In many areas, such as mine in the Chicago area, it's not 'required' to sign an exclusive buyer's agreement, in order to be properly represented. While many agents like to use them, and some insist... there is no legal requirement in the Chicago area.
And agent in the Michigan area, will hopefully check in, and answer the question for you area.
I, however, usually send my clients lists of available homes and show them the homes that they want to see. When they start getting serious about buying and we are a good fit, then I require them to sign an Agency Disclosure with me.
I like doing it this way because it keeps the options open for both the buyers and me. If either one of us is uncomfortable with the relationship, we don't have to continue it.
Haig has stated it best. I personally don't start out a relationship requiring a contract. I like to meet with a client show them one or two homes to see if we are a fit. Even if you sign a contract with an agent and they are not doing their job, ask them to release from the contract. If they don't agree talk to their broker or office manager and explain the situation. Most will have the contract voided. A contract has to work both ways.
I wish you the best of luck in your home search.
Karen Paytas, GRI, CMS
Real Living Kee Realty
Well there really isn't a requirement that requires you to sign a contract BEFORE an agent starts working with you. But a lot of agents will ask you to sign something prior to showing you any properties. Your last experience is NOT a typical experience.
Try and see it from an Agent's perspective; let's say you don't sign any contracts and an agent starts showing you homes. It could be one property it could be a hundred. After showing you many homes you happen to be driving by an open house and you decide to go in and LOVE the home and decide to place an offer. The listing agent is more than happy (usually) to write the offer, especially since you don't have a contract with any agents.
So the agent that was spending all of their time and effort sending you home updates and showing you houses is now left with nothing. I don't know what you do personally, but how many clients could you help without a positive outcome and still earn a living? I am not saying this to be mean, just pointing out the possibility of this scenario.
Does this play out often? Yes it does, I don't know any agents that haven't run around showing a particular client properties, only to get burned at the end because they don't have a contract. It costs the agent money and time that could have been used in helping a "serious" buyer, one who will sign a contract.
I do operate on 'good faith" most of the time and don't force anyone to sign a contract. Have I been burned? Absolutely. I have even been burned by clients that have signed a contract. For whatever reason some clients feel that an agent spending time and money running around showing them properties does NOT justify them earning a commission when they decide to place an offer with someone else.
Feel free to email me and we can start with seting up some property searches that fit your criteria and we can go from there. That part of it won't take to much time I don't mind.
I hope this helps and feel free to email me with any other questions or concerns.