Modern real estate practice can bring agents working for buyers into direct contact with sellers who are not represented or are not represented for the purpose of negotiating and closing a transaction. Typically, such cases arise when an agent is working with a buyer who is interested in a property that is being offered for sale by the owner (FSBO). To represent their buyer client, the agent must deal directly with the unrepresented owner.

A similar situation can arise in cases where the property of interest to the buyer is listed in the MLS but the listing broker and the seller have agreed to limit the services the listing broker will provide. Some listings may involve what are called “MLS Only” listings where the only service provided by the listing broker is placing the property in the MLS. In other situations, called “Limited Service Listings,” the listing broker may provide marketing, forms and other preliminary services to the seller.

When the services being provided to the seller by the listing broker do not include arranging for showing, negotiating the contract or assisting the seller in contract performance, the buyer’s agent can be in basically the same position as when dealing with a FSBO. That is, in order to represent their buyer client, the buyer’s agent must deal directly with the unrepresented owner. MLS Only and Limited Service Listings, therefore, raise many of the same problems as for-sale-by-owner transactions.

Recently, there has been much discussion in the industry about the impact of MLS Only and Limited Service Listings. Many buyer agents feel they are being asked to do the “work” of the listing broker. That is not true any more than it was true that the listing agent’s subagents in other companies were doing the buyer’s agent’s work in the old single agency days of real estate. A buyer’s agent dealing with an unrepresented seller on their buyer’s behalf is no different than a listing agent dealing with an unrepresented buyer on the seller’s behalf.

Problems that arise in FSBO and Limited Service Listings situations have nothing to do with who is doing the most work. The issues raised have nothing to do with what duties a listing broker “should” provide. Attempts in other states to take that road by having the state demand that brokers provide certain minimum services have met with lawsuits, confusion and uncertainty. How to deal with unrepresented sellers is a business issue, not a regulation issue. How to handle the business issues involved is the next topic in this subject.