House Hunting Tips: Dual Agency Realtor

Last month, I shared with you all my house hunting journey. I can’t believe it was the same time last year that we found this home and bought it! I can’t believe I’ve been a homeowner for a year now. Almost surreal when I start to think about it.

I remember that the most exciting part of my house hunting journey was the day when we got the phone call from the real estate agent, saying that the seller had accepted our offer. I remember the moment vividly. BF and I were sitting anxiously, waiting for the call from the realtor. I remember my heart was racing a mile a minute. I don’t know why I had so much emotional investment, but I just did. We got the call and were surprised that the seller accepted our offer and were completely ecstatic. We were happy that no one else contacted the real estate agent, and that a bidding war didn’t happen.

Our Biggest Home Hunt Tip

I know I’m going to get hate comments from real estate agents for this, but I think our biggest tip in our home buying experience, was to use the concept of dual agency with our home buying.

In British Columbia, dual agency means that you are using the seller’s real estate agent to represent you as well. Real Estate Agents can agree or disagree to work with you, because some may see it as a conflict of interest (e.g. how can the real estate agent represent both you and the seller? Where do their loyalties lie?). They cannot be a dual agent for many clients (many whom we talked to only agreed to us and refused others). Some real estate agents decline to be in a dual agency agreement and wish to solely represent the seller. I think it depends on the real estate agents’ comfort levels with the concept of dual agency.

You as the buyer must feel comfortable with the concept of dual agency too – because sometimes you may worry that the real estate agent is lying to you, to try and make you “up the bid.” We certainly felt that way when we entered into the ‘bidding war’ that first time with the duplex. We knew she was trustworthy but we still felt unsure. It’s important to stay firm what you want to pay for the property and not let emotional uncertainty sway your decision.

How does Dual Agency Work?

Okay, standard commissions (for the big real estate firms) for real estate sold is:

7% on the first $100,000 and then 3.5% on the remaining balance. This is split between the buying and selling real estate agent, and paid by the seller of the home.

Therefore, if a house costs $300,000 (yeah, this is obviously an example since there is no way a house costs $300K in Vancouver), then:

$100,000 x 0.07 = $7000

$200,000 x 0.035= $7000

Total realtor commissions: $14,000

If you use a dual agent, the $14,000 is all theirs (and the real estate firm’s). Usually it would be half of this (to account for the other real estate agent involved), so $7000. Basically, with anything more than $7000, the dual agent will (should) be happy with. It would be “all gravy,” as they say. He or she will want to work for this and will aim to please both the buyer and seller. The real estate agent aims to sell the property as soon as possible, because a quick sale can reflect positively on their sales record.

If you’re looking to read more on how real estate commissions work, I have an old post about it here.

With the dual agent, we were able to knock off $25,000 from the purchase price at a time when homes were being overbid from the selling price. The real estate agent gave up some of his commission, and that way, we were able to save some money. The seller was happy (well, I’m not sure she was that happy, but she still agreed), the real estate agent was happy, and we were happy.

However, not everyone likes to use this type of strategy. Some home buyers like to have a real estate agent choose properties for them, and they like to have that personal touch. For some reason or another, we didn’t like the idea of using a real estate agent, perhaps we didn’t want to feel pressured to buy, and we liked looking at places on our own time.

Readers, do you have tips from your house hunting experience? What was your most vivid experience during your house hunt journey? What do you think about the concept of Dual Agency?

So, if you haven’t entered already, go enter “The Great House Hunter Contest for BMO Smartsteps® for Homeowners”! You can win 10,000 AIR MILES reward miles and all you have to do is do what I did (share your house hunting story).

the fine print:

There is no purchase requirement to enter into The Great House Hunter Contest for BMO SmartSteps® for Homeowners (the “Contest”). The Contest is open to all legal residents of Canada (excluding Quebec) who (at the time of entry): (i) have reached the age of majority in their province/territory of residence; and (ii) have an AIR MILES®* Collector Card. To enter, send an email to House.Hunter@bmo.com that contains (among other things) a story that discusses your “house hunting” experience and one (1) optional photograph to accompany your story. Prizes: Eight (8) Finalist Prizes (1,500 AIR MILES reward miles each); one (1) Grand Prize (10,000 AIR MILES reward miles); and two hundred and fifty (250) Entry Prizes (100 AIR MILES reward miles). Approximate retail value of the Prizes varies by travel service and date selected – example: from Montreal to New York return air travel for one passenger for October departure is 1,250 reward miles, which is approximately $342.00 CDN. Odds depend on the number, caliber and timing of eligible entries received. Skill-testing question required to be correctly answered to win. Full rules at: www.bmo.com/greathousehuntercontestrulesandregs

