"Buy Side" Cassie Walker Johnson, Windermere Real Estate agent
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Buy Side: Why buyer agreements are good for agents 

Cassie Walker Johnson not only supports buyer contracts, she offers training on them: “This is the tool that will define your entire professional relationship.”

May 25, 2024
5 minutes

Lawsuits and speculation around the future of compensation have put buyer agency in the spotlight. In this series of stories, we hear directly from buyer's agents about what they do, their paths to success and their thoughts about how their jobs could change.

Seattle real estate brokers Cassie Walker Johnson and her husband, Jeremey, know well the value of a buyer agreement.

The couple had been showing "a good friend" houses for six months when they learned the friend had bought a house with another agent.

All that time spent driving around. All those front doors and  kitchen counters. All those talks about schools.

But no paperwork — and no sale.

So when, in January 2024, Washington state started requiring a Buyer Broker Services Agreement be signed not long after an agent begins providing real estate services, the Johnsons — who have worked at Windermere for 22 years and selectively used buyer agreements since 2009 — were all in.

The buyer agreement covers key points, such as the length and exclusivity of the working relationship, the agreed compensation rate and how a broker is paid. 

It's the first substantial revision to the agency statute since 1997 — but also an adjustment for Washington agents already navigating a highly charged market. And when the rule changes coming out of the NAR settlement take effect in August, Washington agents will have to adjust once again to comply with the more specific requirements. 

Coaching is key

When Walker Johnson saw the requirement on the horizon, she started teaching a course called "Compensation Conversation." She trains agents about buyer agreements and how to present the concept to clients so they understand all that the broker does, and why those services need to be secured in writing.

"I coach these brokers to let their clients know everything that is happening, to talk about the stuff we do and showing the actual value," she said.

After the state rules officially changed in January, Walker Johnson converted the course into a training called "Buyer Agreements or Bust" — three hours of training on the required forms, and how to speak to buyers about why the agreements are good for everyone involved. 

Buyer agreements 'formalize the business relationship'

"We're promoting transparency so we can make sure our clients are educated about how we work and how we get paid," Walker Johnson said. "It's all about how you get your clients to understand how it's done" — and counter the notion held by some consumers that agents aren't doing all that much.

"We make it look so smooth, like swans," she said.  "But underneath, we are paddling like crazy."

It's not uncommon to go to a listing appointment with a seller who is speaking to other agents, or to meet with a buyer who is "loosey-goosey" about commitments.

With the required agreements, agents have a document that formalizes the business relationship.

"The more we can systemize our process, the better service we can give each and every client," she said.

That said, she is concerned about the potential ramifications of the required agreements on all buyers — especially groups she  believes "have long encountered barriers while building wealth through real estate."

For example, she said, veterans are not permitted to pay a buying broker when obtaining a VA-based loan. BIPOC communities, she said, have long been impacted by discriminatory housing practices and persistent wealth disparities.

"The question arises," she said. "Who will be willing to represent these groups?"

Making the case with buyers

While the industry will need to address those larger questions, Walker Johnson is focused on the more immediate practical considerations, like how — and when — to present the agreement to buyers.

Washington's law doesn't specify when exactly the agreement must be signed, so Walker Johnson has had some flexibility when introducing it to clients. She might start with an initial conversation, asking about the buyer's wants and needs, then look at a house or two to see how they get along. If things are going well, the next step is bringing up the buyer agreement.

Her pitch to buyers is straightforward: "This is the document that will explain how long we will work together, our compensation and who is going to pay for it."

She also talks about whether it is an exclusive or non-exclusive relationship, and whether the buyer is OK with the broker representing both the buyer and the seller.

As for compensation: If the seller offers less on compensation, would the buyer agree to make up the difference? What if the deal falls through? What if the agreement is terminated?

It includes "all the terms of the working relationship," she said, then paused. "In what other industry can you get a service without signing an agreement?"

"This is the tool that will define your entire professional relationship. Why wouldn't you want that?"

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