Dual agency debate continues; revealing results from recent real estate research

by Dan Krell © 2013

home salesUnderstanding representation in a real estate transaction can sometimes be tricky. You might think, after all, “If I work with a real estate agent, they represent me.” Not so fast; understanding whom real estate agents represent can be confusing in some situations, most notable is the concept of dual agency.

Maryland, like many other jurisdictions around the country, allows for dual agency. “The possibility of dual agency,” as described on the Maryland Real Estate Commission website (www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mrec/mrecrep.shtml), “…arises when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same real estate company, and the buyer is interested in property listed by that company. The real estate broker or the broker’s designee, is called the “dual agent.” Dual agents do not act exclusively in the interests of either the seller or buyer, and therefore cannot give undivided loyalty to either party. There may be a conflict of interest because the interests of the seller and buyer may be different or adverse” [emphasis added].

Dual agency has been widely debated since its inception. And as the industry rapidly transforms, the issue is likely to continue to be a hot topic; for example, as real estate teams have become more prevalent in the marketplace, many argue that the potential for conflicts of interest in dual agency transactions becomes increasingly significant.

In his February 2010 Agbeat.com article (February 16, 2010; The Age Old Dual Agency in Real Estate Debate), Patrick Flynn states that although dual agency is legal in many jurisdictions, “…dual Agency is the ultimate no win scenario. Even if all parties agree in writing (and if you explained the likely pitfalls and risks to both parties…they never would agree) you simply cannot perform your prescribed duties…

He continues to say that although there is potential for damage and irreparable harm to those involved in a dual agency transaction, most of these transactions close “without a hitch;” and the agent’s attention moves from common sense and integrity to the “little devil” on their shoulder that tells them, “Look at all the money you made!

Recent research, investigating whether dual agency transactions are a result of agent incentives (e.g., money) or efficiency, suggests that the issue deserves further investigation to understand (among other things) the effects of dual agency, potential for conflicts, and to determine if buyers and sellers are poorly informed. Regardless, Brastow & Waller conclude in their 2013 study (Dual agency representation: Incentive conflicts or efficiencies? The Journal of Real Estate Research, 35(2), 199-222) that dual agency is more likely to occur at the beginning and end of a listing contract. When a dual agency sale occurs at the beginning of a listing, they conclude that it is a result of agent incentive and results in an efficient quick sale. However, when a dual agency sale occurs at the end of a listing contract it is usually due to agent incentive (e.g., avoiding loss of sale) and the home is more likely to sell for less.

Locally, the Maryland Real Estate Commission requires that real estate licensees, who are assisting you, provide disclosures describing agency relationships (including dual agency) “at the time of the first scheduled face to face contact with you.” Your agent can assist you in understanding dual agency, when it occurs, the potential issues of dual agency, as well as what should happen if you decide to not agree to dual agency.

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Disclaimer.  This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice.  Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction.  This article was originally published the week of September 9, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.

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