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The Realtor's Role in a Residential Real Estate Transaction

Buying and selling houses is the primary business of real estate brokers and salespeople. Here's an overview of a typical house sale involving real estate agents.

A couple decides to sell their house and enlist the services of a real estate agent. You're one of several realtors the couple invites to their home to hear your listing presentation and explain what services you offer. In addition, you probably advise the couple on what price they'll be able to get for their house. After meeting with several agents, the couple chooses you, signing a listing agreement and agreeing to allow you to represent them as their agent in the transaction.

As the couple's real estate agent, you begin marketing the property. In communities that have a multiple listing service (MLS), you enter their house information into a computer so that all other agents in the community can see what you've listed for sale. In communities with no MLS, agents may spread the word around to other real estate agencies that they have a particular house for sale.

An agent across town who's been working to find a house for another couple sees your house on the MLS and gets in touch with you, asking for more details and making sure the house still is for sale. The cross-town agent then contacts his buyers, and they agree to take a look at the house. After seeing the house, they agree to make an offer.

The way a buyer's offer is presented varies in different communities. Sometimes the offer is made in person with the buyer's agent present. The offer usually is made in writing with a small check from the prospective buyer that's called a binder or earnest money.

Assuming that your seller either accepts the offer immediately or engages in negotiations that result in a deal, a contract of sale then is prepared. Exactly who prepares the contract varies by state and region. In many places, however, the seller's real estate agent prepares the contract, sometimes filling in the blanks of a preprinted contract form, but in other places, only attorneys prepare the contract. After the contract is signed, the conditions within the contract are triggered.

A typical real estate sales contract includes a provision for the buyer to obtain mortgage financing and may have provisions for the house to be inspected by a home inspector or engineer. The contract usually includes a provision that a marketable title must be conveyed. A marketable title means that a reasonable and proper search of the records has been conducted, showing that the title to the property has been documented from earlier owners to the current seller so that it can be conveyed (or transferred) without questions as to who the owner is. A records search that proves whether a title is marketable is called a title search. Title insurance also may be purchased (or even required) as part of the contract process to ensure that the title is legal.

When all of the contract provisions are satisfactorily completed and met, the buyer and seller may proceed to closing, taking the real estate agent one step closer to getting paid. By general agreement, the commission usually is paid at the closing. When more than one broker is involved, the broker representing the seller distributes the preapproved share of the commission to the buyer's representative. Each broker then splits a portion or percentage of the commission with the salesperson who worked the deal.

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