What Is A Limited Service Real Estate Agent?

By 

Trevor Wallis

Updated 

March 24th, 2021

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What do limited-service agents do? | Benefits | Risks | Minimum service requirements | How much do limited-service agents cost? | Potential savings | Alternatives

What is a limited-service real estate agent?

A limited-service real estate agent offers fewer services and less support to sellers than traditional realtors — usually for a discount.

But figuring out exactly which services a limited-service agent will provide can be tricky — there's no formula or standard practices across the industry. Instead, the services offered vary by company and agent.

» SAVE: Sell with a full-service agent for only 1% or $3,000

Some agents offer sellers the flexibility to choose and pay for only the services they want or need. Other agents, like flat-fee MLS companies, offer packages with a few core services to help you sell your home.

In many states, however, limited-service agents have to contend with state minimum service requirements. These regulations limit how "limited" these agents' services can be by requiring them to perform certain duties for their clients — even if the client doesn't want or need them.

✅ Limited-service agents are good for…

  • Experienced sellers who only need an agent for a few tasks
  • Confident sellers who want to DIY their home sale with a little agent assistance
🚫 Limited-service agents are bad for…

  • First-time home sellers
  • People in complicated selling situations or with homes that are difficult to sell
  • Sellers in markets where there aren't a lot of buyers looking for homes

What does a limited-service agent do for a seller?

Limited-service agents offer a few key services and minimal support for sellers. At a minimum, they'll list your home in your local multiple listing service (MLS), but they could also offer more options, like:

  • Contract reviews
  • Negotiation assistance
  • Advertising products (like yard signs and key lockboxes)

📌 Editor's Note

Limited-service real estate agents are a mixed bag with few of them offering the same options. You won't know exactly what services are available for you until you talk to an agent directly. If you're thinking about hiring a limited-service agent, you should compare multiple companies or agents first before making a final decision.

A traditional real estate agent handles everything from gathering comps to negotiating offers and coordinating the closing process. But a limited-service agent may only do a fraction of what a full-service agent would do, leaving the seller to take care of everything else.

Many limited-service agents use an a la carte pricing structure. This gives you a TON of flexibility and control over how much the agent is involved in the transaction and how much you'll ultimately pay to sell your home.

What doesn't a limited-service agent do for a seller?

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) defines a limited-service real estate agent as an agent who does NOT offer one or more of these essential agent services:

  • Arrange listing appointments with other brokers
  • Accept and present offers
  • Advise the seller on the merits of an offer
  • Assist the seller with counter-offers
  • Negotiate on the seller's behalf[1]

Limited-service agents could also leave out non-essentials that full-service agents usually help with, like:

  • Comparative market analysis
  • Professional photography
  • Hosting open houses
  • Preparing and filing paperwork

Ultimately, sellers have to take on more responsibility for selling their home when they list with a limited-service agent.

» MORE: What's the difference between discount and full-service realtors?

Benefits and risks of working with a limited-service agent

Benefits
Risks
You could save a lot of money on listing fees
The added liability of filling out all the required paperwork yourself
Flexibility and control over services and price
You miss out on the best possible price due to a lack of experience pricing and negotiating home sales

What are the benefits?

You're likely considering a limited-service agent because you want to save a lot of money on realtor commissions — and you certainly can!

While the price tag will vary depending on the specific agent and the services they provide, it will likely be a lot less than a full-service listing agent who charges 2.77% — the current national average commission rate for listing agents.

On top of the savings, you may like the flexibility that comes with a la carte pricing. If you're a go-getter who's ready to take on more of the work to sell your home, working with an agent who offers this pricing structure could be just what you need.

You'll be able to choose exactly what you need an agent's help with. It gives you more control over nearly every step of the transaction.

» LEARN: How to save on realtor commission fees

What are the risks?

When you sell with a limited-service agent, you miss out on the experience and expertise that a full-service agent offers.

Real estate transactions are usually complicated and fast-moving. If you make just a few small mistakes, they could cost you even more money than you save by not paying to work with a full-service agent.

Save on realtor commissions without the risk!

Clever pre-negotiates low commission rates with top local real estate agents nationwide. 

You don't have to take on extra risks and responsibilities to save money when you sell your home. 

With a Clever agent, you can save thousands of dollars while STILL working with a full-service agent — you'll only pay 1% or $3,000!

You have a higher chance of choosing the wrong listing price

A full-service agent will often have an expert-level understanding of the housing market in your area. They can look at comps and understand local trends to recommend the best price.

A limited-service agent may not offer any pricing guidance or have the local knowledge necessary to recommend the right price. Instead, you'll have to choose your own listing price, which could lead either to you selling your home for less than it’s worth or to it sitting on the market for a long time because it's priced too high.

