Ann, it depends on who the Realtor works for. If you are hiring an agent, you will want a form, signed by both of you, that states that the agent is working for you. Each area also has it's standard disclosures. They are mainly informative documents outlining things that you should be researching before your purchase. A lot of buyers mistakenly think that a seller has to disclose everything that's wrong with the house they are selling. Actually, it's pretty much the opposite. It is up to you, the buyer to find out what you need to know about the home. From the hvac operability to the local sex offender, the buyer must beware. You need to read over these disclosures that pertain to your specific area so you know what to expect. Don't buy a home, move into it, and discover that the heater hasn't worked since last winter and think that you can go back and sue the seller for not telling you. Unless you asked and the seller lied, it's just not their responsibility.
You agent will likely want you to sign a retainer agreement. This is a contract between you and the agent outlining your responsibilities. You both may want to get to know each other before signing a long term commitment. I like retainer agreements (of course:). Truth be told, I may spend months (or a year in a few cases) helping a buyer find the right home. I want to get paid for my efforts. It should make a buyer feel better signing the agreement for a few reasons. Say you do not sign with an agent and you decided that you are going to just visit open houses and view homes with agents on an individual basis.. you are seeing a few homes at a time with agents who have no idea if they will ever earn an income from it. I think that, when you have an agreement with an agent and they know that they are going to be compensated for their work, you end up with better service. I'm not going to push someone into buying a home because it's my only chance at making a commission. If an agent thinks that they only have two days to drive you around before you slide over to someone else, do you think that they are going to want you to take your time in deciding what you want? What if you do find a house but need to get out of the contract later or fall in love with another home that you saw with another agent? Now you need agent #1 to get you out of this contract so you can buy a house with #2. Make sure that the deal is not more important to them than it is to you. Even if I'm several weeks into a deal and have spent a lot of hours on it, if my client wants out, I'll use whatever means contractually available to get them out. I won't push them into staying with a deal that they are feeling sick about because I know they have hired me, my commission is safe, and I'll earn it on the next deal.
Pertaining to the VERBAL part, if your agent has implied by their actions that they represent you, then they represent you! Of course, it's very hard to prove a 'he said/she said' scenario. If you are working with an agent that does not represent you, but the seller - don't get angry with them if they don't get you the best deal. That's not their job. Just because you are getting along with the agent, doesn't mean they represent you. Get it in writing! If you even have to wonder if they represent you, you either need to hire yourself someone else or get it in writing before you make another move.
Hope this wasn't too long! ........rules differ from state to state so double check your area. Good luck :)