By Ross Wilson

In this final column in the series on the controversial subject of real estate fees, allow me to continue addressing dual agency, but from a slightly different slant.

People have expressed concern that a sales rep cannot honestly represent the interests of two or more rival parties simultaneously. There may be some truth to this, for the risk of conflict of interest is certainly a possibility. But it all boils down to how the situation is handled. In any case, you’re not a secret agent acting for one side or the other. The objective of both parties to the proposed contract is the same – an agreement.

If a dual agent can successfully negotiate mutually agreeable terms with full and appropriate disclosure, why should they not be rewarded for their efforts by receiving both commissions – one for representing each of the two sides? After all, for all intents and purposes, there are two deals involved, a sale and a purchase. When you’re doing double duty, what’s wrong with a double commission? You’re worth every penny. Both parties want to reach an agreement, maybe one more than the other. And the one who wants it the most will do the most bending.

But if you feel you must reduce, at least wait until you’re dealing with real money, when you’re working with an offer – not when you first accept a listing. As I’ve said, when you take the listing, it’s intangible. It’s merely a percentage of nothing. If you await a sale, you’ll have a better idea of the extent of your time, effort and expense required to achieve the sale. Then, when the finish line is within sight, you can make an informed decision regarding your value.

As you’re probably aware, a double-ending agent can discuss every aspect of the APS with both parties – except for price and motivation. Confidentiality is critical in this regard, but to a limited degree, you must remain dutiful to each of your clients. However, in such a multiple agency scenario, your role effectively changes from one of advocate for one party to mediator between two. All parties know and expect you’ll essentially be mediating because you obtain their informed, written consent. If either party refuses consent, then one of the parties (usually the buyer) would have to seek the services of another brokerage. There’s no “Chinese wall” in a real estate brokerage.

Sometimes, it’s collectively advantageous for the seller and buyer to acquire the agency services of the same expert agent. A mediator handling the negotiation process can sometimes more effectively arrange a meeting of the minds than two aggressive, adversarial agents trying to out-negotiate the other. While trying to get the best terms for their respective clients, combative agents can sometimes blow the sale simply because their own egos get involved. Everybody wants to be a hero. Mediation has worked effectively and successfully in many other industries, such as family law, for a very long time. And it can and does work well, albeit informally, in our business. Maybe it’s time we officially embraced the concept in our industry.

In the realty world of ever-rising expenses and falling revenue, where will our industry end up? If we survive at all in any recognizable form, I suggest we’ll likely evolve into one that may offer a menu from which a seller or buyer can acquire specific services for prescribed fees, possibly paid in advance, maybe set by our associations. Standard procedures could change to reflect a new protocol reality. Maybe homeowners would complete and submit the requisite forms to the brokerage and perform all other services typically provided by a full-service brokerage, with fees varying accordingly.

There would probably be fewer real estate salespeople and brokerages in this brave new world. In any given market, there’s just so much revenue to be generated. To limit the number of salespeople in any particular region, maybe a cap on applicant registrations could be imposed. With fewer participants, the remaining professionals might generally earn a comfortable living. There’d be no more superstars. Maybe a university degree requirement will facilitate a significant transformation. In any case, there’s no doubt in my mind that our industry is evolving.

I mean, think about how we did business not that long ago, before the introduction of computers, the internet, smart phones, flexible commission rates, franchises, independent contractors and government meddling. It was a different era and the future will be too. And consumers will collectively get what they pay for.

If the public continues to demand lower and lower fees, then it must accept more of the burden of responsibility for risk and marketing expense. In the meantime, you decide what your own services are worth and charge accordingly. It’s your money.

“You must accept that you might fail; then, if you do your best and still don’t win, at least you can be satisfied that you’ve tried. If you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, you don’t branch out, you don’t try – you don’t take the risk.” – Rosalynn Carter