Buyer Agency, which is almost universally available now, changed all that. The buyer now often has a choice in representation: the Agent with whom they were working could continue to represent the seller in the transaction, or the Agent could represent them as buyers. The buyer is now able to compete on a more level playing field.
Although there are state to state variations (please verify the situation in your particular locality), the following is a basic summary of the types of agency, and who the Agent represents.
SELLER AGENCY: The “default” situation. Unless disclosed to the contrary, all Agents involved in a Real Estate transaction (and their Brokers–with whom a listing agreement is actually with) represent, and owe their allegiance, to the seller. If you contact an Agent who has a property listed, that Agent will always represent the seller.
BUYER AGENCY: When an Agent represents the buyer as buyer’s agent, that Agent “rejects” the implicit seller agency and thus owes loyalty to the buyer. For more information on this subject, see the section devoted to Buyer Agency.
DUAL AGENCY: This occurs when 2 Agents–or the same Agent–working for the same Broker each represent a buyer and a seller in a transaction. This situation must be disclosed to both the buyer and the seller. Privileged information (e.g. the price that a buyer will pay or a seller will sell at) cannot be disclosed to the other party without the express permission of that party.
What it means to you
If you leave the agency question “as-is”, your Agent will automatically represent the seller in the transaction (although it is very likely that they will suggest Buyer Agency.) If the Agent does not represent the seller, in most areas you can opt for Buyer Agency. If the house in which you are interested is listed by the same Broker as your Agent, then you have an automatic Dual Agency situation. To sum it up, if you want full representation and it is available, insist on Buyer Agency. You can find an Agent in the area in which you are interested, throughout the U.S. and Canada.