About

Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

24 Responses to House Hunting Tips: Dual Agency Realtor

  1. Helly says:

    I personally would probably never use a dual agent. In fact, one of the first questions I posed when we were “hiring” our realtor, was what would happen if one of the properties we were interested in was one that “belonged” to him? I wanted to be sure we had an “out” in case that ever happened, because I did not want to find ourselves in a dual agency situation.

    Yes, there is the possibility of advantages due to the realtor being motivated by a higher commission, but to me, those aren’t worth sacrificing the peace of mind I get by being able to be completely and totally honest with my agent about our situation and how far we’re willing to go with an offer. Okay, maybe that stuff can be figured out on our own (although then– why have an agent if you can do it all yourself?)

    There’s also the flip side to consider. I trust my agent to be ethical about what he will or will not breach to the other side. However, that has implications about how open and honest he can be, about strategies for the offer/counteroffer song-and-dance, for instance. When we were buying our house, our agent freely speculated, based on the seller agent’s responses, about the seller’s situation, and gave us some ideas about how to react to them. We both knew that we were just making educated guesses, but it was very liberating to have such free discourse about it. That wouldn’t happen if he were representing the seller– he KNOWS what the seller’s situation is, and can’t even hint to us about it. That would limit the nature of the advice he gives us

    So basically, on both sides (us dealing with him, him dealing with us) I feel there are disadvantages to using a dual agent. I feel like we wouldn’t be getting an agent’s full “attention”– and neither would the seller. And we likely wouldn’t save any money anyway, either. It’s only the agent that benefits. If good agents separately represent the buyer and seller, and do their jobs well, then both parties come away feeling that we’ve gotten a fair deal.

    • young says:

      @Helly- Thanks for sharing your perspective. Yes, so true- we didn’t get our agent’s full attention that’s for sure and we knew his loyalties were with the seller (or neutral). It’s risky for sure. Though BF and I were able to get the price below asking, and BF’s sister who also ended up using a dual agent bought her condo for price below asking too, at a time when there were bidding wars going all over the place. I think it depends on the market, it depends on your comfort level, and it depends on your risk, and ability to see whether they’re lying to you :)

      I really enjoyed the hunt of looking for a place ourselves, and felt that we didn’t need a realtor to do that for us. I’m not sure why we felt that way though!

  2. That is an interesting perspective. I haven’t used a dual agent, it sounds like a big conflict of interest to me. The real estate agents already have a big incentive to close the deal, I don’t think we need to add more.

    • young says:

      @retirebyforty- But having the real estate agent want to close the deal- isn’t that incentive positive for the buyer? He is willing to cut his commission… I know, it is a conflict of interest, I think it boils down to negotiation skills. We knew that his loyalties of course lay with the seller, even when we asked him for the blue print of the house, he wasn’t very helpful. Perhaps it was because we couldn’t find a good realtor to show us places in the first place. We rather went to look at places on our own- especially with realtor.ca (you can see listings of all the properties online).

  3. jesse says:

    Dual agency is fraught with conflict of interest. I would never recommend it. Agents like it because they get more money for very little extra work but are entirely interested in making the deal happen, not in protecting both parties’ interests.

    It’s like suing somebody and retaining the same law firm. Lawyers cannot do this, yet for Realtor’s it’s somehow OK. Another reason why Realtors are not really a “profession”, they are salespeople bound by a loosely-enforced and sloppy code of ethics.

    But if you think you can get a good deal with dual agency, go nuts. Just understand the inherent conflict of interest. I would actually recommend not doing dual agency at all, simply retaining a lawyer, and grinding the Realtor down to their split. You get way more protection and proper due diligence that way, all for less than $1000. This works, trust me, but usually in softer markets where Realtors either get nothing or something, and something is better than nothing.

    • young says:

      @jesse- Yeah, frankly I was surprised when I first heard that realtors can do this. I wouldn’t consider real estate a profession- they are all salespeople. (uh oh now I’m going to get realtor hate mail). That’s a good idea, jesse- to not use dual agency at all. Perhaps its different in different markets- like the prices here in Vancouver are so high, there’s a lot of money at stake, and I hate giving that away in commission for little work. I think the dual agency realtor we used only made 1/3 of the “2nd commission” if we had buying agent.

