Real estate is a complex, competitive and ever changing business. The buying and selling public relies on REALTORs® to help guide them through the process but it can be difficult to know what you should and should not expect from your real estate professional. This article is intended to help you understand just that.
First let’s discuss the two professional designations licensed to trade in Ontario. A Real Estate Broker begins as a Sales Representative and after working for a certain number of years they are entitled to work toward the Broker designation. They must take extra training and pass the Broker’s exam in order to receive their Broker designation. A Broker has a license allowing him or her to open their own office if they so desire but they still actively trade in real estate. A real estate Salesperson cannot open their own office; they must work for someone with a Broker's license. Both a Broker and a Salesperson are also known as REALTORs®.
REALTORs® are obliged to comply with a code of ethics, educational standards, and standards of conduct when dealing with each other and members of the public. Failing this the public or their fellow REALTORS® can lodge a complaint which will lead to formal disciplinary proceedings which will be held and heard by a Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) tribunal.
REALTORs® provide specific duties depending on whether you “decide” to be a client or a customer and it is important for you to understand the distinction. Most REALTORs® will ask you to sign either a Customer Service Agreement or a Representation Agreement but you should clearly understand that you do not have to sign an agreement at all. Some REALTORs® won’t work with you unless you do but understand that you have a choice and you should ensure that you fully understand any documents you are asked to sign before you sign them. Also important is that any listing agreements, service agreements, or representation agreements are between the Brokerage and you, not the REALTOR® and you. As such, if you are unhappy with your REALTORs® performance you can call the Broker of Record (who supervises all aspects of operation within the firm) and ask to be given a different REALTOR® to work with.
Signing a Customer Service Agreement makes you a customer, which basically means you have no commitment to the REALTOR® and the REALTOR has none to you, yet the REALTOR® still owes you a duty of care – to provide knowledge and skill, accurate information, fairness, honesty and integrity.
Signing a Representation agreement transforms your relationship into that of being a client. Clients are owed the same level of obligation as customers but in addition their REALTOR® must maintain confidentiality; negotiate favourable terms; give full disclosure of all details relating to the transaction including potential or actual conflicts of interest; be loyal and put the client’s interests first; not accept payment from any other person without knowledge and written consent; perform all their duties personally, unless specifically agreed otherwise; obey the client’s instruction, unless it’s not lawful; perform as agreed; not misuse confidential information; and act only within the authorities specified.
Your REALTOR® is responsible for the accuracy of all information you give when listing your home, including and not limited to the room measurements; tax details, legal description, assessments, easements, relevant market factors and costs . If you are a buying client he/she must show you all properties that fit your criteria, regardless of whom holds the listing; he/she must not misrepresent any properties with false, inaccurate, or misleading information; he/she must not subject you or any other REALTOR® to any abuse, undue stress or unprofessional communication; he/she will not make disparaging remarks about other REALTORs® under any circumstances; and he/she must not contact other REALTORs® clients for any reason concerning (or to induce them to break) their contracts.
Good REALTORs® and brokerages work with you to ensure that you have a positive real estate experience. They are available to help guide you through the process, to answer your questions, address your concerns and mediate disputes on your behalf. Remember, your REALTOR® does have other clients and may have to occasionally return your call rather than answering the phone but your call should be returned within a reasonable time frame. Good REALTORs® do not pressure you into buying something you don’t feel comfortable about nor do they pressure you to accept offers you cannot live with. Good REALTORs® don’t mislead you with unrealistic expectation; just to get the listing . They offer their opinion on value based on what is currently happening in the market place and they provide you with timely updates. Good REALTORs® don’t “ tell you what to do” nor bully, they work with you to get the results you need and in doing so you are able to comfortably work with them in return. If you have picked well, the buying or selling becomes both successful and enjoyable.
So what is your recourse if you feel that you haven’t been treated ethically? Speak to your REALTOR® first and if talking to your REALTOR® does not yield the results you desire then it’s recommended that you speak to the firm’s Broker of Record. He/she will listen to your concerns and work with you to resolve them. Failing resolution, you can contact the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) to discuss the conduct of your REALTOR® and, if necessary, to register a complaint. There are forms available online at http://www.reco.on.ca/section-buyer/spage-publications/detail-10.html. RECO takes all complaints seriously and has the option to dismiss the complaint if it is not warranted or to discipline the REALTOR®. Discipline can range from warnings/sanctions through to revoking the REALTORs® licence, depending on the severity of the infraction.
A recommendation would be ask for a ‘non performance or opt out’ clause enabling you an easier way out of an unsatisfactory relationship before you sign a representation agreement.
Understand and know your rights and your REALTORs® obligations to you and other real estate professionals – insist upon them, you deserve no less. This should help making one of the biggest investments of your life a rewarding experience. For more information visit www.reco.on.ca.