When buying a home, avoid dual-agency

The New York Timesreports on a developing trend on Long Island: home buyers seeking out their own real estate agents to represent them exclusively in the selection and negotiation process.

The Times article is confusingly worded, but the most important takeaway for consumers is this: If you stumble into an open house and want to make an offer or see an ad in the paper, you should pretty much never use the listing agent as your agent on the deal.

Dual-agency is the legal term for a situation where the buyer and seller are represented by the same agent in a deal and while it's legal, it's worth avoiding. Last month I looked at an episode of HGTV's The Property Shop that showed just a few of the things that can go wrong because of the conflicts of interest associated with dual-agency.

The other reason to avoid dual-agency is that there is really nothing in it for anyone except the agent. The way that listing contracts on real estate generally work is that the agent and the seller agree on a commission -- let's say it's 5%. Of that 5%, 2.5% might go the buyer's agent. If the listing agent is the agent for the buyer too, he gets the full 5%. The seller doesn't save any money and neither does the buyer: The cash flows directly into the agent's pocket.

Moral of the story: If you're looking to buy a home, ask your friends for advice on a good buyer's agent or log on to the National Association of Exclusive Buyer's Agents website to find a member in your area. However it isn't essential that your agent be an exclusive buyer's agent. It's perfectly fine to work with a Realtor who also takes listing himself -- You just don't want to be buying any of his listings while working with him. In that case, you can also try looking for the ABR (Accredited Buyer's Representative) designation after the agent's name.

In case you missed it, I'll say it again: Do not use the same agent as the seller when buying a home. You have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
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