Estate agent relationships: ‘it’s complicated’

The relationship between buyers and tenants, and their agents, can be complicated so it helps to be open and honest. Picture: Rodnae Productions

The relationship between buyers and tenants, and their agents, can be complicated so it helps to be open and honest. Picture: Rodnae Productions

Published Jul 1, 2022


Working with an estate agent to buy a property can be a tricky affair, especially if you find yourself working with different agents and competing agencies.

But you need to remember that, as a buyer, you have the right to work with as many agents and agencies as you like when looking for the right property – and an agent should never make you feel like you are obligated to work only with them.

South African real estate agents typically work for sellers or landlords, not home buyers or tenants, as their fees are paid out of the proceeds of the successful property sale or rental, explains Berry Everitt, chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group. Therefore, except in very rare circumstances, agents have no exclusive hold over any buyer or tenant until they have signed an offer to purchase or a lease.

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“However, estate agents in this country are required by law to try to protect the interests of both parties in any real estate transaction.”

Approaching a few agents

If you are a buyer or a tenant looking to move to a new home, and especially if you are not familiar with the area, there is nothing wrong with approaching an agent who is very active in that area to show you what they have available for sale or to rent, Everitt says.

“But you should remember that most agents will only show you the listings they have available from their own clients (sellers or landlords), and not the properties that other agents in the area are marketing on behalf of other clients.”

Most buyers start their property searches online though and contact the agents that are marketing the properties they want to view.

Buyer etiquette

Unless you have given a specific agent a ‘buyers mandate’, which is very rare in South Africa, Everitt says you are free to contact as many agents as you like, as often as you like, until you find the home you want. This is provided that the properties these agents are marketing are different homes.

“If a property is being marketed on an open mandate – that is, with several different agents working on it, you should be careful to only view it with one of the agents involved, and if you then decide to buy it, should also only make your offer to purchase through that same agent.

“It can cause huge complications for buyers as well as sellers if you view with more than one agent and then make an offer through a different agent.”

What to expect from an agent

A good agent will take the time to listen carefully to what you are looking for, and then send a selection of links to those of their own listings that they think might be suitable.

“This gives you an opportunity to review these homes, look at photographs and video tours, and then perhaps choose a few that they might like to view in person. The agent will then need to arrange these viewings with the owners,” he says.

An agent who just sends multiple links to properties that are being advertised by other agencies as well as their own is not offering you the personal service levels they should. And they are actually being “quite silly”, if they do.

“The chances are quite good then that at least some of the properties that the prospective buyer likes will be homes for which the other agencies have the mandates. In other words, they are literally sending custom to other agents – and of course they then have no right at all to be angry if the buyer then decides to also contact those other agents.”

Jumping ship to another agent

If you have built up a rapport with a certain agent and would feel more comfortable only working with them, despite them not being mandated to market a property you are interested in, Everitt says you can ask them to approach the property owner and the agent who has an exclusive mandate on that property and see if they are willing to come to an arrangement with your agent to bring you in as a prospective buyer.

“Typically, the two agents will need to agree on a commission split if you buy the property, and the sale documentation will be that used by the agent who had the sellers’ mandate. Your agent in this case will essentially be your representative in any negotiations.”

Ultimately though, the seller gets to choose which agent they want to market the property.

Open communication

While you, as a buyer, are always free to work with whichever agent or agents you like – and should never encounter any problem with that, Everitt says it is good to be open and honest with the agents about the fact that you may be interested in a few different properties and might be looking at these with different agents. Professional agents who are really customer-focused will be more interested in seeing you find exactly the right home than worried about closing a deal.

“In fact, the best of them will go out of their way to help you by collaborating with colleagues and even other agencies if necessary.”

Legally, the only time that your relationship with any agent becomes exclusive is after you have signed an offer to purchase or signed a lease.

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