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Listing Agent vs. Selling Agent: What’s the Difference?

Listing Agent vs. Selling Agent: What’s the Difference?

Many buyers are confused when presented with the idea of a listing agent vs selling agent. Initially, it may be confusing, which is why we’ve made a complete guide to help you understand the difference.


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When you work with a real estate agent – a licensed real estate salesperson that aids in the marketing and sale or purchase of a home – their role in the transaction depends on whether you are buying or selling a home.

Will you be working with a listing agent or a selling agent? These terms can be a little confusing because a selling agent doesn’t actually represent the seller (we’ll cover this in more detail below). 

Why Listing vs Selling Agent Matters

Listing agents and selling agents both work in the same types of real estate transactions, but the way they work with clients and the tasks they complete determine which side of a transaction they will represent – the buyer or the seller.

Listing Agent vs Selling Agent (1)

Target Marketing

Many experienced real estate agents will eventually decide to focus their efforts on either marketing homes for sale (working with sellers) or helping potential home buyers find homes (working with buyers).

An agent’s skill set and personal preference can influence their decision to mainly work as either a listing agent or a selling agent.

Getting Experience

Although they may have a preference, most agents will represent both buyers or sellers throughout their career, depending on the client’s needs at the time. 

The key differences between listing and selling agents are the clients they represent (buyer or seller), how they market their services and generate leads, and their legal, contractual obligations with clients. 

Understanding Transactions

If you’re planning to buy or sell a home in the future, you need to know the differences between listing and selling agents and what their role will be in your real estate journey

In this guide, we’ll look at the role of a listing agent vs. selling agent, talk about the different ways listing agents and selling agents help their clients, and cover the concept of dual agency.

We will also look at some of the main ways these two types of agents are different. Let’s start by looking at the role of a listing agent. 

What Is a Listing Agent?

listing agent works on behalf of the seller, who is listing their home for sale. Listing agents are responsible for helping a client get their home listed on the MLS where it can be seen by potential buyers (and other agents who might have an interested buyer client).

Listing Agent vs Selling Agent graphic explaining what a Listing Agent does

Listing agents are involved from the start of most real estate transactions, with For Sale By Owner (FSBO) sales being the exception.

The listing agent helps a seller with every aspect of getting the home ready to sell, making it attractive to potential buyers, and closing with a buyer. A listing agent’s role includes:

  • Researching comps (comparable listings) to competitively price the home 
  • Writing a compelling description of the home 
  • Having professional photos and/or videos taken of the home
  • Staging the home attractively for buyers
  • Holding open houses and marketing the listing
  • Fielding offers, helping the seller negotiate, and working with buyer’s agents
  • Providing guidance and advice through their expertise

The listing agent will be paid for their services out of the amount the home sells for. This is usually about 3% of the total sale price – half of a 6% commission they will split with the buyer’s agent. 

What Is a Selling Agent?

The selling agent, also known as the buyer’s agent, works exclusively with the buyer. Before there is a definite buyer who is under contract on the home, a selling agent works with lots of different potential home buyers.

Graphic explaining what a selling agent does including the duties they perform on behalf of their clients, the buyer

Selling agents are responsible for finding buyer leads, keeping up with new homes on the market to show clients, scheduling showings with the listing agent, bringing buyer offers to the seller and listing agent, and helping buyers through the closing and financing processes. 

The selling agent’s role includes:

  • Helping the buyer find homes that meet their criteria
  • Contacting listing agents to schedule showings
  • Helping the buyer come up with offers
  • Negotiating with the seller
  • Connecting the buyer with lenders, inspectors, attorneys, movers, etc.
  • Provide advice and guidance along the way

Selling agents are paid for their services out of the amount the home their client purchased sold for. This is usually half of the total 6% commission, so about 3% of the total sale price. Selling agent seems like a misleading term at first.

If they are the selling agent, it sounds like they should be the ones representing the person selling the home, but that’s not the case. Most people refer to the selling agent as the buyer’s agent until a home is under contract.

At that point, the buyer’s agent is now the real estate representative who found the buyer the home is officially “selling” to. This is why they’re referred to as the selling agent. 

