What to Be Aware of When Choosing a Realtor

I would like to give some highly subjective advice about choosing a realtor in Canada. I speak from brief experience as a realtor in Kitchener 8 years ago (more than 150 agents at that particular brokerage) and from my personal experience buying and selling in Kitchener, Toronto and most recently here in Peterborough.

Though I have had detailed interactions with scores of agents in all three cities, I can only fully endorse a few. Here are some cautionary notes:

1) Be aware of the ‘this is the standard contract’ declaration. Yes, both buyer and seller agreements with realtors tend to be of three month’s duration and the holdover 90 days, but they don’t have to be. Contracts are as infinitely flexible as the parties involved. In fact, if you are interested in making an offer on a particular listing and don’t know the agent, you can request a buyer’s rep agreement that only lasts a day or a week. Of course, the realtor doesn’t have to agree to these terms and if you are to have a longer-term relationship with the realtor showing you other properties, then it would only be fair to have a longer-term contract, but don’t trust any assertion made that the contract MUST be in certain terms.

2) On the same note, check and recheck those dates of obligation. We recently made the mistake of assuming that a buyer’s rep contract with a Peterborough realtor was of the standard three-month length, but she had written four plus months in the contract. In the end, we weren’t happy with her services, but because we hadn’t checked the dates, we were stuck with her for an extra month with her doing nothing. Likewise, I’ve heard of realtors writing down 6 months to sell a property, which is a very long time to be bound to an agent.

3) Totally disregard any assertion made by a realtor like “If at any time, you are unhappy with my services, we will just tear up the contract”. I’ve heard this line many times, and any time it has been tested, it has proven to be false. Don’t trust spoken promises; only trust the parameters of the written contract.

4) Be aware that if you have signed a buyer’s rep agreement with an agent and buy a property before the end of the agreement with another agent, you will owe the initial agent full commission for that property. Yes, this is true! Normally, the buyer pays no commission whatsoever; the seller pays both sides, but in this case, you would have to pay up to that buyer’s agent. And he or she will collect!

5) Be cautious of ‘high performing’ agents. If I hear that an agent has won an award for most sales in a year, it is enough to make me back out of the room as carefully as possible. Of course there are lots of possible reasons for high sales in a year including extra services like staging, professional photographs or videos etc. and also reputation; but I believe that one of biggest factors is price point. It is easier to sell a property when it is either priced exactly right or below value. Whatever you do, don’t just go with one estimate of your property; get several before deciding on your listing agent. Just over two years ago when I was looking to sell my rather pricey downtown Toronto condo, I had a ‘high-flyer’ over, a purported condo expert, to give an estimate. His price was so low I said no way. He left in a huff saying that my condo would be absolutely impossible to sell at my suggested price. Three weeks and another agent later, I had multiple offers $30,000 above his suggested listing price.

6) Be cautious of big names with big teams. Sometimes the only time you will see the ‘big name’ is during the initial signing. Some of these supporting team members may be very poorly paid. Likewise, be wary of agents who never do their own open houses. If the agent who is doing your open house is not getting any commission on the sale of your house, there is very little vested interest in getting the property sold. I’ve certainly heard stories of the agents holding open houses actively criticizing the open-house property with visitors and pushing other properties that they can potentially profit from.

7) Try to stay away from realtor to realtor referrals. By all means get referrals from family and friends about good realtor choices, but you can be sure that any realtor to realtor referral is paid; to my mind, paid referrals mean less commission, which can (not necessarily but can) mean less incentive to provide good service. Also these referrals may not necessarily be based on merit so much as this other person happens to work for the same real estate company.

8) If you are buying an investment property, look for a realtor who is or has been a landlord or has had extensive experience purchasing investment properties for others. Our most recent agent in Peterborough really didn’t understand our investment criteria so her advice tended to be counter-productive.

9) Finally, try not to jump into a contract with any realtor too quickly. First interview behaviour might be totally different from later service behaviour. And don’t be afraid to ask for multiple client references.

Keep in mind, my criteria for choosing an agent might be completely different from yours. Thanks for reading!

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