Dual Agency: Using the Seller's Agent as Your Buyer's Agent

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Is it unwise to use the listing realtor as your purchase realtor?


A house I'm interested in purchasing is being sold by the realtor selling my house. Although she's done a decent job selling my house, I fear she won't negotiate well on my behalf if she has to divide her loyalties between these listers and me (a potential buyer). How awkward would it be not to use my listing realtor to purchase a new home?


I would not undertake dual agency myself. If I do find a buyer for one of my listings, I'll refer them to someone else for negotiations, or at least get them to acknowledge in writing that I am working for the seller only. Everyone in the industry whom I respect agrees with this position. There is a always a conflict of interest between buyer and seller. Anybody who tells you otherwise is trying to rationalize money in their pocket.

It'd be okay to use her for any property she's not listing. If you want that one, however, go find another buyer's agent. You should also be aware that the right mindset, attitude, and skills to be a good buyer's agent are significantly different from the ones for successful listing, and many excellent listing agents don't have the mental tools to be as helpful to buyers as they are to sellers (the opposite applies as well). But there's nothing obviously against your best interests for using to help you buy when she's not the listing agent.

In every transaction, there is a tension between the interest of the sellers and the interest of the buyers. In fact, the only point on which they are more often in convergence than not is whether the transaction should proceed. It is in the interest of the sellers to get the most money possible for the property. It is in the interests of the buyers to pay the lowest possible price. Except in the highly unlikely case where the most that buyer might possibly have paid is the exact same price that is the least that seller might have accepted, and that is in fact the sales price, such simultaneous duties cannot both be met. Since such happenings would be freak coincidence, and not only are they not known until afterward, any such lookback is prone to an agent indulging in what psychologists call confirmation bias.

Furthermore, there is tension between the interests of the buyer and the interests of the seller in other matters as well. Not far from here is a condo conversion project, just recently finished selling out. About 1993, there was a resident of that complex arrested on suspicion of serial murder. I am unaware of whether he was eventually convicted, but I do know they dug up several bodies as I was unfortunate enough to drive by when they were removing them. California law requires the disclosure within three years of anyone dying on the premises, but at three years and one day there is no requirement for disclosure that I am aware of. Nonetheless, if one of my clients wanted to buy one of those units it would be part of my duty of care to that client's interests to make certain they were informed. Would you not want to know about your building being used as an impromptu cemetery for several bodies? But acting as a seller's agent, I would be forbidden from making that disclosure. Which client's interests do I follow? (This doesn't even consider the now-patched foundation, a more important issue as far as I'm concerned)

Suppose my client is having difficulty qualifying for a loan. Okay, obviously I'm not doing the loan, but I cannot force clients to do their loans with me and the only thing I can offer is carrots, never sticks. But suppose that I, as buyer's broker, find out from the loan officer on day 24 that they've been disqualified because the processor told the underwriter something they shouldn't have, and the loan is back to square one. If I am acting as listing agent as well, my duty to the seller requires me to inform my client of this difficulty. But my duty to the buyer is equally clear about it being a violation of my other client's best interests. Whose interest is paramount? Whose interest do I disregard? These interests are in direct conflict - there can be no compromise resolution. Indeed, as a listing agent I will demand information that it it may not be in my buying client's best interest as buyer's agent be disclosed, and vice versa. If they agree of their own volition, or some other agent talks them into it, then we have a willing buyer and a willing seller and full disclosure from my end and best interest of the client in furthering the transaction and so on and so forth. If I fail to ask because I am also representing the other side, I have not represented my client's best interests. If I talk either client into it when I am representing both, then I have, ipso facto, violated that client's best interest by getting them to agree to something which is not in their best interest. Did I do it because such was in their best interest, or the best interest of my other client? Even if I did act in their best interest, can I prove it? Probably not - in fact, I'll bet money against. Can I prove it in a court of law if necessary? No way in hell.

I like to make more money as well as the next person. But accepting dual agency is logically and provably a violation of my duty of care to someone in every case, no matter how the transaction turns out. No matter what you do, it's kind of like the old joke about someone playing chess with themselves. Sure you always win. But you always lose as well, and when you have a fiduciary duty to someone else, setting up a situation where you are guaranteed to lose is in itself a violation of that fiduciary duty.

So I urge you in the strongest possible terms to go find another agent to represent you. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using the same agent to represent you in multiple transactions, even simultaneous transactions. But I would never use the listing agent for a property as my buyer's agent, and I would not allow an agent I was listing a property with to act as buyer's agent. Force them to pick a side and stay on it, and since they've already got a listing contract, they have already made their choice.

This is incidentally another argument against Exclusive Buyers Agency Agreements. If they show you one of their own listings under an exclusive agency contract, they are the procuring cause and you must pay them. Nonexclusive contracts should also have explicit releases if the agent is also the listing agent.

Caveat Emptor

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3 Comments

Anonymous said:

Hey Dan. Great article and interesting points! I would like to point out that buyers now have an option to hire an exclusive buyer agent. An EBA is a brokerage that never takes listings and never represents sellers (specializing in helping buyers only). Signing an exclusive buyer representation agreement with an EBA is fine, because the agent (and his/her brokerage) doesn't represent any sellers. Homebuyers are trending towards wanting full representation, and you make some great points abuot that in here. Good work!

DM: No, an exclusive representation agreement is *NEVER* a good idea for buyers. this article deals directly with that point. I also disagree completely about the virtues of only representing buyers - I learn things that help my buyer clients from representing sellers. I'd be a much weaker buyer's agent if I didn't. The important thing is a commitment and attitude that says they will do the best possible job for every client, rather than simply grabbing commission checks. A good agent will NEVER represent both sides in the same transaction.

Lemil said:

Does the same conflict of interest apply if my buyer's agent works in the same office as the listing agent? Do they have more incentive to help each other out (and the seller) by getting me to pay highest price than to help me out?

Dan Melson Author Profile Page said:

Yes, they do. Particularly if your introduction to them is because you want to buy a property they have listed for sale. It might *possibly* be ok if you had a pre-existing relationship with your buyer's agent, had been looking at property with them, and just decided you were interested in a property their co-worker had a listing on. Unfortunately, even in that case the necessary controls to avoid conflict of interest are 1) complex 2) not observable to the consumer and 3) not present in the vast majority of cases.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on March 19, 2014 7:00 AM.

Should I Buy A Home? Part 3: Consequences was the previous entry in this blog.

Undisclosed Short Sales is the next entry in this blog.

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