| Selling

It makes us sad to hear that people still view Realtors® with a little more suspicion than we feel a lot of real estate agents deserve. Realtors® are professionals overseen by a strict set of rules and Code of Ethics administered by the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). In fact, regulations formerly known as the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act (REBBA) have been fine-tuned to increase accountability with the new and improved Trust In Real Estate Services Act (TRESA) that kicked in on December 1, 2023. 

The problem is, despite TRESA’s oversight, there are still some real estate agents out there you need to be wary of when entering the real estate market. Although we’re devout followers of all and any rules thrown down by any official act that helps keep us accountable and ensures we effectively guide your real estate decisions and transactions, unfortunately not all real estate agents share our views. 

So, while we don’t want to throw shade on our fellow agents, we do think it’s part of our job to warn you that despite TRESA, there are some bad eggs out there. That’s why you need to keep an eye on your agent and share in TRESA’s watchdog approach to keep your real estate agent accountable. 

To help you perk up your ears in the early days of either shopping real estate agents, or working with one, here’s five ways to keep your Toronto Realtor® accountable and ensure all of their dealings are on the up and up. Spoiler alert: It has a lot to do with due diligence!  

Looking for more insight to help buy your next home in Toronto? The related reading below is a great place to start:

1. Understand TRESA’s Role and Your Own Due Diligence

TRESA is the consumer protection legislation that governs real estate and brokerage agents in Ontario. When you work with any agent or broker trading in Ontario real estate, you’re empowered by TRESA which provides you with rights and dictates how we as agents/brokers conduct ourselves when representing you in a transaction. These aren’t guidelines either. These are legal obligations we all have to follow if we don’t want to wind up in a whole heap of trouble. 

While you have rights, you also have a responsibility to suss out an agent you can trust through your own due diligence. What we recommend is that you pay attention when your gut is telling you something feels shifty. Although you might not always know whether your agent is following the rules, you can look for red flags telling you that something isn’t right, including:

General warning signs:

  • They come across as aggressive or pushy
  • They don’t ask questions
  • They don’t pay attention to your wants, needs or timeline
  • They’re hard to reach once you’re in the thick of things
  • They try to hide the fact they’re inexperienced by skirting specific questions about their history

When selling:

  • They want to list at a higher price than what other agents recommended, or compared to the average price in your neighbourhood (most likely this is a tactic to get your business and the buyer leads that will come in from the listing)
  • They want to list your home at lower than market value without a contingency plan in case of multiple offers (this shows a lack of experience or that they could want a quick sale, not to get you the most money for your home) 
  • They don’t make any suggestions to improve your home for open houses, or don’t mention open houses at all (this shows they lack motivation)
  • There’s zero professional marketing
  • They whip out their cell phones to take photos to post online (oof!)

When buying:

  • You’re on a house hunt sans an agent and a seller’s agent pushes their services on you with promises of a “better deal” 
  • They’re showing you homes that don’t feel right (aka they didn’t listen)
  • They only point out the good things and brush over concerns you point out about properties (they just want a sale)
  • They don’t offer up front advice like you should pre-approve your mortgage, assess your budget, have a higher down payment, etc. 

We’re not trying to say it’s all on you! We just want to make sure you don’t fall victim to inexperienced agents or ones who have hidden agendas. Radars up!

2. Feel Empowered By the Rules 

So, a little bit more on the rule makers and breakers. 

RECO, the Ontario regulating body of real estate professionals, was only able to “discipline” allegations of non-compliance associated with the Code of Ethics. But look out “sus” Realtors®, because RECO can now hold you accountable for non-compliance related to TRESA including suspending, revoking, or applying conditions to your registration. 

While those less honest real estate agents squirm in their seats mulling over this news, us honest agents encourage you to feel empowered by the rules. You now have improved channels available to ensure bad actors are held accountable and a process to follow when things aren’t right!

What does that process look like?

First, contact the Brokerage:

The first step in the resolution process is to reach out to your real estate agent’s brokerage directly. Their job is to address complaints regarding their agent’s conduct and hopefully find an amicable resolution. They will also answer your questions if you feel anything is inappropriate with your agent’s abilities or service. 

No luck with the brokerage? 

Time to file a complaint through RECO:

If you don’t get the results you expected from the brokerage, you can file a formal complaint through RECO using this form and emailing it to complaints@RECO.on.ca, with the subject line: Complaint submission. If you have any records, attach them such as your agreement or correspondence to support your concerns. 

RECO will review the information and determine if your complaint is legit and falls under their authority. If it does, they’ll explain what happens next to continue the resolution process. 

Look, going the formal complaint route can be awkward. If you’re not sure and want to find out if you do have a legit complaint, you can also reach out to RECO with any questions you might have by calling 416-207-4800 or 1-800-245-6910.

3. Sellers: Ask Questions Before Entering Bidding Wars

The blind bidding process has always been a stressful ordeal for buyers because the envelopes of competing offers are sealed. However, TRESA recognized that sellers had an unfair advantage and changed the rules, giving sellers the choice between an open or blind bidding process. So, what does this mean? Truthfully for buyers, not much. The seller still holds all the cards. 

