Trulia quoted me in What Is Dual Agency? (And Why You Should Beware). It opens,
Home sellers and homebuyers are two sides of a complementary transaction. Should they each have their own agent, or is one agent enough? The answer: It depends.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” But if you’ve ever puzzled over it’s meaning, here’s a hint: If you eat your cake now, you won’t have any left over to look forward to eating later. In other words, sometimes a person is forced to make a choice between two good options. In the real estate world, dual agency breaks the cake rule: If your real estate agent also represents the sellers of the home you want to buy, you don’t necessarily need to ditch them. In many cases, you can keep your agent and get the house too — if you want to, that is.
Whether you’re buying a home in Providence, RI, or Tampa, FL, it’s typical for one agent to represent the seller and another agent to represent the buyer. With dual agency, one agent works for both the buyer and seller — and keeps the full commission. Dual agency also occurs when agents from the same brokerage represent each party. But like enjoying a huge slice of cake and in return getting a bellyache, there are definitely pros and cons to agreeing to dual agency.
Because one real estate agent or brokerage represents the buyer and the seller, the agent doesn’t need to wait every time communication needs to happen between the parties. Streamlined communication often creates a smoother transaction. “You are in charge of both sides, including paperwork, scheduling, and deadlines,” says Mindy Jensen, a Colorado agent and community manager of BiggerPockets.com. “We’ve all been involved in a sale with an agent who didn’t respond in a timely manner, missed deadlines, and in general did not perform their duties as they should have. For us control freaks, dual agency can seem like a great thing.”
Con: No advice
Because a dual agent is working in a potential conflict-of-interest situation — one client (the seller) wants to get as high a price as possible, while the other client (the buyer) wants to pay as little as possible — the agent can’t take sides or give advice. Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta, GA, real estate agent and attorney, compares dual agency to having one attorney representing both husband and wife in a divorce. “The parties’ interests are adverse and are best represented by independent professionals,” he says.
The agent in a dual agency situation becomes, instead of a coach, more of a referee. “The agent cannot disclose confidential information to either party and has to act in a neutral position during the transaction,” says Emily Matles, a New York, NY, agent with Douglas Elliman. Matthew Berger, another New York, NY, agent with Douglas Elliman, says: “When the listing agent steps into the role of dual agent, they cannot give advice to the seller nor the buyer.” On the other hand, when you have an independent agent, “You are more likely to get the benefits of being a principal getting fiduciary benefits,” Ailion says.
Pro: There must be full disclosure
Whether you’re a seller or a buyer, there’s nothing to fear about dual agency: If you don’t consent to the practice, it won’t happen. “The dual-agent broker must ensure that both parties know of the arrangement and consent to it,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. His advice: “Home sellers should review the terms of the listing agreement before they sign it to see if dual agency is being contemplated.”