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Real estate agents have a pretty bad reputation, and unfortunately, it’s been well earned. While there are plenty of amazing agents in Toronto, you’re not wrong to question whether or not you should trust your REALTOR. Whether you’re looking to buy or sell, it’s a good idea to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions. Here are 9 things to help you decide if the person you’re about to hire has your best interests at heart:

1. Once a liar, always a liar. Are the stats legit?

Real estate agents love sharing their stats, but are they true? Here’s how you can tell:

  • If they are claiming to have sold XX properties, ask if they completed those sales themselves or if they did so with the help of a team. It’s common practice for many teams to report all of their sales under the team leader’s name so they can claim to have ‘sold 75 listings in 2018’. Did they actually do that? Or did a team of 10 people do that? (FYI: that’s not how it works on the BREL team – we’re fans of transparency)
  • Ask about their awards. What does it really mean to be part of the ‘Executive Club’? What did the Platinum award reward? If they are the #1 agent in their office, how many agents work there? Take note: most awards are internal and linked to commission and sales volumes…they aren’t rewarding happy clients, innovative marketing or the results that matter to their Buyers and Sellers.
  • If you don’t understand how a statistic was calculated, ask. “When you say your average days on the market is 15, does that include the listings where you represented the Buyer too? How many listings was that calculated on?” It isn’t unusual for agents to combine Buyer and Seller sales to deflect from statistics that are lower than average or make up for the fact that they mostly represent Buyers.
  • Ask to see the MLS listings of the properties they claim to have sold
  • Marketing stats. How many visitors does their website really get? How many followers do they have on social media? Ask for proof or go on a sleuthing mission yourself. 

If an agent is exaggerating, omitting or manipulating data to sell themselves, it’s a sign that you can probably expect more of the same if you decide to work with them.

2. Check their online reputation

Thankfully, online reviews give Buyers and Sellers a forum to communicate to the world what their real estate experience was like. The best places to search for real estate reviews online are Google, Zillow, Yelp and Facebook. While you’ll want to search for bad reviews, it’s equally important to see excellent reviews. Happy clients take the time to leave a review – if you can’t find any reviews about an agent online, they probably aren’t wowing their clients.

3. Check for RECO Complaints

The Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) oversees complaints made against REALTORS and maintains an online database of fines and convictions (you can see it here). Unfortunately, RECO has a questionable record of enforcing their rules and code of ethics, and most complaints don’t result in fines and will never be made public. We know agents who repeatedly break the rules, get reported, and don’t ever get convicted. So use this check in conjunction with the rest of this list.

4. Do they have your best interests at heart?

Here are a few ways to tell:

  • Do they often represent the Buyer and Seller in the same transaction? The very nature of negotiation means there are two sides with competing interests…how can one person represent the two sides equally? If what’s good for one side is bad for the other, the real winner is the agent who just made twice the commission.
  • Do they suggest that you should list your home exclusively and not expose it to the full marketplace? You can read more about exclusive listings here. 
  • Are they trying to convince you to do something you aren’t comfortable with?
  • Are they more concerned with ‘signing you up’ than building a relationship?
  • Do they give you honest advice? Are you confident they would stop you from buying the wrong house (or at least tell you their opinion so you could make up your own mind? When looking at homes together, do they point out objections and concerns you overlooked?

5. Are they a thief?

I can’t even tell you the number of agents who’ve stolen content from our website and present it as their own.  We’ve had quite literally hundreds of people plagiarize the BREL values and mission statement, our guarantees, our tag line, entire blogs and our guides for buyers and sellers. There’s a Toronto REALTOR who stole our entire ‘About Us’ section, and another west-end team who recreated dozens of pages of our content on their website (and forgot to take out the internal links back to our site).

What’s most surprising: the plagiarizers are not who you would expect. Often, it’s successful agents and teams and REALTORS at fancy brokerages with good reputations. People we know! If the content on the website doesn’t sound like the person you’re talking to, it’s probably because they’ve stolen it.  

Another common practice in Toronto: advertising another agent’s listings and pretending they represent the Seller. There’a REALTOR who sends postcards to my neighbourhood that always include BREL listings under his ‘Recently Listed by XX; section.  It’s not only unethical and against the industry’s advertising rules; but it’s also deceptive.

6. Are the ‘available homes for sale’ on their website really available for sale?

This is a classic bait and switch technique, and it works like this:

The agent advertises a home as ‘available for sale’ on their website, but in truth, it’s already sold. The unsuspecting Buyer calls to book a showing, and is told: “that property is now sold…but I’d be happy to send you listings of other homes for sale.” Anything to make the phone ring, I guess? So gross.  

If you catch someone doing this, be suspicious. Deceiving the public is not the way to gain trust.

7. Are they actually trying to sell your home or are they using your home to get more business for themselves?

Unfortunately, many brokerages still teach agents that the best way to get new clients is to leverage listings.  So instead of focusing their advertising on bringing in the most potential Buyers and the highest price for their Seller, they focus on advertising that will get them more clients. This includes:

  • Using open houses to find unrepresented Buyers instead of identifying Buyers for the home that’s being open housed
  • Sending postcards to the neighbourhood. Postcards aren’t usually about selling your home to the neighbour who already lives nearby – they’re about telling the neighbours that the agent works in the neighbourhood and wants to list their house too
  • Hosting an open house for the neighbours (the agent will you this is about getting the looky-loos out of the way at the real open houses, but it’s really about meeting the neighbours and hoping to sell their homes)

So ask the important questions. What’s your marketing plan and how will it help find a Buyer for MY house? What kind of results do you get from your marketing? There’s nothing wrong with agents advertising themselves – just make sure they aren’t doing it at the cost of advertising your home. 

8. Do they really have secret listings?

Lots of agents brag about the ‘secret listings’ or ‘pocket listings’ or ‘exclusive listings’ that you’ll have access to if you sign up with them. Sometimes it’s true; sometimes it isn’t. Hint: if the agent or team has a history of listing a lot of homes for sale, it’s probably true. But if it’s someone who sells 6 or 8 homes a year, I guarantee…that secret inventory doesn’t exist. 

9. Is the expertise they claim to have legit? Or is it aspirational?

Sometimes, agents brand themselves as the “neighbourhood expert” or the “luxury expert”, even though they haven’t sold a home in that particular neighbourhood or a home over a million dollars (which isn’t luxury in Toronto). If you’re attracted to an agent because of their particular expertise, validate it. Which homes have they sold in your neighbourhood? When was the last one? How are they involved in the community? How do they market luxury homes differently than average-priced homes?

Note: Hiring an ‘expert’ isn’t important to everyone, and it’s certainly not always necessary. But if it’s important to you, then make sure it’s true

So can you trust your agent? I hope so. But ask the important questions and trust your gut.

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