Are all agents out to rip you off?
When hunting for a property, you may feel you are all alone and that smiley (or rude) licensee salesperson (defined as an “agent” for this entire article) you met at the open home is out to rip you off and make you pay above market price for that dream property. You may have read that horror NZ Herald/Stuff article about some dishonest agent that ripped off an old lady. Well, nothing can be further from the truth and not all agents are like that. To say that they are all the same is the same as saying that all doctors are bad doctors when there may just be a few bad apples. As usual, research is key. (Disclosure: I am a real estate salesperson!)
This article’s focus is to share with all buyers an important tip to get your dream house at a good price: work with good selling agents. This tip is also important if you are a seller which I shall explain shortly in relation to conjunctional arrangements.
I will also briefly cover buyer’s agents and their legal obligations for the benefit of foreign/offshore buyers who may want to use a buyer’s agent when purchasing property in New Zealand.
Core concepts in relation to real estate agents
There are a few core concepts that a buyer should remember in relation to real estate agents:
- Real estate agents are trained and licensed professionals who must uphold the standards set out in the Code of Professional Conduct and Client Care. They must also meet their obligations under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008 (the REAA).
- Listing agents – In New Zealand, the real estate agent that lists the property (i.e. the one whose face typically appears on the brochure or online advertisement) works for the seller. Although the listing agent works for the seller, they are still required by law to treat potential buyers fairly. If you are looking to sell your house before you buy another, I have written more about how to choose great listing agents here.
- Buyer’s agent – A true buyer’s agent (if this term is used accurately) does exist in New Zealand. Such an agent works exclusively on the buyer’s behalf to find a property. Buyer’s agents are hired and paid for by the buyer. They are therefore less common for New Zealand-based buyers and more relevant to offshore/foreign buyers who are not physically present in New Zealand to carry out due diligence on the property. This could also work for time-strapped buyers who are looking for specific deals that do not often come onto the market. In the UK and the USA, buyer’s agents are also very common and typically paid by the seller on a successful sale.
- Selling agent – When buying a house, you do not have to deal with the agent that a property is listed with. You can absolutely approach another agent and ask them to show you the property which you are interested in. There are tremendous benefits in working with such agents when you are a buyer and, best of all, it is FREE.
ALL ABOUT SELLING AGENTS
What is a selling agent and what does a selling agent do?
Any real estate agent can be a selling agent. Basically, the selling agent will work with a buyer to introduce that buyer to a particular property listed by another agent.
Here’s an example. In a situation where agent A from an agency (for example Ray White) has a sole agency agreement on a property and another agent B (i.e. the selling agent) finds a willing buyer for the property, the two agents (A and B) can agree to share the commission payable on the property at no additional cost to the vendor or the buyer.
This type of practice is very common in the industry and is known as a ‘conjunctional arrangement’. Conjunctional arrangements are arranged between the respective agents. Usually, the vendor does not even know this happens and will not care because they only want their property sold – the more exposure, the merrier.
The selling agent will often arrange for viewing access, liaise with the listing agent for the relevant documents and work with the buyer to present his/her offer. All offers, negotiations and other communications with the vendor are conducted through the listing agent (unless in a multi-offer situation where this will be conducted by an independent manager).
Legally, a selling agent is a sub-agent of the listing agent. Therefore the selling agent does not act for a buyer. Instead he/she will work with the buyer to achieve the desired outcome. Fiduciary duties (i.e. duties of good faith) are owed to the listing agent, who owes the same fiduciary duties to his/her vendor. If you want an agent that works exclusively for you, then it may be more appropriate for you to engage and pay for a buyer’s agent.
A brief note for SELLERS about the importance of selling agents!
How is all the above relevant to you as a seller? Well, you should be aware that conjunctional arrangements may not necessarily be the default practice across different agencies.
For Ray White Epsom, competing agents become associates/partners when it comes to your sale!
If another agent, regardless of agency, says they have a buyer for your home – we will happily work with them because this means that your house will enjoy the widest exposure and therefore generate the greatest buyers’ competition. No potential buyer is ignored, especially in a stable market whereby buyers are pickier or perceive (rightly or wrongly) that they hold all the cards.
