As we continue to build WaLaw Realty, I am frequently reminded of the tension between “buyer representation” and the realities of being a real estate agent. On the one hand, agents tout the importance and benefits of “representation.” A “representative” acts on behalf of another, the client, and protects the client’s interests. Needless to say, trust is an essential element of any representation.
On the other hand, agents are salespeople compensated by the seller for selling a home. These two roles are inconsistent with one another. A recent experience of mine illustrates the point. [Forgive my use of “s/he” as a gender neutral pronoun, but that’s a lot easier than avoiding the pronoun entirely.]
I was retained soley as an attorney to assist with a non-MLS purchase. As negotiations progressed, my clients realized that they might not reach agreement with the sellers as to the terms. Accordingly, to hedge their bets (they must move from their current residence) they began looking at homes listed on the MLS. To gain access to these homes, they contacted the number on the sign, the listing agent.
The listing agent indicated that s/he was busy but that s/he would send another agent to provide access. My clients assumed this was an associate of the listing agent, and the listing agent was taking steps to provide access as part of the job of selling the home. The clients were interested in two homes listed by the same agent, and the “associate” provided access to both, only one of which was suitable for my clients. Total time: Approximately one hour. At the end of the tour my clients informed the showing agent that they intended to use my services if they wanted to move forward. The showing agent did not mention that she was totally unrelated to the listing agent and would have a potential claim on the SOC if the clients purchased either home.
The negotiations collapsed on the first non-MLS transaction, and the clients decided to make an offer on the MLS-listed home. Accordingly, they then hired me as a real estate agent. As my web site makes clear, I rebate the SOC to my client in full (after payment of my flat fee and any additional fee incurred by client). Commission rebates to buyers are quite common and I am certainly not the only broker to offer it. Recognizing the possible claim, I contacted the “associate” who provided the initial tour of the home.
The “associate” was actually another agent working under a different broker in a different firm. The listing agent frequently refers new business to this “showing” agent. Because I cannot rebate a commission to which some other agent has a claim, I asked the showing agent if s/he was going to assert a claim on the commission (as the “procuring cause”). The answer? Yes I am! But as a compromise s/he offered to accept 30% of the commission, a typical referral fee. With a sale price of about $700k, s/he wanted $6k for the hour of work.
The story is still unfolding, so I can’t tell you how it ends. But I CAN point out that this claim on the commission is 100% inconsistent with any notion of “representation.” Again, that relationship is built on trust. At an absolute minimum, the showing agent should have explained the fact that, by opening the door, s/he may be entitled to the SOC. The failure to do so was not consistent — at all — with trust between an agent and a client.
I’m curious to hear some counter-argument. It seems to me that agents have been remarkably successful in having their cake and eating it too. They tout the importance of “representation” only to completely ignore basic principles of fairness to the client when its in their interest to do so. They’ve sold the public a bill of goods, because to agents “representation” is ultimately a means to an end, not an end unto itself. But then again, they’re salespersons, selling is what they do, and why they get paid in the first place. Its not about representation, its about sales. And the phrase “representation by a real estate agent” doesn’t make much sense at all.