  4. I solved the problem by not using any lawyer at all! Of course there were only about 10 relevant properties where I was looking, but it still saved a ton of cash. The people that sold the house didn’t bother with a realtor (in fact I had bought the house before it was even formerly listed, due to a personal connection at the local school). We simply went to a local lawyer, he did all the paperwork for a reasonable $500 to each party, and I learned a lot about mortgage law since I had to make sure my butt was covered one everything. I highly doubt I would have went this way if I was in your housing market (or any urban environment for that matter), but it was still a sweet savings!

    • young says:

      @T.M.- realtors, lawyers, same thing ;) We didn’t use a realtor too. I think this is especially IMPORTANT to not use a realtor if you are buying an absolutely NEW condo complex. I heard a realtor say that he sold some new apartments to his clients, and he made easy money doing so. Wow, you must have saved a TON of money but not using a realtor. That would be ideal for me too, except I didn’t hear of anyone who was selling at the time in my net work.

  5. *sorry, that should say, “any realtor” at all,

  6. I have always looked at it as a conflict of interest. I wouldn’t want to muddy the waters so to speak. I think keeping the lines clearly defined and separate works better. When we bought our house we made sure that our agent wasn’t involved in the properties we were looking at.

    • young says:

      @Miss T- I know, it is essentially a conflict of interest. I would DEFINITELY not do this if I was selling, and I would discourage my realtor from doing this if possible. However I found it advantageous to us, but I think it really depends on the selling realtor… and even so, it is risky!

  7. Helly says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention that we didn’t use our realtor to look at places, either. We had access to the MLS listings, and the local housing newspaper published a list of open houses every week. So for the better part of a year, we spent our time scouring the listings and going to open houses and getting more and more concrete ideas about what’s absolutely important to us in a home (e.g. minimum of 3 bedrooms, no less) and what’s negotiable (e.g. a garage). The only time we put our realtor to work was when we finally decided on a property. The first one we went after, we bid too late– it went into escrow before we could even TELL our agent we wanted to make an offer. So we waited to see if it might fall through. It didn’t. Once the property closed, we went ahead and tried to make an offer to the new owner anyway, buy him out. Our realtor was very instrumental in being able to contact the right person, and giving us advice on what our offer should include, and how it would be dissected by the new owner and his agent.

    That didn’t work, and so we moved ahead with our second choice (the home we’re living in now). This situation was a sticky one, because the sellers were a divorcing/divorced couple. They also bought at the height of the housing market– 2005. So as you can imagine, they were very obstinate in believing their home should fetch more than it was currently worth. I appreciated the fact that our realtor was able to be absolutely open with us about his own opinions of the sellers, their situation, and how we could work that to our advantage. He would not have been able to if he were a dual agent. A seller’s agent would never say to our faces that the sellers were on crack for hanging on to an absurdly high listing price for over a year (ok, maybe not his exact words, but you get the drift), even if that was what he believed. The seller’s agent? Was definitely frustrated with her clients (=good for us), and this was something that our agent was able to discern from his interactions with her. That’s what I meant by “attention”– the fact that our agent can be completely frank with us. I wouldn’t expect a dual agent to outright lie to us, but I would expect that he wouldn’t be as open. And that, to me, is not worth sacrificing for the possibility that a fatter commission would motivate an agent.

    Bottom line– yes, it ultimately depends on your level of experience, but honestly? If you’re experienced and comfortable enough to essentially handle the nitty gritty details and footwork of the transactions and negotiations yourself, to be able to read a dual agent’s face and mannerisms to figure out what they’re TRULY saying, then you probably don’t even NEED an agent to begin with. So for that type of person, having no agent or a dual agent is really a moot point. And yes, it depends on the market and type of transaction, but the fact is, in this current market, a transaction is rarely that straightforward. So it’s for the rest of us, who need the experience and knowledge of a reputable agent, that using dual agency is generally not a wise idea.