Query their efforts in working with other agencies in obtaining those offers, especially when your property is not selling. You will find that many agents do not like sharing their commission so may take active steps to make it difficult for other agents to bring their buyers through or even refuse to present offers. And you, as the vendor, will never know (or unlikely to know) this has occurred because agents are required to approach the listing agent during the listing period if they have any buyers.
hese are unethical practices. It is therefore critical for you to query their approach towards conjunctional arrangements before you engage them.
Your property sale is our absolute focus, even if that means sharing our commission. We will always act with your interests ahead of anything else.
As a buyer, why should you work with a selling agent?
You can certainly view a property on your own so why work with a selling agent? When you work with a good selling agent, the benefits are immense for the following reasons. (It also becomes clear who are terrible agents.)
What is better than getting something for free? NOTHING. So why not take advantage of it? The services of a selling agent are free because he/she shares in the commission paid by the vendor. Nothing is more important than making the right decision when buying a home. If you are a first time home buyer, you have not experienced this just yet. However, you will learn the importance of being given good information and advice.
Sometimes people make poor decisions because they are stressed or their emotions are clouding their judgment. A selling agent can prevent you from losing your mind because they will separate you from making an irrational decision by helping you stay focused on your main goal.
A good selling agent would have already built rapport with you and understood your buying requirements. They will therefore spend time working closely with you in showing you properties that only meet your requirements. For example, as part of my job, I spend a lot of time looking at, visiting and showing properties (including those that are not listed with me or Ray White) on a daily basis. This allows me to better appreciate a particular property in person and therefore know instinctively if a property will meet the requirements of a particular buyer. Listing pictures may (as you would know) often be flattering. Buyers will therefore not need to waste precious time viewing properties that are unsuitable for their needs.
Location is the single most important factor in finding the best home. You want to find a lot that is in a great area – specific to your needs. Trying to find it by yourself can be a tiring struggle, especially with the demands of work and family.
If you are planning on relocating to a new and unfamiliar location, it would be wise to find a local agent to make the move more successful. The selling agent will find you neighbourhoods that match your criteria of desires without wasting your time.
Once they know which areas to look in, they will find homes for sale within those neighbourhoods to ensure you find the perfect new home in the best new location.
They know the neighbourhood and can better advise you as to whether that location is truly suitable for your family. They know where the amenities are, where the shortcuts to the local beaches are and the bus routes for your school children.
The worse thing that can happen is when you spend a fortune buying a dream home only to find out it is located in an undesirable street with unpleasant or feuding neighbours. See for example this one in Remuera over a driveway. I can tell you that these disputes are more common than you think, even in ‘upmarket’ neighbourhoods like Mission Bay or Orakei.
Price guidance is often discussed between the listing and selling agents and sometimes much more frankly than listing agents with buyers. This is especially so when a good listing agent works exclusively on behalf of the vendor and seeks to extract the maximum possible price at the fastest possible time from the buyer.
The selling agent is motivated to obtain the property for her buyer at a fair price (otherwise, her buyer will not be buying the property!). For example, some listing agents like to advertise the CV of a property to persuade you to pay up to that amount. But because you have read my article about CV/RV/GV/market values, you would know that CV is not a reflection of market value.
Selling agents sometimes also produce a list of recent sales in the neighbourhood and try to show you evidence that the property they are marketing is worth more. However, a listing agent can tell you that those listed addresses might have been renovated or had views/swimming pool or even a privtae driveway, features that the current house does not have.
In multi-offer situations, the selling agent can also offer you strategies on how to make an attractive offer that will be looked upon favourably by the vendor such that you stand the highest chance of getting that property. This is not just limited on the amount you are offering, but also the conditions (finance, LIM, building report etc), additional terms (if any) and settlement date.
Whenever you are viewing a home that could potentially be yours, it is easy to get lost when picturing you and your family living there. All home buyers experience this at some point because no one would want to buy a home that they could not picture themselves in. Sometimes it is possible to get too attached too soon that you start to ignore the warning signs. An agent will be there to make sure that he or she catches everything you might miss. Red flags are not always easy to spot, so hiring someone with experience in catching them will be extremely beneficial.
Everyone wants to live in their dream home, but some homes can be a nightmare. They may look great from what you are able to see, but there could be something wrong that you can’t easily observe. Agents are there to pick up on red flags and ask the right questions. They have gained these skills through previous home showings, experiences, and education.
How often do you buy a home? A good selling agent lives and breathes property and will understand the intricacies, difficulties and processes for buying a property. She can therefore hold your hand and advise you on the pros and cons of buying a particular property.