So why do we mention this change when it comes to ensuring Realtor® accountability?

Because we think it’s important that you discuss the option to seal or not seal offers with your agent. The open bidding process can work in both the seller’s and buyer’s favour. Buyers are still likely to up their offers and be more flexible with their terms to benefit the seller once they see what the competition is up to. 

They might also simply back out knowing their beat, which saves time in the review process. This could be an incentive for a lazy agent to recommend going the open bid route because they avoid all that review time. However, this could put you at a disadvantage when buyers see the competition’s top bid and just go slightly above that number. 

In blind bidding, buyers tend to go much higher than they would when they don’t know what they’re up against. The point is, that asking about the pros and cons of each method allows you to make an informed decision.  

Looking for more tips to sell your Toronto home? Check out the related reading below:

4. Play Your Part: Use Online Reviews and Social Media To Weed Out Bad Realtors®

Realtors® with a bad reputation for being money-grubbing, self-driven bad actors selling homes for personal gain have a harder time getting away with it these days. You see, when we’re dishonest, there’s a good chance it will backfire on us. Successful real estate agents aren’t successful because they’re dishonest. Instead, we succeed through honesty, integrity, and caring about our clients. 

With social media and online access to customer reviews and ratings, there really is nowhere to hide when it comes to poor, unknowledgeable and of course shifty service. We’re forever tied to social proof and can’t risk doing anything that would damage our reputation.

You can keep all real estate agents accountable by sharing your experiences and rating your agent, good or bad. This helps ensure clients can find honest realtors® and that the dishonest ones are weeded out when their wayward performance is revealed. 

5. Buyer Beware – Read Your Contracts!

Where to begin? Let’s start with history. One of the things some sellers’ agents like to do is promote their services to buyers visiting open houses sans a buyer’s agent. By doing so, they put themselves in a desirable position representing both clients in the negotiation process. It’s called Multiple Representation and it’s a perfectly acceptable practice. However, some dishonest agents leveraged the fact REBBA had two categories for service agreements: A client and a customer. 

Now while you probably figure these terms are interchangeable, they aren’t. A “client” has a representation agreement that means your brokerage has a fiduciary duty to promote and protect your best interests. However, a “customer service” agreement is quite different, as it doesn’t provide the same level of service and advice that protects your interests. The dishonest agent recognizes this loophole and the opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers. 

Looking for more help on how to find a real estate agent when buying or selling who is both ethical and accountable? The resources below will help:

Next, let’s look at “The Swindle.”

An agent who had a seller client could take on a buyer customer but only have to protect the seller’s best interests. As a result, the buyer’s information could be shared, including the higher end of their budgets, providing the seller an advantage. 

At the same time, the agent is under no obligation to investigate additional information about the property that a buyer’s agent would traditionally do for a client. Also, these shifty characters tell the buyer they’ll save on commission by using the seller’s agent. This is true, but for all buyers as it’s the seller who pays the commission.

Meanwhile, the agent allows the buyer to unknowingly pay a higher price than they would have as the client of a buyer’s agent. The end results? The seller gains more profit, and the real estate agent gets more commission. 

Now, let’s see how TRESA has changed things.

TRESA no longer allows the customer relationship as an option. So now, if a buyer wants to make an offer directly to the listing agent, they become what is known as a “self-represented party,” or SRP. In this case, the listing agent can only share information about the property, not their services, opinions, or advice. They stay in their lane representing the seller’s best interest, getting rid of the conflict of interest, and keeping the transaction more on the up and up for the buyer. No more loopholes. 

And finally, designated representation.

There’s yet another side to the whole Multiple Representation thing: TRESA has introduced “designated representation” so that when a client enters this type of deal, two real estate agents from the same brokerage must represent the buyer and seller. Both agents must offer the same level of service and disclosure of information, so, it really does become a win-win on both sides of the negotiating table. Everyone has equal knowledge and the same level of service. 

How does this keep agents accountable?

Knowing all of this ensures you can call out any agent who tries to take the dishonest route or lead you down the less desirable path. More importantly, it shows you the importance of reading your contract. Although it’s not a bestseller you’ll recommend to friends, it will provide peace of mind knowing you’re choosing the right type of agreement for your needs. 

The Bottom Line

As a consumer, you have a responsibility to perform due diligence when hiring a Realtor® and making real estate decisions. However, good agents (like us!) are honest, accountable, and transparent not because TRESA says we have to be, but because we want to be. As a result, you know you’ve found a good agent when they answer your questions clearly, take time to explain your options, and also ask plenty of questions of their own to ensure they’re delivering the highest standard of service to protect your interests. 

We also offer honest advice even if it means potential clients might choose not to pursue their real estate goals because we’ve armed them with information that helps them make a smart decision. We’re accountable and love it! 

Call The Christine Cowern Team at 416.291.7372 or email us at hello@christinecowern.com with any questions or to set up a call. We’d love to work with you!