One Agent, Two Roles: Dual Agency

There is one way that an agent can legally act as both the listing agent and the selling agent during a real estate transaction: Dual agency.

This is not legal in a few states (currently, it’s illegal in 8 states) because it can create a conflict of interest for the buyer or the seller. Dual agency can happen when:

  • Two agents from the same brokerage represent the buyer and seller in one transaction
  • One agent represents both the buyer and seller in one transaction

In states where dual agency is legal, the agent (or agents) must disclose the dual agency to both clients. 

Why would a real estate agent want to act as both the listing agent and the selling agent and take on double the work for one closing? Instead of splitting a 6% commission two ways with another agent, they can keep the entire commission this way.

However, if two agents from the same brokerage represent clients in the same transaction, those agents will still split the commission as usual.  

Listing Agent vs. Selling Agent: Key Differences

With a clear understanding of the contrasting roles listing agents and selling agents have, let’s look at their specific differences in a few categories. 

Listing versus selling agent comparison table

Who They Represent

Listing agents represent sellers while selling agents represent buyers. When a listing agent signs a listing agreement with a seller, they take on the responsibility of a few things.

First, they ensure the home is priced competitively in the local market, marketed well to potential buyers, and that they are capable of finding a qualified buyer within a relatively short time.

They are also responsible for helping the seller review and evaluate offers from potential buyers, making sure buyers meet any conditions or contingencies, and to assist the seller through the closing process. 

When a selling agent starts working with a buyer, they are responsible for liaising with the listing agent, scheduling showings, helping the client find homes that meet their criteria, negotiating with the seller, and ensuring all the buyers’ requests are met.

Finally, the selling agent assists the buyer in getting a home loan, and helping the buyer through offer submission and the closing process. 

How They Generate Leads

Selling agents generate leads by publicly posting recent listings and being available to help buyers find homes that meet their criteria.

Selling agents might use lead generation techniques like home search websites that collect lead information, advertising on sites like Zillow and Trulia, providing lead magnets (mortgage calculators, etc), targeted toward buyers, or buying leads. 

Listing agents’ roles depend on their ability to find clients who are ready to sell their homes but haven’t yet listed with another agent, which is a bit more difficult than finding buyers who are searching for a home.

Unlike buyers, who may actively be searching for properties meeting their criteria, potential sellers are not always obvious. Listing agents might use lead generation techniques to find potential sellers by using lead magnets targeting sellers (like home valuation websites.

They also advertise on social media, buying lists of expired listings, FSBOs, and absentee owners, and farming local neighborhoods or geographic areas. 

Legal Obligations

When you work with a selling or buyer’s agent as a buyer, you’re not usually obligated to stick with that agent through the entire process.

You are free to stop working with an agent and buy a FSBO listing after being shown a few homes by a selling agent. Selling agents are under no obligation to continue working with a client before a contract is signed.

On the other hand, when you (as a seller) decide to work with a listing agent to get your home on the market, you’ll sign a listing agreement that legally binds you to work with them unless they choose to release you from the contract.

This is the more secure option for real estate agents. No one wants to put a lot of time and effort into working with a client who eventually decides to go with a different agent or tackle the closing process on their own. 

Summing It Up

Listing agents and selling agents are just different sides of the same coin. Listing agents serve the seller, and selling agents serve the buyer.

Their main differences are who they represent (seller vs. buyer) and what they’re responsible for throughout the transaction (helping someone market and sell their home vs. helping someone find a home to buy).

Not only this, but also how they find leads, and what legal obligations they have to and with the client. With the availability of real estate listings online through sites like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, many buyers can at least start their real estate journey without a dedicated agent.

But for sellers, it’s much harder to navigate without an experienced listing agent who can offer guidance and market the home to serious buyers. 

No matter if you’re looking to buy a home or sell yours, make sure you do your research before you begin working with any real estate agent.

Look for an agent with a good reputation, an abundance of local market knowledge, and enough experience to keep things on track should something go wrong in the process. 

The best place to start? Ask friends and family for their best recommendations, check online for agent reviews, and ask agents you’re considering if they can provide you with a few references.

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