Estate to file a complaint,” says Aguilar.


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