What It Means to Interfere With an Agent's Client

Couple and realtor signing papers for new house
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Buyers don't always understand what agent interference means or why they can't demand that a listing agent show a home and bend to their wishes. It's not that the listing agent doesn't want to sell the home. The listing agent's fiduciary relationship is to the seller, not to the buyer.

Agents are not waiting patiently at a buyer's beck and call. Agents are paid on commission. For the most part, agents are also independent contractors, which means they choose their own work hours and with whom they choose to work. This is especially true for listing agents.

Key Takeaways

  • Real estate agents are bound by fiduciary duty and the laws of the state where they practice to represent their clients fairly, whether their client is a homebuyer or home seller.
  • A seller's agent may have their phone number on the sign out front, but if you call that number, they should ethically refer you to a buyer's agent so you are represented fairly in the transaction if you choose to buy the home.
  • The best thing you can do is get your own real estate agent if you are interested at looking at homes and making an offer. They know best which homes are available and can show them to you.

Why a Listing Agent Won't Show a Home

As a seller, you might authorize your agent to show your home to anybody who calls and requests an appointment. In fact, some sellers feel uncomfortable using a lockbox and expect their agent to be at the property for each and every showing, which is not always practical and could result in lost showings.

There are logical reasons an agent might not show a home:

  • The buyer might not want the listing agent to represent the buyer.
  • The buyer might not be qualified to buy.
  • The buyer might be working with a different real estate agent.
  • The home might already be in pending status.
  • The agent might not want to represent more than one buyer for the home.

Questions Listing Agents Ask Potential Buyers

Agents aren't just being nosy when they ask buyers questions. Sometimes, certain questions are mandatory, either by law, by practice, or by the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Some are simply common sense.

Understand that agents are not order-takers. Buying a home is not like buying a car or shopping for shoes. You can't pick out the color and style and slap the purchase on your credit card. There is an agent protocol. Expect these questions:

  • Are you prequalified by a lender and do you have proof of funds? Agents don't care which lender a buyer chooses or whether the buyer pays cash. But the seller will care. The seller doesn't want to take the home off the market if the buyer is not qualified to purchase the home. Many sellers require a buyer to submit proof of ability to purchase such as a loan preapproval letter along with the purchase offer.


Buyers who are not yet ready to make a purchase offer should attend open houses and not call an agent to arrange a private showing. Agents do not get paid for driving around. They want to devote their time to buyers who are prepared to make an offer.

  • Are you working with an agent? Agents ask this question because they are required to find out if the buyer already has an agent. If the buyer is already working with an agent, that agent could be guilty of interfering with another agent's client—especially if that buyer has signed a buyer-broker agreement.

Sometimes a buyer's agent might be on vacation or otherwise unavailable, so the buyer will call the listing agent to ask for an appointment to see a home. Procuring cause is a complicated situation, and there are no clear-cut decisions, but typically it's the agent who shows the home and writes the offer who is entitled to the commission. So if you wound up buying through the listing agent, they would be eligible to get the commission, which would mean interfering with another agent's client.


Agents are not interchangeable. Even if a buyer wants to change agents, the terms in their buyer-broker agreement may prevent them from doing so. 

What to Do

If a buyer's agent is unavailable, buyers should call the agent's broker to find out who is available in the agent's absence. Sometimes the buyer's agent does not belong to the Board of REALTORS® and cannot show homes without a lockbox key. In that event, you might want to ask yourself why you are working with such an ill-equipped agent.

Dual agency—in which one agent represents both the buyer and seller—is legal in some, but not all states. In that situation, one individual is earning an entire commission without working hard for either side since they represent both.

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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. National Association of REALTORS®. "2021 Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice."

  2. National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. "What Is an Exclusive Buyer-Broker Agreement?"

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