One of the hardest parts of my job as a real estate agent is helping people decide for themselves.
While there are some people who ask professionals to spell out everything so they can make their own, informed decisions, most people hire out professionals to make a call for them based on expertise. Your accountant might fill out your tax forms for you, your doctor recommends medicines, your mechanic suggests car maintenance, etc. We don't have to do what they say, but we often do, leaning on their expertise.
A real estate agent is asked to do much the same but ultimately we have a fiduciary duty to our clients to educate our clients and allow them to make their own, informed decisions. Often, this is frustrating to clients who just want us to tell them what to do.
Here are the most common scenarios where a client wants their agent to do something they legally can't, or at least shouldn't, do:
1) A client wants to know more about a neighborhood
Often, when clients are moving to a new area - either from another part of the country or even just a city dweller moving to the suburbs - they know very little about where they want to move. Maybe they've heard of some desirable neighborhoods or school districts second hand but otherwise know nothing about what neighborhoods are likely enjoyable to them. They don't know how close the grocery store is, what the vibe is at the local 'downtown', if the schools districts are well rated, if crime is high in a certain section, etc.
Often, as might be expected, they turn to their real estate agent with questions of "is this a safe area?" or "is this a good school district" and, legally, their real estate agent can't answer that question the way they want. Fair-housing laws make it clear that an agent can't "steer" a buyer to an area because they deem it safer, cleaner, nicer, etc. Or conversely "steer" a buyer into a neighborhood they wouldn't suggest to another client. While agents have the best intentions in, and often pressure to, do so, we can not legally suggest areas in which to live or give our opinion on an area in this manner.
A real estate agent can only suggest a client do some research themselves via time spent in an area, neighborhood crime maps, online school rankings, etc.
2) A client wants you to write an offer for them, accept an offer for them, etc
Well, technically, an agent CAN do this, but shouldn't. Sometimes clients will just say "I trust you. I know you are looking out for me." and they feel comfortable with you making all decisions for them. Sadly, even if thats the working relationship that client prefers, its not really working as a fiduciary or agent for them. A client truly needs to make decisions for themselves and understand the documents and decisions they are signing. While agents really do often have their clients' best interest at heart, when the details are boiled down, sometimes its not exactly what a client intended.
For instance, maybe the agent assumes a client would want the highest price offer on their home. The seller/client simply told them "You know, I don't really know what I'm looking at. If you think its a good offer, lets go with it." But maybe the seller, if you delved deeper, would actually have wanted the offer that was lower but cash, or lower but could close 2 weeks sooner. If the seller was fully aware of all the facts, he or she could have decided for themselves what offer best suited their needs.
3) Get creative
This is a hard market. Buyers are trying to beat out 30 other offers on some homes. Many offers are cash, many are waiving inspections, and trying to stand out among other offers can be difficult. Many agents are trying to get creative with how to make their clients stand out from the crowd.
This is great in many regards. There are certainly good ways to get creative with presenting your clients' offer. BUT, and its a big but, agents are technically supposed to get creative in most of what we do. Our legal advice limits are grounded in the documents that have been approved by the state association of Realtors. If we start writing our own language and addenda to add, or remove, rights or conditions to an offer, we are going above our legal capacity. If it hasn't be approved by a brokerage (their legal team) and/or the Board of Realtors, as a real estate agent, we don't have the training or legal knowledge to add to the agreement of sale or other addenda. Its then up to the buyer to do their homework, or up their level of risk, if agreeing to any changes in writing.
Further, while thinking outside the box is always appreciated, when delving into new ways to play your hand, we often aren't practiced enough in these new approaches to advise on their pitfalls.
Hopefully this is helpful for the next time your real estate agent says, "I'm sorry, I can't do that." or "I'm sorry, I don't feel comfortable with that". There are many facets of real estate where advice and expertise should be limited. At the end of the day, its our clients who are doing the buying, selling and leasing of their own real estate and funds and they should be the final, hopefully well-informed, deciding voice.