The difference between a customer and client is not irrelevant in real estate.
If you are buying real estate, you need to know who is whom.
A client is someone formally represented by a real estate broker/agent. The relationship is documented on the newly required agency disclosure form, but it is not binding on the buyer. Only if a consumer agrees in writing to an exclusive relationship is the broker protected. Conversely, sellers are contracturally bound to their brokers.
On the other hand, a customer is just a buyer who asks a broker for help searching for and looking at apartments. At any time until a contract is signed can the customer decide to ask another broker for help.
Virtually no one in Manhattan asks buyers to become committed to them in writing, to become clients. Although I never took on a buyer in the D.C. area who didn’t sign an agency agreement with me, I never ask the same of my buyers here.
Yet I make it clear that I perhaps am naive in expecting the best of buyers. I let them know that I’ll be working hard for them and hope that they’ll respect my time, effort and expertise on their behalf. In return, I say I hope that they will be loyal to me.
The result: I treat virtually everyone as a client, not a customer, the absence of paperwork notwithstanding.
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022