The short answer is no. You don’t have to sign a buyer representation agreement (BRA) with a brokerage, but you should consider the benefits it offers you as a home buyer.
A BRA defines the relationship between the buyer (you) and the real estate brokerage that is working on your behalf. It sets out the property type and geographic location for your potential new home, lists the services to be provided, addresses the issue of commission that may be payable to the brokerage, and it also specifies the duration of the agreement.
Signing a BRA confirms in writing that you are a client of the brokerage and documents the terms and obligations of the brokerage client relationship. As a client, the brokerage has a special responsibility to follow your instructions, protect your confidential information and promote and protect your best interests.
To make the most of this relationship, it’s important to identify your needs and expectations. Discuss what services you are looking for and determine whether the brokerage and the salesperson or broker are the right match for you. To avoid misunderstandings later on, don’t make any assumptions and be sure to list all details in writing. You should also ask what the broker or salesperson expects from you and what your obligations are.
If you’re not comfortable with the terms of the BRA, you can enter into a Customer Service Agreement (CSA) with the brokerage instead. In this scenario, the obligations of the brokerage will be different. While they will still help you buy or sell a home, they won’t have the same level of responsibility to you as they would if you were a client. For example, the representative would still show you properties and help you fill out paperwork, but they wouldn’t necessarily provide advice.
While the brokerage will have less of a commitment to you, you will also have less of a commitment to the brokerage. Typically, CSAs are not legally-binding contracts.
Think of it as though a BRA is a wedding band, while a CSA is a promise ring. The level of commitment from both parties will be less with a CSA. Regardless of whether you sign a BRA or CSA, the brokerage will still have to act fairly, honestly and with integrity and provide conscientious and competent service. Keep in mind, a brokerage can choose to decline your business if you choose not to enter into a BRA.
As with any contract, take the time to read and understand each clause of the BRA or CSA. If you’re unsure about something, ask questions or consider seeking legal advice before signing. And remember that while there are rights that come with any agreement, there are also obligations.