They will help you build your support team since they are likely to have good contacts across the industry (for e.g. mortgage brokers) whom they have worked with and can provide expert advice if required. By keeping the wheels turning and everyone on track, a selling agent will make sure that the sale process does not delay or cause you unnecessary stress.
If you buy on your own directly through a listing agent, you will likely have to take charge from the time of the offer to drive the process forward because they work for the vendor. A good selling agent will stay up to date with everything that is going on and keep in touch with other agents, sellers, lenders, contractors, builders, etc. so that you will not have to. You (the buyer) do not want any delays during the transaction. Although they inevitably do occur in a small percentage of transactions, using a selling agent will help greatly with your chances of avoiding any such delays. They tend to catch those red flags I discussed above before they happen.
Remember: the listing agent works for the seller and is paid by the seller when the property sells. However friendly and helpful that agent is, remember they represent the seller’s best interests. He/she must not mislead you but you should not rely only on the agent for advice or assistance.
You should ask the agent questions about anything you want to know about the property. Licensed agents are bound by the Code of Professional Conduct and Client Care and have to deal fairly and honestly with all parties. They are not allowed to withhold any information they know about a property, and they must tell you if they think there might be something wrong with the property that you should check out. In general, the agent can’t make statements about the property that they can’t back up with evidence.
ACCESS TO UPCOMING LISTINGS AND QUIET LISTINGS
Due to the networks that the real estate agent has cultivated, they have the ability to gain access to listings that may not have hit the market yet. This allows you to make a more informed decision without rushing into buying a house thinking that nothing else like it will come up in the market. Bear in mind that this is a little different from a ‘quiet listing’ situation whereby a seller lists privately with an agent who will work on his/her networks to potential buyers, instead of a public listing.
Note that under the REINZ’s guidance, potential buyers should not be misled to believe that they can only view a property with any particular selling agent or agency. Buyers should definitely stay away from such unethical agents.
What is a buyer's agent?
As mentioned earlier, a buyer’s agent works exclusively on the buyer’s behalf to find and buy a property. It is less common to use a buyer’s agent in New Zealand than in other overseas markets such as UK, USA or Singapore.
Buyer’s agents are hired and paid by the buyer, not the seller. They can search for properties and disclose the information about them, bid at an auction or negotiate with the seller on the buyer’s behalf. They may also help with other aspects of a property purchase for e.g. introducing lending sources.
Buyer’s agents are bound by all of the requirements of the Real Estate Agents Act 2008. This means that they must:
- carry out work for a client under an agency agreement where there are prescribed requirements in relation to commissions and duration,
- disclose information as required under the REAA, and
- comply with the Real Estate Agents Authority’s Code of Professional Conduct and Client Care where there are existing rules (refer to paragraph 11) that govern the conduct of a buyer’s agent.
Such an agent, when hired by you, cannot work on both yours and the vendor’s behalf given the conflict of interest. The Real Estate Agents Authority’s Code of Professional Conduct and Client Care specifically states that an agent cannot receive commissions from both parties to a transaction.
Do I need to hire a buyer’s agent?
Short answer: not usually.
It is a personal choice and most buyers find that they can purchase a property without the assistance of one. If you are based overseas, consider contacting a local agent in the areas that you are interested in (or contact me if you are interested in Auckland and/or the Eastern Bays in particular) and work with them in buying a property. Such an approach should save you some money which you can spend on renovations. However, be aware of impending changes around restrictions on offshore buyers.
There is no standard rate or scale of charges for buyer’s agents. They can charge a flat fee (a portion upfront and the balance on purchase of the property) or a fixed percentage of the property value. It is important that you ask in advance about costs, and the services which will be provided.
What do I need to know about working with a buyer’s agent?
If you decide to work with a buyer’s agent:
- Make sure the agent is licensed. You can check this on REA’s public register.
- Ask the agent how much they will charge for their services.
- The agent should ask you to sign an agency agreement that sets out what they will do for you. Ask a lawyer to check this agreement before you sign it.
- If the buyer’s agent will be negotiating or bidding on your behalf, you need to be very clear about the limits of the agent’s authority and when they need to seek your approval for a particular action or decision.
Found this post useful and have more questions?
Please get in touch and I am happy to have a chat over coffee! (Contact details below)