You won't have much support during negotiations

When it's time to negotiate, a limited-service real estate agent usually won't offer much assistance. You may be able to purchase some of the agent's time to look over offers and give you some advice, but you'll likely have to negotiate with the buyer's agent yourself.

This could end up costing you a lot of money by either settling for a lower price, giving up more concessions, or offering the buyer more credits than what's necessary to get the sale to closing.

A full-service real estate agent negotiates deals for their clients all the time and most agents are really good at it. Unless you're a master negotiator, you might have trouble negotiating offers as well as an experienced agent could.

You may need more services than you originally planned

If you underestimate how much help you'll need to sell your home, you'll have to buy more support from your limited-service agent. This will drive up your total costs and lead to you paying MUCH more than you expected — especially compared to the level of service you'll receive.

You could even run into a situation where you need support that a limited-service agent doesn't offer. Depending on the terms of your listing agreement, it could be difficult to find that help from another agent without terminating your agreement and starting over from scratch.

📌 Editor's Note

A limited-service agent's listing agreement will detail all of the services they offer and the terms of working with that agent. You should review it carefully and treat it as your source of truth (instead of relying on a conversation alone) before making a final decision about whether you want to work with a particular agent.

Are limited-service agents and flat-fee MLS companies the same?

Flat-fee MLS companies are a type of limited-service real estate company that only lists your home in your local MLS for a low, flat fee.

According to NAR, listing-only companies won't provide ANY of the following services:

  • Arranging listing appointments with other agents
  • Accepting and presenting offers
  • Giving advice on how strong a particular offer is
  • Presenting counter-offers to the buyer
  • Negotiating with the buyer or their agent[2]

📌 Editor's note

You may notice that this is the same list that NAR uses to define limited-service agents. The major difference between the two is how many of these services the agent or company excludes for listing packages.
A limited-service agent doesn't offer one or more of these services, while a flat-fee MLS company offers none of them.

But many companies that claim the "flat-fee MLS" title also offer add-on services and upgraded listing packages that could include things like offer reviews and negotiation assistance. Based on NAR's definition, these companies would technically qualify as limited-service real estate companies, but not flat-fee MLS services.

Just remember — companies call themselves all sorts of things that may not be technically accurate. When you're choosing a listing agent, you shouldn't worry so much about labels. Instead, focus on the price and the services you'll get in exchange for your money.

» MORE: Everything you need to know about flat-fee MLS listings

State-level minimum service requirements

Several states have laws that require all real estate agents to provide certain services to every client. But the exact minimum service requirements will vary from state to state.

For example, Iowa requires agents to:

  • Accept and deliver offers
  • Assist the client with preparing, negotiating, and presenting offers and counter-offers
  • Answer their clients' questions about contracts and negotiations
  • Provide prospective buyers with access to a property[3]

Not every state's requirements are so stringent. Some may only require agents to answer their clients' questions and others either don't have any minimum service requirements or allow clients to opt out of the required services.

If you are in a state with these requirements, though, you can expect to pay more to work with a limited-service agent. Instead of paying for only the services you need, you'll also have to pay for the required services even if you don't want or need them.

Does your state have minimum service requirements?

State
Code or regulation
Requires minimum service?
Alabama
Yes
Alaska
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Arizona
Yes
Arkansas
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
California
Yes
Colorado
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Connecticut
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Delaware
No required minimum service
District of Columbia
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Florida
No required minimum service
Georgia
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Hawaii
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Idaho
Yes
Illinois
Yes, in certain broker relationships
Indiana
Yes, in certain broker relationships
Iowa
Yes
Kansas
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Kentucky
Yes, but minimum service may be waived
Louisiana
No required minimum service
Maine
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Maryland
No required minimum service
Massachusetts
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Michigan
Yes, but minimum service may be waived
Minnesota
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Mississippi
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Missouri
Yes, in certain broker relationships
Montana
No required minimum service
Nebraska
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Nevada
No required minimum service
New Hampshire
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
New Jersey
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
New Mexico
No required minimum service
New York
No required minimum service
North Carolina
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
North Dakota
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Ohio
No required minimum service
Oklahoma
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Oregon
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Pennsylvania
No required minimum service
Rhode Island
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
South Carolina
Yes
South Dakota
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Tennessee
No required minimum service
Texas
Yes, in certain broker relationships
Utah
Yes, in certain broker relationships
Vermont
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Virginia
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Washington
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
West Virginia
Only required to present offers in a timely manner
Wisconsin
No required minimum service
Wyoming
Yes

How much do limited-service agents typically cost?

The cost of a limited-service agent will vary based on the individual company, how they offer their services (a la carte or packages), and how much help you need from them.

