Can I work with multiple buyer's agents?

Asked by M, California Tue May 5, 2009

After years of saving and months of browsing, we're finally ready to buy in San Francisco. This is the first time we'll be buying in California, but we're not first-time buyers overall. We're looking at three different neighborhoods, and it seems that different agents specialize in different neighborhoods. Is it kosher to work with an agent that specializes in each neighborhood, or must I only work with one buyer's agent? My fear is that an agent who's an expert in Neighborhood A isn't so expert in another neighborhood, and I might not get the best information possible. We finally can get into this market and we don't want to make the wrong choice...this will be a home for many years....Thanks.

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Tammy Keding, Agent, Fulton, NY
Fri May 8, 2009
I would be honest with the agents and tell them your feelings .Honesty is the best policy . That way maybe you can decide to use just one agent or maybe a couple, if your areas are that different. Most agents will understand your concerns.You could also interview some agents maybe they more about the different areas then you think ,maybe they have someone in that area that they could refer you too.Honesty will open many doors of communication, ask question and you will get anserws.Remember this is a major purchase and you need to be comfortable with your agent and your decisions. Good Luck!
1 vote
James Testa, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Wed May 6, 2009
Hi M,

Good Question!

Choose one agent from a reputable brokerage and stick with him or her to help you. There are some agents (some brokerages for that matter) who "specialize" in a specific geographic area. Other agents choose to subdivide their practice by price point.

Most good agents will not choose to work with a buyer who chooses to work with several buyer's agents. Here's why: A good buyers agent is worth his or her weight in gold! The agent will not only advise you on the nuances of each neighborhood, present the inventory, and walk you through the process - he or she will also leverage their network to get you the best deal.

Many agents suggest interviewing more than one agent. Its not a bad idea but it can also get very complicated and its time consuming. You may wish to consider asking folks in your network if they can recommend a good agent, i.e. a friend or co-worker.

Best luck in your search and please feel free to contact me if I may provide any further information.

Warm regards,

James Testa
Paragon Real Estate Group
1 vote
"The agent will not only advise you on the nuances of each neighborhood, present the inventory, and walk you through the process - he or she will also leverage their network to get you the best deal. "

In reality those are empty words for owners who want to rent or sale their property right away. They could be useful only for somebody who'd like to maximize a profit.
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Dana Basilie…, Agent, WILLISTON, VT
Sun Dec 30, 2012
I don't know the rules in CA but where I come from it would be no. If you want to float from one agent to the next you will only be getting customer service, not client service. You should be able to find an agent who is knowledgeable in a broad area. I would say meet a few agents and maybe have each one show you one house. Pick who you are comfortable with, trust and feel is competent.
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Paul Hwang, Agent, San francisco, CA
Thu May 28, 2009
Yeah, I think it's OK, as long as it's not me! :)
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Danielle Laz…, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Tue May 19, 2009
Hi M,

San Francisco is a small town kind of City (7 by 7 miles) and many of us are quite knowledgeable in most areas of town. Beware the agents who work in multiple counties as that is a lot of ground in which to be an "expert."

You can work with multiple agents if they'll have you. However, I think you'll find that the best agents who can offer the most value will insist that you work with them exclusively. You get what you give if you know what I mean.

San Francisco is a tricky, complex and potentially very rewarding real estate market. Working with a great agent will make all of the difference.

Best of luck and let me know if we can help!

If you're looking outside of SF, find a local agent.

-Danielle Lazier, San Francisco Realtor
Zephyr Real Estate
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Tony Abad, Agent, El Cajon, CA
Sun May 10, 2009
The city is the city. I was born and raised in SF and I would say pick the one you like the most. Each one should be able to help with the different neighborhoods.

If you still feel that you are not getting the best serve with just one because of what you have stated, try Tammy's answer from NY: " honest with the agents and tell them your feelings .Honesty is the best policy ."

Hope this helps!

Tony Abad
Realty World
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David A Podg…, Agent, Delray Beach, FL
Sat May 9, 2009
You can worth with as many buyers agents as you want so long as you do not sign any agreements...

that being said, only the worst agents will work with you without your loyalty. We make our money by representing you so if you're going to work with all our competition, we're not making wise use of our time.

Shopping us only decreases your ability to find a loyal and quality you want the agent that will work with anyone or the one that will dedicate themselves to YOU? That answer works in reverse... a quality agent will choose to not work with a buyer that doesn't return the loyalty.
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Victor Kamin…, Agent, Edison, NJ
Fri May 8, 2009
Sure, you can use several agents but why would you want to unless you are considering multiple areas that are far away from each other where one agent is familiar and the other isn't?

