Should I Call A Listing Realtor Directly?

Last Updated May 6, 2010 12:25 PM EDT

Dear Ali:
I am looking for a house, and I saw one online that I liked a couple of months ago -- but a week or so later, that house was no longer listed.
A couple months later than that, a Realtor took us around for the first time to see four homes that were available. I asked about the home that I remembered, and she didn't know it.

When I got back home yesterday, I looked online again and saw that same house on the market! Today, knowing the address, I drove past it, and there was the sign in front with the listing Realtor's name.

Here's my question: Should I call the Realtor who couldn't find that house, or should I just call the Realtor whose name was on the sign?

A: The issue that you're raising is, "what's a real estate agent for?"

If you think that the main function of a real estate agent is to get you access to inventory, then by that standard your buyer's agent failed. Her job, by that light, would be to know every house in the neighborhood and when you could buy it, and she messed up by not knowing the house from your description and doing more research. In that case, you don't really want to work with her again, you just want the inventory, and the listing agent can give you access, so call.

Whenever you see a home you're interested in, get the address and tell your Realtor. The agent should then follow up -- and either get you in to see it, or explain to you why you can't see it. If the Realtor doesn't do that, you should consider finding one who will.

If, however, you think that the main function of a real estate agent is something else -- maybe to spot flaws in a house that you might not, or to provide a more objective basis for comparing different houses, or to be a dispassionate negotiator, or to guide you through to a successful closing -- then your buyer's agent can still perform all those jobs, and she might even be great at them.

In that case, you should call her and say, "Hey, that house I loved is on the market and I want it now!!"

Tiffany Richardson, a North Carolina Realtor, has a presentation that indicates what you should expect from your agent. Duties include "a complete understanding of the type of property that will best meet your needs and wants" and "interacting with other Realtors, lending institutions, inspection companies, and attorneys throughout the transaction." In this view, your agent is doing much more for you than simply showing you inventory.

There's a third possible response, too, which is for you to call the listing agent and say, "Hi, I'm working with Jane X of Acme Realty, when can we see the house?" How well that will work depends on the law and custom of real estate in your state. Here in New York, where I work, buyers are allowed to pick their own representation -- it's considered a consumer right -- so they legally can bring in any agent they want to represent them. Customarily, though, listing agents honor buyer representation on higher-priced deals and kick and scream about it on lower-priced ones.

  • Alison Rogers

    Since graduating from Harvard summa cum laude, Alison Rogers has been a reporter, an editor, a real-estate agent, a Wall Street desk jockey, a columnist, a failed flipper, and a landlady. A member of the National Association of Realtors, she currently sells and rents luxury co-ops in Manhattan for the Chelsea-based firm DG Neary. (If you've got $27,500 a month, the firm has an apartment for you!) Her book, Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, was called "a valuable guide for rookie buyers" by AOL/Walletpop, "beach-read fun" by the New York Observer, and "witty" by Newsweek.