    • young says:

      Helly- Thanks for sharing your story! I feel bad for the divorcing couple who had to sell… that’s always a sticky situation to have to be in (or witness). I especially liked your bottom line- I think those are good straightforward recommendations. In hindsight I think it was pretty risky to use a dual agent for our place, but it worked out for our case, I suppose, and we basically interrogated that realtor until no tomorrow to beat out answers for him lol…

  8. Evan says:

    Sorry but this sounds like a TERRIBLE idea. He only gets paid if the deal closes. He can easily push things past either party to make sure the deal closes.

    It is like having 1 attorney for a divorce – terrible idea…except this is worse since the attorney is supposed to have ethical regulations guiding him (easy on the lawyer jokes lol).

    • young says:

      @Evan- I appreciate your law perspective ;) haha, 1 attorney for one divorce is a terrible idea! That would save a bundle of money though…why not just settle without a lawyer? And I won’t start the lawyer jokes ;)

      Yes, he does only get paid if the deal closes, but you don’t think that will be a motivating factor to close the deal and make sure both parties are happy?

  9. Juan says:

    I would personally [I'm also no real easte agent] have to say that it depends alot on the market. If you are trying to buy in a sellers market, then I imagine that dual agency would be a poor choice. Though if you were trying to sell in a sellers market, well then I would imagine that going with a dual agency agent wouldn’t be that bad of a choice to consider.

    • young says:

      @Juan- That’s a good perspective (though I am probably biased lol). Yes, you’re right, if it was in a sellers market, I think we would have been totally SOL…and I highly doubt the same outcome would have come about… especially if other people are paying more for asking price.

  10. Helly says:

    @Juan: I don’t think it quite works that way. When you’re selling a house, you already HAVE a seller’s agent. That agent becomes a dual agent only if a potential BUYER opts to use him/her to buy your house. It’s something that a buyer would choose/institute, not the seller.

  11. Evan says:

    Please read Freakanomics!

  12. david says:

    I did the exact same thing and used the sellers agent as well. The selling agent dropped the commission right away from 5% to 3.5% and let the seller know how much they would save. Right off the bat the seller was willing to drop the price based on this, and we negotiated from there. I actually think it worked out much better for us because the agent did not say much at all during negotiations afraid of misrepresenting either party. Let’s face it all realtors just want to close the sale, so even if you have a buyer only rep, all they do is try to push you higher to try and close. When I sell I plan on using no agents, why hand them money!

  13. Helly says:

    @David: you sound exactly like the type of person that I mentioned in my comments: experienced and confident enough to be able to handle the negotiations on your own, and hence probably don’t even need an agent. Good for you!

    However, I don’t think it’s fair to paint ALL agents as being solely after your money. A lot of them earn their business through word of mouth, and so having satisfied clients is more important than making a few extra bucks in commission off a higher sale.

    Our own agent was very respectful of our limits. When I told him right off the bat that we weren’t willing to pay more than $X for the house, he kept to that and helped us figure out ways to 1) work up to that, 2) present that to the seller to make it more palatable to them (e.g. agreeing to their request for longer escrow) and 3) make it clear to them, at the end of negotiations, that this was as far as we were willing to go.

    And lest you think that I got lucky and had the exception to the rule, I’ve interacted with other agents (to varying degrees, of course), and have found most of them professional and really willing to listen to you as a client, and not just see dollar signs.

    I guess agents really are like lawyers– always getting a bad rap ;-)

  14. Devore says:

    I prefer to call the agents who double-end a deal as “ethically challenged”. The conflicts of interest are simply never ending. At the very least, since you’re only using the agent to do some very minor paperwork (very, very minor), and most of the time they do spend with you is just used up rephrasing “I can’t tell you that”, they should cut their total commission by half, and lower the final sale price by that amount.

    Most of the time real estate deals are simple, especially if you spend lots of your time researching everything, but sometimes you will miss something, or not know something, and your own agent would be able to tell you, but the seller’s agent would probably not. What recourse would you have then? None at all.

    It’s a huge purchase. You should have someone knowledgeable in the subject representing you. At the very least, a discount broker who works in your area, who would refund you some of the commission money.

    • young says:

      @Devore- Why do the Realtors association leave it ‘open ended’ like this for realtors to do Dual Agency? I find that pretty perplexing. I do agree that there is a HUGE conflict of interest. We made sure we had a home inspector before we approved/ rebutted our final offer. A discount broker sounds like a good alternative to the dual agency realtor, though would the full service realtors want to be working with discount brokers? And if you have a discount broker selling your home, would realtors bother showing their clients these homes?

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