Using multiple agents for the same area is counter productive despite what you may have seen on HGTV stories.

The best agents generally won't work with you if you don't exhibit some degree of loyalty for their efforts and hard work.
All too often buyers working with multiple agents claim "if you show me something I like I'll buy through you". Sometimes they do, sometimes it becomes a mess. This is a common thing investors do however I've seen more buyers lately trying to play this game and don't understand why. It's not as if one agent is holding back properties that another will show. If you don't trust an agent, maybe you shouldn't be working with them in the first place.

All agents have access to the local MLS just make sure if you're in an area using multiple MLS's to cover the area that the agent has membership in all of them or you may miss out on some of the available properties.

The best agents will on occasion knowingly work with a customer that is using more than one agent. An example would be if they are on a television program that is setting them up with a client to work with several agents and in that case its more of a publicity stunt so the agent won't care as much and also in those instances won't typically waste a whole lot of time with that customer anyway. Another instance would be investors they have in their database, investors have a reputation of being extremely unloyal and due to this commonly have difficulty finding an agent willing to dedicate time to them.

HGTV helps keeps real estate issues and topics popular through stardom however in the grand scheme of things most of the HGTV type programs aren't living in reality. I can't tell you how many clients I've worked with that were huge HGTV fans and I knew it before they said a word just based on their terrible color and decoration/staging schemes.

If you'd still rather use multiple agents in your home search you'll probably be working with a newer agent or part timer desperate for clients.

Choosing one agent and sharing with them your wants, needs, financials and emotional issues behind the move will allow an agent to get some helpful insight into your situation and may be able to assist in ways that would make your search and move far smoother. Bouncing from agent to agent won't result in the best service and may lead to a lot of frustration explaining what your looking for time and again.
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Colin Storm, Agent, Falls Church, VA
Fri May 8, 2009
I am contributing from the other coast, but the DC area provides one of the most market areas I know of. Around here, if we stick with specializing in just one neighborhood we really pigeonholing ourselves.

My recommendation would be to choose one agent to work with, you want to know and be known in order to have your needs met in the most adequate way. That said, make sure they can demonstrate their methodologies for researching an area, and a specific home in that area. Someone who knows how to analyze market data and knows where to look for community trends overall can catch up to speed very quickly, and help you avoid overpaying, or getting into a problematic property.

What a non-specialist might not know is that the Smiths in the house down the street are willing to sell for the right price. Chances are though, that in that circumstance what the owner wants and what the market will bear are not in line.

Keep in mind that there are any number of things that neither a rookie or a seasoned specialist is allowed say regarding a neighborhood because they have to avoid violating steering laws. All they can tell you is where to look for certain information. You don't need a specialist for that.
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The Binnings…, , San Francisco, CA
Wed May 6, 2009
Hi M,

While I can understand your fear I think you'll find that most agents who work in San Francisco are knowledgeable about the nuances of all of the individual neighborhoods. The city is small enough (geographically) where it is easily covered. Most agents in the city focus solely on the city and will refer business in other parts of the Bay Area to other agents. So while I agree that real estate is locally focused and expertise in markets takes place on the micro-level, I think that neighborhoods may be a bit too micro. The city level is generally where agents draw the line.

I admire the way you're thinking through hiring the right representation and that you asked about working with multiple agents. Although I would not condone working with multiple agents, you may as long as you disclose it to them (as a common courtesy). As some other respondents have pointed out, this may spread your resources thin by not committing to a single agent.

The better route (in my opinion) is to interview a few select agents and then choose the one best suited for your needs. In the interviews, ask them about trends they've noticed in the neighborhoods you're interested in. If they are able to articulate intelligent, pointed responses then you know this person truly understands the market dynamics of your select neighborhoods. I have many other tips about choosing the right agent which I wrote about on my blog a while back. You can check it out here if you wish -- the article is entitled "How to Choose An Agent"

Good luck and congrats on your decision to own a piece of San Francisco. I think it is a wise decision that will serve you well since you're planning to hold your property for many years to come.

All the best,
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Dp2, , Virginia
Wed May 6, 2009
Yes, you can, but maybe you should rethink this.

As an investor, I routinely work with multiple agents--even in the same local area. Usually when I do, I'll work with different agents who specialize in handling different things: 1031 exchanges, short-sales and REO sales, luxury properties, historic properties, vacation homes, farms, parking lots, etc. The point is, although any agent can show me a property, only a specialist can help me to evaluate it properly.

