Q: Do you think it’s OK to use a member of your family as a buyer’s agent? What kind of problems do you think we will run into using a family member as our Realtor?

A: I am aware of the old adage cautioning against doing business with family members and friends. However, I am also aware, from personal experience, that when the stakes are as high as they are in a homebuying transaction, it is critical that your agent care intensely about you and your best interests. Who would care more than your relative?

But you are right to have concerns and to think about the pros and cons. There are a number of implications to take into consideration before working with your family member as your buyer’s agent.

Mindset Management

Buying a home is essentially different from many other types of business deals in that it is not strictly business. Really, it is an exercise in picking and choosing an innumerable amount of elements about how your lifestyle will look going forward; I like to say that buying a home is one of the purest opportunities for "lifestyle design" that most of us will ever have.

Accordingly, the agent you work with is more than just a business associate, like your lawyer or CPA might be. The agent is, in an ideal situation, your trusted adviser on this endeavor of lifestyle design you are about to undertake. That means that your relationship is not just colleague-to-colleague; the best agent-client relationships are truly intimate, interpersonal interactions.

You will want to be able to trust whomever you choose as your agent with many private details about your finances, the way you and your family live on a daily basis, and even your dreams for the future.

A great agent makes an effort — via the advice she provides and her representation of your interests in negotiations and throughout a transaction — to be an advocate for you and your best interests. While there might be things about your family member that might get on your nerves (and she might feel the same about you), assuming that your relative is a good, competent agent, she might be a zealous advocate for your interests. I mean, you’re her family! …CONTINUED

If you start this or any relationship looking for the potential problems, I guarantee you that you will find problems. Why not give your relative a chance to show you what she can do for you? As with any relationship, it may not work — but it could also be a wonderful situation, resulting in a level of trust and confidence that would take you many moons to develop with a stranger.

I am currently in a transaction with a relative. She’s trying her best to drive me batty. And I know I’m the best broker for her, because any non-related agent would have either been (a) curled up in a fetal position in the corner, or (b) plotting a real estate revenge mission by now.

But since I already love her, and am obligated — I mean, since I will love her for all of my days — I will protect her interests as zealously as if she were a normal client of mine.

And since I know her so well, I am able to anticipate her wants, needs and decision-making glitches better than a stranger could. Working with your family member might have the same advantages.

On the other hand, if you happen to know (from your lifelong relationship) that your sister or cousin is a poor listener, has a practice of pushing her clients to do what she wants (rather than what they want) or anything else that gives you pause about the actual substance of her real estate work, follow that instinct.

Action Plan

Allow space in your mind for the possibility that there could be great advantages to working with your relative. But don’t walk into a situation you know is a setup for failure — especially a situation in which you know that your relative’s real estate skills or communication style is going to cause big problems for you.

If you decide against working with your family member, I would encourage you to face your relative and let her know your plans to work with another agent in advance. Do not let your housewarming party invitation be her first notification that you chose not to work with her. And do not be surprised if she is upset about your choice for awhile.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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