We've seen some agents offer a simple MLS listing for less than $100, but your costs could add up quickly when you tack on other services as well. For example, here's what Houzeo — a national limited-service real estate company — charges for its a la carte options.[4]

Service
Price
MLS listing
$199
Contract review
$499
Price assistance
$299
Real estate forms
$299
ShowingTime automated showing service
$50
Yard sign
$45
Professional photography
$179

If you were to sign up for their basic MLS listing plus all the company's add-ons, you'd end up paying $1,570 or more to work with this limited-service company.

How much can you save with a limited-service agent?

You can save quite a bit of money by working with a limited-service real estate agent instead of a traditional full-service realtor.

Sellers typically pay between 2.5-3% of their home's final sale price to their listing agent. Depending on your home's value, you could end up paying several thousand dollars just to your listing agent.

» READ: What is the average realtor commission rate in your area?

But you can often lower your listing fees by working with a limited-service agent — as long as you're willing to take on the extra risks.

Here's how much you could save by working with an agent who charges a $2,000 flat-fee compared to a traditional listing agent.

Final sale price
$100,000
$250,000
$500,000
Limited-service agent fee
$2,000
$2,000
$2,000
Traditional listing agent fee*
$3,000
$7,500
$15,000
Savings
$1,000
$5,000
$13,000
*Based on a 3% listing fee

Top alternatives to a limited-service real estate agent

Sell with a conventional full-service agent or broker

If you're a first-time seller, have a complicated selling situation, or value dedicated support and customer service, working with a conventional full-service agent will be a much better option for you.

A conventional realtor will guide you through the entire sales process — from picking a sale price to closing. You may pay more to work with a full-service agent, but their expertise could help you recoup those costs. For example, you may save $2,000 in realtor fees by working with a limited-service agent but end up selling your home for $10,000 less than what a full-service agent could have negotiated for you.

Overall, full-service agent's expertise Working with a full-service agent gives you the best level of service with the least risk.

Work with a full-service agent for only 1% or $3,000!

Clever negotiates discounted listing fees with top agents from major brokerages like Keller Williams, Berkshire Hathaway, and Century 21. Get the full-service experience for a fraction of the cost!

Work with a full-service discount real estate broker

Selling with a discount real estate broker like Redfin or Houwzer can save you money without sacrificing vital agent services. Most of these companies have their own in-house agents and offer built-in savings for home sellers.

You can find discount brokers that charge either a reduced percentage rate or a flat listing fee to sell your home. Depending on your home's sale price, a discount broker could save you nearly as much money as a limited-service agent — without having to take on the extra risk and time commitment to sell your home.

» MORE: How much can you save with a discount real estate broker?

Listing your home for sale by owner (FSBO)

You can bypass a listing agent altogether by selling your home all on your own. If you're an experienced seller and confident in your ability to find a buyer without listing on the MLS, you can maximize your savings by selling FSBO.

But think carefully before choosing this route. You'll take on even more risk and responsibility since you won't have an agent in your corner to answer questions, advertise your home, or help you manage the closing process.

» READ: How to sell your home FSBO

Sell to a “We buy houses for cash” company

If your property is either distressed or tough to sell, you might consider selling to a "we buy houses for cash" company.

These companies make all-cash offers on nearly any property, regardless of its condition. Since they rely on repairing the property and reselling it for a profit, they'll usually offer well below your home's market value — sometimes as low as 50% of what it could sell for if it were fixed up and listed on the open market.

Still, if you need to sell fast or don't want to deal with getting your home ready to sell, a cash buyer could be a good way to sell your home, as long as you aren't too concerned about the sale price.

» LEARN: "We buy houses for cash" companies (the ultimate guide)

Sell to an iBuyer

iBuyers use technology to make all-cash offers on homes — often sight-unseen.

These companies could be a convenient way to sell your home. However, many homes don't qualify for an offer. iBuyers have strict criteria for the homes they'll purchase based on the property's location, age, condition, and other factors.

If you do qualify, most iBuyers offer a flexible closing period — usually between seven and 90 days. But the convenience of choosing your closing date and not listing on the open market comes with a price. Most iBuyers charge 5-15% service fees.

» READ: Everything you need to know about iBuyers

ARTICLE SOURCES
[1]

National Association of REALTORS® Handbook on Multiple Listing Policy. "Current Listings, Section 8: Limited Service Listings (Policy Statement 7.83)." 

[2]

National Association of REALTORS® Handbook on Multiple Listing Policy. "Current Listings, Section 9: MLS Entry-only Listings (Policy Statement 7.84)." 

[3]

Iowa Legislature. "Iowa Code §543B.56A." 

[4]

Houzeo. "Houzeo pricing."