How to refer to a buyer’s agent – part 1

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Are you a buyer agent, Buyer’s agent, buyers broker or even a Buyers Advocate? Then this series is here to help you better understand how to properly refer to yourself on a business card, your website, in your email signature and in other communications.

This post and the following one cover the application of grammar and style when writing about buyer’s agents. A third article will discuss inconsistency in professional titles for buyer’s agents – the industry has seen a proliferation of disparate terms to describe the work of assisting buyers in finding and transacting property and we help you to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Let’s face it: buyer’s agents have an awkward professional title. First there is the fact that, in Australia at least, most people have no idea that buyer’s agents exist let alone what they do – and the indistinct term buyer’s agent doesn’t do a whole lot to reveal your valuable talents to the uninitiated.

That confusion aside, with the most common term for someone who represents a buyer on the purchase side of a property transaction being buyer’s agent, there are additional questions of grammar to contend with in respect to oft misapplied rules.

Readers are primarily interested in what you have to say. By the way in which you say it you may encourage them either to read on or to give up. – The Economist Style Guide

Being proud nerds here at BAG, while developing our own style guide we did quite a lot of research into the matter of how best to refer to a buyer’s agent. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t come across any other grammar junkies who had discussed this topic on blogs or forums. A variety of styles are employed by agents and industry bodies across the web, however there is no apparent profession-wide consensus. Join us in a brief exploration of the common mistakes and available options when writing about buyer’s agents.

Grammar: 3 quick reminders about apostrophes

If like me you can’t even remember what your grade four teacher looked like let alone what she was saying it’s possible that you’ve forgotten a couple of important rules…

  1. Pluralised words do not require apostrophes.
  2. When we want to denote possession of a single thing, the correct word’s spelling includes an apostrophe.
  3. Words that denote multiple things possessing something are indicated by placing the apostrophe after the s, as in “Four years’ consecutive growth delivered strong returns”.

The words’ apostrophes in these three rules each illustrate their own point.

Application: what about me?

With that refresher out of the way and before I succumb to temptation and drown you in a murky sea of contractions, collectives and past participles, let’s think about how these simple rules apply to buyer’s agents.

Pluralisation and ownership are sometimes tricky areas to navigate when writing. This question I recently received from one of our blog writers is not an uncommon one.

When I am talking about an individual agent I know to use buyer’s agent. When I talk about that agent owning something, like a car for example, do I say “That is the buyer’s agents car”? – BAG intern

Take a minute to read that again. Can you spot the error?

In this case a single car belongs to one buyer’s agent, thus the correct use is “That is the buyer’s agent’s car”.

We can follow this line of thinking further to a situation where it is necessary to refer to a group of agents.

As the agent of the buyer, your job title indicates that the buyer owns you. Moving on quickly before we induce mass crisis of identity in the industry, let’s look at the next fun fact – a lot of the time, when writing about your services or what a buyer’s agent is, you will refer to agents as a group. For those playing at home this means that the tautologically sound term is buyer’s agent when referring to a single agent or buyers’ agents when referring to more than one agent.

Finally, what is the correct approach when we need to write about buyer’s agents ownership of something? A good example is the buyers’ agents’ industry awards. In this case, apply the following logic:

A buyer owns the agent = buyer’s agent

Buyers own more than one agent = buyers’ agents

Buyers’ agents each own one of many awards = buyers’ agents’ awards

In practical application, almost anything is preferable to using this construction. At BAG we would write “awards for buyers’ agents” or another variant suitable to the context of the sentence.

Style: to capitalise or not to capitalise?

When it comes to communicating clearly, grammatical correctness is not the end of the matter. The English language constantly evolves and it’s easier to keep up than to catch up. Sometimes changes come about through an active effort by lexicographers to simplify and clarify words and their use; in other cases words are adopted or become obsolete based purely on their popularity at a certain point in time.

See the accompanying post to this one to read our thoughts on the best ways to write about buyer’s agents in an easy to understand fashion.

Consistency: the golden goose

Whether you make your choices based on grammar, style or a combination of the two, the greatest favour you can do for readers is to be consistent. Once you decide the combination of rules you want to implement, have someone review your website and marketing materials to ensure they are applied uniformly – we are currently in the middle of this process ourselves. You could also run a 20 minute session for your team to help them understand the benefits of clear written communication.

Whatever your role in the real estate industry we encourage you to start improving your communications and become a confusion buster today!

Using correct grammar helps to communicate your point clearly

Our final post in this series will discuss whether buyer’s agents should stick to this title or consider some of the other available options such as buyer’s advocate. We’d love to hear your opinion on this matter so leave a comment below or drop us an email if you have one!

For those interested in learning more, The Economist Style Guide is an entertaining read on the subject of clear and correct writing. It is available for free on the The Economist’s website.

About the Author: Kristin is a freelance writer and property investor from Brisbane, Australia. You can view Kristin's other projects or contact her at LinkedIn or Google+. If you have any topics that you would like to see covered on this blog, please email blog at buyersagentguide.com.au

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