When it’s time to buy your next home, you have two very different ways to go about your search.
Unless you’ve managed to find a private sale off the market, there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter at least one real estate agent along the way.
The first way is to contact the Listing Agent for each specific property that you’re interested in, dealing directly with them individually on behalf of the Sellers.
The second way is to work with a Buyer Agent, who can assist from beginning to end to find the right property. In Ontario, this relationship is created using a Buyer Representation Agreement (BRA), which states that the agent can work on behalf of a Buyer for any property inquiry or viewing, but can receive compensation from another source (typically from the Listing Brokerage).
Working with a Listing Agent or a Buyer Agent can provide benefit to you as a Buyer, and both ways can also create some problems.
Yes indeed… you won’t read this often, but there are landmines with BOTH options.
Working with a Listing Agent
Why is it a good idea?
Next to the Seller, the Listing Agent is probably the most knowledgeable person about the property. They have a direct line to ask questions, and they can clearly articulate any concerns you have.
Some Buyers also like the thought that there’s only one agent acting as a “go-between” during negotiations.
Why is it a bad idea?
It’s unavoidable that this agent will be working on the Seller’s behalf.
At worst, you’ll have someone who will NOT have any obligation to be protecting your interests.
Anything you say can… and will likely… be used against you.
At best, you’ll have someone who will have a divided interest, if you sign a BRA with and create a Multiple Representation situation. An agent in this position is expected to provide full and ethical representation to both sides, but the reality is that sometimes one side can feel like they got the short end of the stick.
In this situation, the Listing Agent receives the commission for the Seller and Buyer side of the transaction. This might create yet another conflict of interest where the agent puts their OWN needs ahead of the Buyer or the Seller. They may downplay concerns or omit information in order to increase the chances of a completed sale.
Can it work out well for all parties? Certainly. But the fact that British Columbia banned “dual agency” province-wide should be enough proof that the odds of something going wrong can be significantly higher.
Working with a Buyer Agent
Why is it a good idea?
Since the agent’s compensation has already been agreed upon by the Sellers when the property is listed, it doesn’t cost a Buyer anything extra to have their own agent.
It’s extremely rare to find a situation where a Buyer pays their agent directly. 99.99% of the time, their commission is paid through the proceeds of the sale.
Plus, the Buyer Agent has a legal duty under a BRA to keep a Buyer’s motivation and budget confidential, and to not share it with anyone else.
They are obliged to give full market access, including properties not listed on the MLS, and to negotiate on the Buyer’s behalf.
If they find out information about a Seller that will help a Buyer’s negotiation position, they are required to share that with the Buyer, and they will provide information that will help determine a fair value for the property you are looking to purchase.
The BRA is so powerful that it gives a Buyer first right of refusal for any property. If the Buyer Agent found a property that was an amazing deal, they cannot purchase that property unless you give them permission in writing. Because your needs as a Buyer come first, always.
How do you know you found a good Buyer Agent?
It’s a pretty simple test. Do they talk you out of any properties?
In other words, are they looking out for YOUR interests more than their own? If they are, you’ve found a good one.
Why is it a bad idea?
What could be the downside of having an agent on YOUR side, that gets paid by someone else?
Sounds like a pretty good arrangement, doesn’t it?
There is one element in the equation that can really hurt you.
The BRA is an exclusive agreement between the Buyer and the agent. It has a start date and an end date, and lists a specific geographic area. The time period can be for a day, a week, a month or a year.
If you sign a BRA with an agent for six months and you’re not happy, you could be stuck.
Some companies like ours will stand by their services and offer a satisfaction guarantee, but it’s not normal in the real estate industry to see this.
The brokerage is NOT obligated to let you out of the agreement.
So just be sure you’ve found the right Buyer Agent before entering into a BRA. The wrong one might not let you out.
You’ll find MANY real estate websites that will push the need for a Buyer Agent.
I think our industry likes it so much because it’s a simple directive to follow: DO WHATEVER IS IN THE BUYER’S BEST INTERESTS.
It’s very black and white.
With a “dual agency” situation and approaching the Listing Agent, it can be a little more grey.
Either way, we’re big believers in being completely honest with you, so that you can make grown-up choices of your own. Every situation is different, and every Buyer wants different things.
But please remember… ask lots of questions and advocate for yourself. If your intuition says something is off, stop immediately and listen to it. It’s usually right.