If I’m already working with you on the sale or purchase of a home, you already know the answer to the question. Otherwise, the answer can be really simple, or it can be really complicated… it depends on the situation. Sometimes I’m the seller’s agent, sometimes I’m the buyer’s agent… and on rare occasion, I might even be both! How can that be? Do I have split personalities? No… but depending on who I am working with, my role will be very different.
First, I guess I should back up and explain what it really means to be an “agent.” It means that I am authorized to act on behalf of my client in the purchase of real estate. This agency relationship creates a fiduciary duty on my part , which is essentially a legal relationship between me and my clients. In fact, according to Wikepedia…
A fiduciary duty is the highest standard of care imposed at either equity or law. A fiduciary is expected to be extremely loyal to the person to whom they owe the duty (the “principal“): they must not put their personal interests before the duty, and must not profit from their position as a fiduciary, unless the principal consents. The fiduciary relationship is highlighted by good faith, loyalty and trust, and the word itself originally comes from the Latin fides, meaning faith, and fiducia.
When a fiduciary duty is imposed, equity requires a stricter standard of behavior than the comparable tortious duty of care at common law. It is said the fiduciary has a duty not to be in a situation where personal interests and fiduciary duty conflict, a duty not to be in a situation where their fiduciary duty conflicts with another fiduciary duty, and a duty not to profit from their fiduciary position without express knowledge and consent. A fiduciary cannot have a conflict of interest. It has been said that fiduciaries must conduct themselves “at a level higher than that trodden by the crowd.”
This essentially means that my clients’ interests come first… all of the time.
When I’m working with buyers, I am the buyer’s agent. I represent the buyer’s best interests. While some of the things I do for buyers go above and beyond fiduciary duty (no where does it say that I have to celebrate the purchase of my client’s home with a bottle of champagne or be their real estate consultant for life, but I do these things). Essentially, my goal is to get my clients the best possible place at the lowest possible price and best possible terms.
On the other hand, when I am the seller’s agent, I represent the seller’s best interests. Again, I go above and beyond fiduciary duty (such as giving all of my clients access to Zephyr MLS Direct which provides them with access to 100% of MLS data, and allows them to keep their eye on the competition or referring them to contractors that can help them make their home look its absolute best for the sale).
Of course, there are rare occasions when I am a dual agent! This can present huge limitations. I can no longer represent either client’s best interests… instead, I have to be impartial and am not able to negotiate, or fight for one client’s position over the other. When I say that these occasions are rare, I mean they are RARE! Typically, the only way that I will take on such a situation is when both a buyer and seller approach me to handle the details of the transaction, rather represent either party’s interests. However, such a situation has the potential to crop uo if I am listing a property for sale, and one of my clients is interested in buying it. In those rare cases, I typically refer my buyer client to another agent that I trust for the offer writing and negotiations. There is no way that I would be able to be impartial in such a situation, and having my client be taken care of by someone I know and trust is almost as good as taking care of them myself. The goal is for their interests to be taken care of, not matter what!
You would think that due to the conflict of interest dual agency presents, most agents would avoid it. But often times, a listing agent will meet a potential buyer at an open house and try to get the to make an offer on their listing. This is a lose-lose situation for all parties involved, except for, of course…. the agent.
If you’re a seller, you probably already have your own agent listing your property. But if you’re a buyer, watch out! Make sure YOUR interests are represented. Find an experienced agent to really represent your best interests, and hopefully go that extra mile for you as well. Remember, working with a buyer’s agent doesn’t cost you a thing! And it’s the best protection you can get to make sure you have a smooth and problem free home purchase.