Photo: James Bombales

From winning a bidding war to finding a mortgage broker, navigating the real estate market as a new buyer can be daunting, though a dependable real estate agent can help blaze that trail.

The real estate agent is the trusted advisor in the home purchase process: they suss out listings, research neighbourhood sales information, and walk you through the offer negotiation process. Yet, in order for things to run as smoothly as possible, the client-agent relationship needs to be fully understood. Some new buyers might fear that being represented by a brokerage reduces their control, though they shouldn’t forget that they are always in the driver’s seat.

“It’s your wants that are driving how that transaction is going to be structured in a sense of representation as well as price and commission and everything else,” says Kelvin Kucey, the Deputy Registrar of Regulatory Compliance at the Real Estate Council of Ontario. “It’s really up to the consumer and that’s the key takeaway for a lot of new homebuyers.”

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In making the biggest purchase decision of your life, you’ll want to work with an agent who has your best interests at heart. Beyond strong work ethic, professionalism and compliance with provincial real estate policies, the best real estate agent to work with is one that values respect.

“In this industry, for as many realtors as there are — there’s 55,000 realtors in the GTA, give or take — it’s actually a very small community of successful realtors,” says Kenneth Laroza, the broker of record at PSR Brokerage, a Toronto-based realty firm. “That’s where it’s very important to treat the other side, whether you are competing or [it’s] your client, as well as possible.”

If you’re considering working with a real estate agent for the first time, Laroza and Kucey lay out what you should know about representation and agent relationships.

Finding “the one”

It all begins with finding the right agent to work with.

There are thousands of realtors to choose from, all with varying skill sets, sales techniques and years of experience. Finding the best fit for you might be a challenge with so many agents available, though Kucey says not to jump at the first agent advertisement you see. Instead, start with a referral from someone you know — your parents, friends or yoga instructor can introduce you to an agent who they’ve had experience working with.

Photo: amtec.us.com

Once you’ve narrowed down your top choice of realtors, conduct a job interview with each of them and ask them questions about their business values and techniques. Don’t be afraid to request references either, says Kucey.

“What we’re hoping to get, with that type of homework at the front end, [is] people will be much happier with the selection of their agent, and they’ll get along because they’re going to get a connection,” he says.

If your initial meeting goes well, it could be enough to sign on with that agent, though you should watch for red flags. Cancelling meetings last minute, leaving calls unanswered or being late for your meeting is an indication that the agent isn’t sensitive to your time or doesn’t have a knowledge of the area you want to buy in.

Asking the tough questions is important too and Laroza says buyers should question a realtor about their cancellation policy. In other words, how you can break up if the relationship just isn’t working out. While many realtors don’t like talking about this, Laroza says it’s a good measure of how honest an agent is willing to be and how comfortable you are working with them

“Any upfront and honest agent will tell them right off the bat, ‘If you don’t feel comfortable working with me, this is what you need to do and I’m more than willing to do that,’” he says.

Kucey also recommends conducting a cursory search of the agent on the RECO website, where any complaints or violations on the agent’s record will be posted.

Making it official

When you’ve found an agent that ticks all of your boxes, it’s time to start house hunting — but not before you sign a Buyer Representation Agreement.

Photo: Government of Alberta/ Flickr

Implemented by the Ontario Real Estate Association, the Buyer Representation Agreement binds a buyer to one particular brokerage, formalizing the client-agent relationship and legally locking it in place. The BRA requires a brokerage and a client to commit to the professional relationship, while protecting commissions and client information. A BRA outlines the geographic area that the agent will service, the commission the brokerage is entitled to and length of time the BRA is active for. It is not mandatory to sign a BRA according to ethical realtor policies — if your agent is insisting you sign one, Kucey says that’s a red flag.

Like all legal contacts, it can be a pain to get out of a BRA, so Kucey says to be careful who you one sign with. If your client-agent relationship breaks down, you can try asking the broker of record for assistance. The broker of record enforces policy compliance within the brokerage, in addition to educating the brokerage’s agents on sales and client service strategies. While you can request that the BRA be severed, Kucey says the brokerage is not obliged to do anything.

“There’s no trigger in the statute, there’s nothing, and so what may happen is if they’re refusing to let you out of that deal, you can go and hire somebody else, but as long as that deal is active, there’s a potential liability to that agent for commission if you buy anything,” says Kucey.

However, in most cases, other arrangements can be made. Switching to another realtor in the same brokerage may be possible. Yet, no matter the circumstances, any contract signed under the brokerage is the responsibility of the broker of record — they will have oversight.

“Whether you are working with an individual in my office, or not, if the contract is signed between one of my agents and a client, that contract technically belongs to the brokerage, and I am responsible for that contract as well,” says Laroza.

To test-drive the client-agent relationship, Kucey advises keeping the BRA term to one month.

Opt for commitment, not, “it’s complicated.”

If you’re represented by an agent as a buyer, and they can hook you up directly with a seller who has the perfect property you’re looking for, it’s a great two-in-one deal — unless you want representation to get really complicated.

Photo: James Bombales

Buying and selling under the same realtor is called ‘multiple representation’ or ‘dual agency.’ In normal buying scenarios, an agent represents their client exclusively and collects a commission from the seller when their client makes a purchase, typically in the range of two to 2.5 percent. However, when an agent double-ends a deal, they not only have confidential knowledge of the parties that can benefit the sale, but collect on both the buying and selling commission, which can equal up to a total of five percent. This creates a conflict of interest.

When training new agents, Laroza tells them to steer clear of multiple representation scenarios whenever possible.

“When you do represent both parties, in theory, you represent neither of them,” he says. “So what I do is I teach them to pass on that contact … I recommend that they forward that contact to someone else in the brokerage or outside the brokerage to represent in that party’s interest as well so there is no conflict of interest.”

Under current realtor legislation, acting as a dual agent, Kucey explains, is prohibited. However, if both parties consent to the new representation in writing, it provides an exception to the rule. In this case, the agent is obligated to step back their representation and provide a diluted representation or simple assistance in the transaction. Kucey advises that this would be a case to reduce the commission paid to the agent — the seller can get a fairer deal out of the trade.

Respite and resolution

In the event that your client-agent relationship totally sours, or you find that your agent is acting unethically, there is help.

If a client and agent cannot resolve their differences, speaking with the broker of record is a good first step. The broker of record can provide an unbiased resolution and address any concerns. Should things escalate without a resolution, Kucey says a complaint can be filed with RECO. The council will address any client concerns before issuing a formal Notice of Complaint and proceeding with an investigation.

“We encourage you to go the broker of record first to try and give them the opportunity to resolve the matter, but if they’re unhappy, we’re the oversight,” says Kucey.

The client-agent relationship thrives on trust and communication — as important as closing deals are, Laroza says your relationship with a real estate agent should be conflict-free.

“As much as the brokerage wants the agent to be happy and complete the transaction and make money off of it, it’s a part of our brand to ensure that there is no conflict working with any of our team.”

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