Even after the introduction of the Council of Estate Agencies (CEA), the real estate salespeople are still sometimes perceived as sneaky and ruthless, usually by a few unethical agents that encourage home buyers and sellers to make bad decisions and enter into an unfair transaction. In this post, you’ll find out what to look out for when choosing a real estate agent for yourself.
1) The agent is not certified
This is a first thing to look out for, especially since all professional agents are now trained and licensed before they can start real estate work. An unlicensed person working as a real estate agent (i.e. collecting money for anything related to your transaction, e.g. making referrals, doing viewings etc) is liable to a jail term of 12 months and a fine of $25,000, as this guy can attest to.
A licensed real estate agent must:
- Show his or her license clearly when conducting real estate work
- Be found on the CEA public register
2) The agent is biased to co-broke with only a closed group of other agents
As a client, your agent should have your best interest at heart, finding you the best buyer/tenant or property regardless of all other factors, like who the agent on the other side of the deal is. However, some agents still vet through their leads, selectively choosing friendly agents to work with. As a result, you’ll have a limited choice of people to transact with.
Make sure your agent reports every lead to you, and do your own homework too. If you’re house hunting, send your agent some places you think meets your criteria, and ask what he or she thinks. Do not rely on your agent to handle the search alone, but be a part of the decision-making process constantly.
Read this CEA co-broking guide to learn how co-broking should work fairly in the real estate industry.
3. The agent always gets his or her teammates to do the groundwork
In the agency business, there is a hierarchy where a leader manages several junior agents (“downline”), and gets a cut of the commission with each transaction closed by them. If you’ve engaged one of these senior agents, they might assign their juniors to handle the onsite appointments and paperwork, for a small percentage of the deal. While letting junior agents gain experience in the transactional nature of the job is good for the industry, you’ll might end up with the same junior agent doing everything else – leaving the senior agent out of the loop.
While this is usually not a problem as all agents are trained to a high degree of industry professionalism, you might want a senior agent helping you in special circumstances, e.g. managing a court-ordered sale, or buying an expensive good class bungalow.
If you think your agent is not up to the task, make sure you sign an exclusive agreement to engage only the senior agent directly, or engage different agents initially to help you out and identify the most proactive and reliable ones.
4) The agent keeps trying to negotiate with you constantly
It’s in the interest of both your agent and you to close the deal as soon as possible, but some agents take an aggressive approach to try to force a deal out, either by ceaselessly explaining why you:
- Need to lower your selling/rental asking price due to “market downturn”
- Need to expand your property search criteria because there is insufficient supply
- Need to spend on extra furnishings to close the deal
- Need to find a higher priced property
Note that in many of these cases, the agent doesn’t earn a lot more in commissions, but you’ll need to make sure you’re getting a fair deal based on how much you can afford, your lifestyle needs, and if you’re comfortable with the proposed trade-offs. Don’t cave in to the pressure or blindly follow ‘professional’ advice.
5) The agent constantly tries to get you to buy an apartment from a new project development
If you’re in the market for a resale apartment or a HDB flat, but your agent keeps recommending new condominium developments, make sure you understand why this is a better choice. Not paying commission is to the agent is not a good excuse, as agents earn a lot more in commissions from the developer – and this is why they might sometimes press hard to close a deal on a new apartment sale.
Note that new condos are usually more expensive (as can be expected with the buying of the land plus development costs), carpark lots are limited, and the overall apartment size is smaller. But then again, it may a good buy if the condominium suits your lifestyle, investment strategy or budget.
6) The agent uses pressure tactics to encourage you to close on the spot
Some agents have honed their pressure tactics skill to perfection, using ultimatums, lies and drama to heighten the tension during a viewing appointment. By organising an open house with many interested parties viewing at the same time, an agent can claim that he or she had already received offers to close by the end of the day, encouraging anyone with a remote interest to throw in a bid as well.
CEA expressly disallows these unethical moves, which goes against the professional guidelines of how a real estate agent should behave. If caught in a lie, the agent could be fined, or have his or her license revoked.
7) The agent is unable to advise on simple questions related to the transaction
If you’re closing a deal worth a small fortune, the last thing you want to do is have an inexperienced agent mess the procedure up. This is a common problem for new agents, naturally, but that’s why a senior agent should be supporting him or her throughout the transaction.
If your agent looks lost and is unable to answer questions without calling for help, you’ll want to change your mind, or engage a separate agent if you haven’t already signed an exclusive agreement with the agent.
8) The agent suggests illegal workarounds
Working in a highly regulated industry, some real estate agents have honed their skills in looking for loopholes to coerce a deal through. Some of the more infamous are:
- The “lock one door” strategy that encouraged HDB owners, who are unable to rent their whole flat within 5 years of purchase, to lock the doors to a single bedroom and rent the whole flat as a room rental transaction.
- The “tenancy agreement can be cancelled with a 7-days notice” diplomatic clause that helps tenants and landlord close a short term tenancy, even though the minimum legal stay is 6 months.
These strategies and many others have long since been banned by HDB and URA, but cunning agents constantly think up of ways to help clients beat the taxman and the regulators. But at the end of the day, would you want to live in a place knowing that your transaction is illegal, and it might be discovered anytime during a random audit? I though not too.
On the bright side, the real estate agent today is a lot more professional and impartial. Technology has certainly helped a lot, which is why Krib works to help consumers and agents find only the best and most relevant properties to check out. At the end of the day, buying, selling or even renting a house takes a hefty amount out of your monthly income, and you should have the support of an agent who works in your best interest.