Agent behaviour that should get alarm bells ringing

There are different warning signs to watch for depending on the kind of real estate transaction you’re about to embark on. Whether you’re buying or selling, however, you need to start by doing your due diligence when choosing a real estate agent.

“Both buyers and sellers need to interview a few prospective agents, even if they receive a referral to an agent, so they have some sense of compatibility and skill,” says John Lusink, president of real estate brokerage Right at Home Realty. “While everything real estate seems to be going at full speed, this is exactly where the consumer needs to slow down and take their time.”

But even careful consumers can wind up regretting their choice of agent. Here are a few ways to know you might be working with the wrong person.

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If you’re selling

“Be wary if an agent says ‘I will beat the streets to sell your home for you’,” says Robert Price, founder and CEO of Bode Canada, a for-sale-by-owner platform. “In 2021, this is not how home marketing actually works. In Canada, over 90 per cent of buyers search for properties online, so ‘beating the streets’ is actually ‘put your property on and wait for leads to come in’.”

Your incompetence sensors should immediately go off if an agent shows little effort when it comes to marketing your property, says David Fleming, an agent at Bosley Real Estate. In Fleming’s opinion, an agent’s unwillingness to stage your home properly, including the use of professional photographers, is a colossal red flag.

“Staging works and staging sells,” he says. “Why? Because people like nice, shiny things. It's just the culture that we're in. Every property needs staging. Agents that don't believe in staging are leaving money on the table.”

If you’re buying

Lusink says buyers should have doubts right off the bat if the agent they’re talking to doesn’t take the time to organize a thorough buyer consultation meeting, where they explain their fiduciary duties and the services they provide.

If a meeting does take place, but the agent fails to bring up the subject of a buyer representation agreement, or glosses over the implications of this critically important document, the buyer, Lusink says, “should be concerned.”

A buyer agent may be worthy of suspicion if they tell you their services are free, Price says. Home buyers’ agents take a cut of the commission on the sale of the house, which means the more you pay for your house, the more your agent gets paid — a potential conflict of interest.

“The buy-side agent is paid by the seller, and the seller is paid by the buyer,” Price notes.

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A hot market makes things worse

Canada’s claustrophobically tight real estate market has resulted in countless buyers limping away from lost bidding wars. Fleming says that’s often the fault of buyer agents who, attempting to placate their clients, submit offers they know will be rejected.

“When I have 22 offers on a list, usually what I find is that four or five are absolute garbage, like somebody offering the list price,” he says.

“From a price perspective on the buyer side, that's the biggest problem — that you have agents that either don't know the market, and are telling you to make what I call ‘dummy offers’ that there’s no point in submitting. Or they do know, and they won't stand up to you.”

When there’s a gold rush like there is in Canadian real estate, it’s going to attract a certain number of people who see nothing but an opportunity to exploit the situation, and the people involved in it, and walk away with some easy money. A little due diligence on your part can help ensure more of these lesser agents walk away with what they deserve: nothing.


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Clayton Jarvis is a mortgage reporter at Prior to joining the team, Clay wrote for and edited a variety of real estate publications, including Canadian Real Estate Wealth, Real Estate Professional, Mortgage Broker News, Canadian Mortgage Professional, and Mortgage Professional America.


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