Hiring a real estate agent is a crucial step in the home selling process, but what happens if you find a buyer on your own after you’ve hired an agent? There are a few different options when you find your own buyer, but which of those options are available to you depend on your agent, your listing agreement, and the circumstances under which you find a buyer. Understanding your listing agreement is paramount to having a good working relationship and staying out of financial or legal trouble down the road.

Understand your listing agreement.

When you hire a real estate agent to list your home, they will typically ask you to sign a listing agreement. This is a contract that gives the agent permission to list your home and protects both you and the agent. For sellers, a listing agreement ensures that the agent is invested in selling the home and outlines the specific tasks the agent will carry out to find a buyer. For agents, the agreement guarantees that a seller will work with them for the duration of the contract.

Most listing agreements document the agreed upon commission rate (typically 4–7% of the home’s sale price), describe the duties of the agent, and include a protection clause that allows the agent to collect a fee on the sale of the home for a period of time after the contract has lapsed; this is to prevent sellers from finding a buyer on their own and delaying the sale to avoid paying the agent’s commission. Your agent will most likely want to sign an exclusive agreement, meaning you cannot work with multiple listing agents at once. It is possible to have an open agreement that would allow you to work with multiple listing agents, but this is less common.

If possible, discuss the possibility of finding your own buyer in advance.

If you have signed an exclusive listing agreement and find a buyer on your own, you may still be legally required to pay the agent’s commission. You can avoid this, however, by ensuring that your listing agreement includes an exception for this scenario. When you sit down to review your listing agreement with your agent, it’s important to consider how likely you are to find your own buyer and discuss how your contract can accommodate both parties in that case. You may be able to renegotiate your agreement after you’ve found a buyer, but it’s much easier to address the issue before signing the contract.

If you plan to try to find a buyer on your own while working with an agent, consider asking your agent if they would agree to a flat fee for managing the other aspects of your real estate transaction. You could also negotiate the commission to amount that feels appropriate for you, given the likelihood that you would find your own buyer. Another option is a hybrid of a flat fee and a smaller commission. Whatever your final agreement looks like, don’t forget that it is a legally binding contract, so you should be familiar with all the details before you sign. If you are selling a home and think you might find your own buyer, working with a realtor is still the wisest course. Having a professional to represent you and keep you informed about all the intricacies of a real estate transaction can help you get the best price for your home while saving you time and worry. Negotiating a contract that works for you and carefully reviewing that contract with your agent are vital steps in preparing to list your home.