Additionally, I'm up front about this with every agent, and I'm willing to put in writing that I'll only submit my offers through the agent who showed me the listing. This way he/she/they will know for certain that I won't deal around them. It's a respect thing. They're professionals who can work with multiple buyers/sellers, and I'm also a professional (investor) who can work with multiple people on multiple deals. I know other investors who also operate this way.

Nevertheless, you asked about working with multiple agents who specialize in different neighborhoods. Although that's possible, I think that idea might be overkill for your needs.
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Ryan, , San Francisco, CA
Wed May 6, 2009
One of the most important things you can do when looking for an agent is finding a group that will help you make the most informed decision possible. When selecting an agent, please confirm that your agent not only knows a neighborhood but also understands the other numerous factors that are influencing home prices and interest rates.

Good Luck!

Ryan Taylor
Cirios Real Estate
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Jed Lane, Agent, Petaluma, CA
Wed May 6, 2009
Well you can but it really will not serve your best interests. I for one know the neighorhoods of the City. As a native and a professional I work with buyers and sellers throughout the SF market. If you build a relationship with an agent that knows you and your needs and has the knowledge that I for one haveyou will get the most and best service.
Frankly if you are working with an agent that only knows one neighborhood you are not workiing with a well rounded agent and issues can come up that a broader base of knowedge would be beneficial,
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Sally Rosenm…, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Wed May 6, 2009
Dear M,

The long and the short of it is you could, but you should not. Most agents with years of experience know the city and can work with you in all areas. That agent would want to show you property throughout. If an agent knows you are working with another agent, you become a client on the back burner so to speak. Why make an effort to alert you to property when another agent may already have done it?

My suggestion is to interview several agents and work with the one with you you are the most comfortable. Make sure that person knows the areas in the City in which you will be looking. We agents talk among ourselves and learn about properties and "things" happening throughout San Francisco. So I am sure you will find someone who fills the bill.


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Jason Chapin, , San Francisco, CA
Tue May 5, 2009
Are the neighborhoods you are seeking all located within San Francisco? If so, are they really so spread out and different that you cannot find an agent with sufficient experience to guide you? I could see where this would be a concern, but your interests would have to be extremely diverse. For example, if you are simultaneously interested in detached homes in Forest Hill, lofts in the Central Waterfront and Victorian flats in Russian Hill I could see your concern. However, I know agents who have worked with enough buyers in enough locations that could probably do a great job for you even in an example as extreme as this.

Or are you looking in additional bay area communities - communities outside San Francisco? If so, you might want to engage an agency with representation in all of the communities. Those agents might be more willing/motivated to share information.

I think just about anything is possible, by the way. I would just encourage you disclose your goals and intentions as you interview prospective agents. I think you'll find, though, that agents with any experience are familiar with several different parts of the city. In my experience most buyers fit their neighborhood options and style of property into a framework that meets their lifestyle needs. This tends to make these choices or options more similar than different. I do hope you'll remain open to finding an agent with enough experience to guide you through the multiplicity that is San Francisco because I think there are a number of us/them out there.

Good luck to you!

Jason Chapin
McGuire Urban Bay
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Rob Regan, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Tue May 5, 2009
If you're including areas outside of City limits, then I'd personally agree. But within the City I think you are fine just finding a residential specialist. If you spread yourself too thin with multiple agents you may find that they lose interest, during what can be a long process, if they don't see/feel your interest and motivation.

Arguments for super-local specialists might be someone who knows the fog patterns of one set of blocks vs another.... but that "specialist" may just be that because they lived there for a period of time, and might not be as familiar with a fog pattern just a few blocks in another direction. They might know about a loud barking dog, or traffic patterns of a street.... or any number of other things that you can find out by visiting the property you are interested in the most multiple times. It would also be a bummer to steer you away from a home that had a "problem" that you decided you loved so much that you were willing to live with the "problem". And an even bigger bummer if the "specialist" didn't know about the same "problem" on a block they were not quite as familiar with even though it was in their "specialist" area.

Instead, my recommendation is to find at least 3 experienced residential specialists who do all of their work in the City, and interview them for the job. Sellers interview agents all of the time, but few Buyers do. If you interview 3, there's a pretty good chance you'll find out who you'll feel very comfortable with in different neighborhoods. If you don't find one, keep interviewing, and if you do you'll also simplify communication, be able to develop a relationship, trust, rapport, etc.

With all things being equal, working with someone you like and trust - who is experienced in many neighborhoods - will out weigh super-local expertise.
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