Learn About Single Agency in Real Estate

Real estate agent greeting couple outside a house

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The real estate term "single agency" means that a broker or agent will represent the interests of either the seller or the buyer. They may act as either the listing agent or the buyer's agent, but not both. The agent will sit on only one side of the transaction. Single agency is the most common form of real estate representation. This agent solely serves you and your interests.

dual agency exists when a broker or agent represents both the buyer and the seller of a property. Dual agency is forbidden in some locales. Many experts feel that neither the buyer nor the seller receives adequate representation in this situation. It appears to be a conflict of interest when brokers or agents represent their clients through dual agency.

Key Takeaways

  • The real estate term "single agency" means that a broker or agent will represent the interests of either the seller or the buyer, but not both.
  • A broker who is representing a buyer is prohibited from showing the buyer properties listed by the broker's agency without the buyer's express permission.
  • You're better off with single agency if you want to be sure that your real estate agent is acting with your best interests in mind.

Aspects of Single Agency

A broker who represents a buyer is prohibited from showing them properties listed by the broker's agency under single agency. These are referred to as "in-house listings." They can't show them without the buyer's express permission. It becomes a dual agency if that buyer wants to purchase a property listed by the agency that's representing, and if the seller agrees. This means that the broker's agency is representing both the buyer and the seller at the same time.


Some brokerages specialize in single agency, operating as exclusive buyer's agents in parts of the country where dual agency is not allowed. They don't work with sellers at all. On the other hand, there are other specialty brokerages that work exclusively with sellers.

Fiduciary Duties

The agent owes their client fiduciary duties of loyalty and obedience in most other types of agency relationships. You can expect the agent to place your interests ahead of their own. You can expect them to provide services with honesty and good faith, and to avoid conflicts of interest.

Real estate agents have no legal obligation to look after their clients' best interests in some cases. Laws in 25 states allow brokers to provide services to buyers and sellers as "transaction brokers" or "facilitators." This allows them to work without the traditional fiduciary duties of loyalty and obedience.

In the other 25 states, the agent is required by law to:

  • Deal honestly and fairly
  • Show loyalty
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Exhibit obedience to the best interests of their client
  • Give full disclosure, always
  • Account for all funds
  • Exhibit skill, care, and diligence in the transaction

They must present all offers and counteroffers in a timely manner unless a party has otherwise directed the agent in writing. They must disclose all known facts that materially affect the value of a residential real property and aren't readily observable.


Fiduciary duties are written into real estate licensing laws. Real estate agents are required to fully disclose dual agency relationships. All parties involved must give full and express consent to the terms in order to remain compliant with the law.

Transaction Broker Agency Relationship

A transaction broker is the default role of a broker or agent. They don't represent the buyer or the seller. They instead act as a neutral go-between to help both parties complete a home sale. The broker is representing the transaction in this case. They act as a neutral party.

The transaction broker owes both parties limited confidentiality. This means that the transaction broker can't tell the buyer that the seller would agree to a lower price, or tell the seller that the buyer would go higher, without the express permission of the party in question.

Is Single Agency the Right Choice?

While dual agency is not allowed in some parts of the country, you may live in a place where you're able to choose between single agency and dual agency. Is single agency the right choice for you?

Both buyers and sellers are often better served by single agency. You're better off with single agency if you want to be sure your that real estate agent is acting in your best interests. The agent is required to act in the best interests of both the buyer and the seller in dual agency, which can be very difficult to do at the same time.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Federation of America. "The Agency Mess: Home Buyer and Seller Confusion and Costs Related to Diverse and Poorly Enforced State Laws About the Role and Responsibility of Real Estate Agents," Page 5.

  2. National Association of Realtors. "Fiduciary Duties."

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