Should you agree to work with a “double agent”?

Let’s talk “agency”, shall we?

If you’ve never bought a home before you might think the best way to go about this is to drive around or check whatever app you use until you see a house you like, and then call the agent on the sign so you can go take a look.

Groovy – I guarantee they will ask you if you have signed an exclusive buyer representation agreement or not. I feel like making a flow chart here, but I’m going to stick to words…

If you HAVE signed with an agent – GREAT call them and let them know you want to see the property. Do NOT call the listing agent. You are having your agent do the job that you have hired them to do! You are NOT bothering them.

Your agent wants to see what you see and see it not only through YOUR eyes, but also through their own. They are there as your advocates and will be looking for anything that may impact your use and enjoyment of the home. In fact, an agent is a “fiduciary” – which means that they are obligated to act in YOUR best interests! Even if it conflicts with their OWN best interests. For example – if the agent were looking for a similar property to the one that you wanted and knew that the property would suit you and that you would buy it – they would be OBLIGATED to make sure you knew about that property even though they may then not be able to purchase it themselves. You want someone like this on your side.

If you have NOT signed with an agent of your own and are walking into that house unrepresented with the listing agent you should be aware of a couple of things – 1.) that agent owes a fiduciary duty to the SELLER of the home – NOT YOU. You’re like a fly that just walked into the spider’s web. 2.) Anything that you say to that agent can and will be shared with the seller!

So if you are walking around the property and you’re beside yourself with joy because this is exactly what you’re looking for! And your budget is 10X as high as this house is priced! Isn’t that great?!? Well, now the seller knows how badly you want it AND that they probably don’t need to give any ground on the price.

But wait! There’s more! If you’re cool with all of that (and there are reasons why you might be) and you go ahead and sign with that agent for the purposes of purchasing that home you need to know a couple more things – one… that agent will “take both sides” of the commission, meaning they get the commission for both being the agent of the seller AND the agent of the buyer.

In addition to this, let’s go back to fiduciary duty … if an agent is bound to only actions that would benefit their client and they are in the middle of a transaction, representing both, they are between a rock and a hard place when it comes time for one of the key functions of an agent – NEGOTIATING and ADVISING. They can give you information about prices and time on market and other stats, but anything that they advise you cannot adversely affect the seller. Tough spot and maybe not where you want to be as a buyer – particularly if it is your first home purchase.

In MN, we are legally obligated to explain what agency relationships mean at the first “substantive contact” with a potential client. No dual agency can occur unless both parties agree to it, and in MN, dual agency means MORE than just the same AGENT representing both the buyer and the seller. This is a twist worth understanding when you are deciding whether or not to agree to double agency in MN – here is applies to any agent working for the same broker. So while I may represent you, I cannot show you a home listed by an agent in my office (my BROKER – not the company) unless we’ve agreed to dual agency. It’s like dual agency lite. Your agent will still work on your behalf, but they aren’t in that middle space between the seller and yourself and they do not get “both sides” of the commission even though dual agency technically still applies.

While agreeing to dual agency may not be right for every occasion it can be right for some. And in the current market in Minneapolis not having access to every home on the market in your price range can be a large detriment to your search. If you’re not comfortable with it and your agent has a listing of their own that is PERFECT for you – you can ask to be referred to a different agent.

Now for sellers… This has happened to me personally when I sold a house in another state, my agent had an open house, an unrepresented buyer came through and wanted the home, and our agent signed that buyer. If we hadn’t agreed to dual agency we would not have sold our home to that person and we were READY to go. So while in the end, we didn’t get too much help with the negotiating, we had already had the benefit of understanding what the market would support for our house and we could negotiate fairly comfortably, but it’s up to each seller to make that decision.

Questions? Comments? Need help with real estate?