Picture it: You (a Buyer) walk into an open house and fall in love. You talk to the agent about your needs, wants and budget. You mention that you are in the middle of a divorce and need a place to live ASAP. He suggests he draw up an offer for you. The agent represents your interests because he knows so much about you, right? WRONG.
Picture it: After months of trolling realtor.ca, you find a property you like. You call the Listing Broker to make an appointment to see the property. You tell them why you want to move and how much you think the house is worth. A week later, you call the agent to tell him you want to put in an offer. The agent won’t tell the Seller your motivations and how much you’d be willing to pay for the house, right? WRONG.
In Ontario, all REALTORS work in the best interest of the Seller – it’s the law. The Listing Agent (the agent who represents the Seller) has a primary duty to the Seller. The other Agent who finds the Buyer is working for the Seller too – unless he’s signed a Buyer’s Representation Agreement with the Buyer which in effect makes him a Buyer Broker. A Buyer Broker’s duties are to you, the Buyer.
Here’s why you need an agent working for you:
1. Without a formal Buyer Broker relationship, all Agents represents the Seller – the Listing Broker represents them formally through a written agreement, and anyone else (for example, the agent you found on Craigslist who agreed to show you a property) is a sub-agent to the Seller. Because their duty is first and foremost to the Seller, their job is to get the best deal for the Seller (read: most amount of money and best conditions). Agents do have to act fairly, honestly and with integrity with all potential Buyers, irrespective of who they work for- but they don’t for example, have to respect confidentiality.
2. A formal Buyer Broker agreement sets out in writing that the Agent is representing your interests exclusively; their goal is to get you the best price and conditions. Buyer Brokers will share historical sales information (which may be to the detriment of the Seller for example comparables that show they are overpriced) and make sure that your interests are protected at all times.
3. You probably don’t stand to gain if the Agent represents you and the Seller. If the Listing Broker represents both the Seller and the Buyer (we call this multiple representation) he stands to make more commission (we call this ‘double-ending the deal’). If any commission discount is given, it’s given to the Seller, not the Buyer – so you likely don’t stand to profit from having the Seller’s agent double-end the transaction. The Listing Broker will make more commission, the Seller will likely pay less commission, and you’ll just have no one looking out for you. How can that be a good idea? [Related: Should You Buy With the Listing Agent?
4. The Seller pays both the Listing Broker and the Buyer Broker out of the proceeds of the sale. So you can have somebody work exclusively in your interests and get paid by someone else!
Once you’ve picked someone to represent you (find out how to pick a great REALTOR), ask to sign a Buyer’s Representation Agreement confirming that THEY work for YOU. The Buyer’s Representation Agreement is a two-way street: the REALTOR agrees to represent you and work in your best interests, and you agree that if you buy a home in a certain period of time, that you will work with that Realtor. From a REALTOR’s perspective, the Buyer’s Agreement is a guarantee that if all the work we do for a Buyer results in a sale, we’ll get paid.
There’s a lot more to the legal workings of how Realtors work and who they owe what to. The Ontario Real Estate Association has published a great guide called Working with a Realtor that you’ll be asked to sign before you make an offer.