For most Canadians, buying or selling a home is one of the most financially- significant transactions they will ever make. A real estate agent is a professional who represent your best interests in such a transaction, and help you to avoid common mistakes.
To find a real estate agent that meets your needs, think about what’s most important to you throughout the buying or selling process, and don’t be afraid to interview several candidates until you find a match.
What is a real estate agent and what do they do?
A real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps people buy or sell real estate. A good real estate agent will also help clients successfully navigate the entire process, offering unbiased guidance and assistance along the way.
For buyers, that might include providing information on prospective neighborhoods, facilitating home inspections, recommending a real estate lawyer and making an offer.
For sellers, it typically means advising you on a fair list price, arranging showings, and guiding you through the steps to closing.
Types of real estate agents in Canada
There are several types of professionals who can assist you in buying or selling a house in Canada. They include:
Real estate agent
In Canada, a real estate agent must be licensed by the province or territory where they work. Licensing requirements can vary significantly depending on the region, but in general, real estate agents must:
- Be the age of majority in their province or territory.
- Complete a set of licensing courses and successfully pass an exam.
- Pass a criminal background check.
- Complete some additional courses after being licensed.
- Be employed by a licensed real estate brokerage and carry liability insurance.
No matter where they operate, a real estate agent must abide by a set of standards and a code of ethics. They have a duty of care to their clients and must act in the clients’ best interests.
While the terms Realtor and real estate agent are often used interchangeably, there are some significant differences between the two. REALTOR® is a trademarked term and only agents who are members of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) are permitted to legally call themselves Realtors. To be a Realtor, an agent must take additional courses and must undergo regular training throughout their career. They are also subject to a specific code of ethics.
Real estate broker
A real estate broker has more extensive training than a real estate agent and typically owns their own brokerage or manages a team of real estate agents. It’s unlikely you’ll work directly with a real estate broker but will instead work with one of their agents.
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Commissions: How real estate agents get paid
In Canada, real estate agents earn a commission for their services. Real estate agent commissions typically range from 3% to 7% of the property’s final sale price. If a house sells for $600,000, for example, the real estate agent commission would be between $18,000 and $42,000.
The home seller is typically responsible for paying the commission to their real estate agent, who in turn gives a portion of the fee (often half) to the buyer’s agent.
However, some real estate agents may be willing to work for a flat fee. For example, in Ontario, a real estate agent can choose to be paid in one of three ways:
- A percentage of the final sale price.
- A flat fee.
- A combination of the two (e.g., 3% + $10,000).
Can you avoid real estate agent commissions?
If you’re a home seller, reducing your potential profit by tens of thousands of dollars to pay the real estate agent’s commission may be an unattractive idea.
It’s worth noting that while home buyers can’t negotiate a lower commission, sellers can. While there’s no guarantee that your real estate agent would be willing to reduce their fee, asking doesn’t hurt. Even a reduction of 1% could save you thousands of dollars when you consider a home’s selling price.
When should you hire a real estate agent?
It can be tempting to avoid paying commission fees by taking the “for sale by owner” route. For some people, this could be a viable option, although it includes quite a bit more work on the part of the seller.
Avoid DIY selling if:
- You’re not detail-oriented or familiar with the legal necessities of selling or buying a home.
- You don’t have time to familiarize yourself with the market and schedule showings.
- Your property may be difficult to sell or may appeal to a smaller subset of buyers.
Real estate professionals are adept at the marketing, legal and negotiating aspects of selling and buying homes. Hiring one might cost you a commission, but it will also make the process less stressful and time consuming.
Avoiding dual agency
If you’re ready to hire a real estate agent, it’s important to be aware of a the term dual agency, sometimes known as a transaction brokerage or a “double-ended deal.”
Dual agency describes a process whereby the same real estate agent represents both the seller and the buyer, and whether it’s allowed depends on your province.
Where dual agency is legal, the real estate agent is expected to disclose to all parties that they represent both the buyer and seller. While this type of deal could result in a lower overall commission amount, many experts recommend avoiding double-ended deals because it’s difficult for a real estate agent to fairly represent both parties when the interests of a seller (who wants to get as much money as possible) are diametrically opposed to those of a buyer (who wants to pay as little as possible).
If you’re interested in a property that your buyer’s agent is selling, they may recommend a colleague who can work with you to prepare an offer for it.
How to find licensed real estate agents
Selecting the person who’s going to help oversee the buying or selling of your most valuable asset should not be taken lightly. Be prepared to spend time and do research before you choose a real estate agent.
It’s a good idea to ask friends and family members to refer any real estate agents they’ve enjoyed working with in the past. Before setting up an interview, confirm these agents are licensed and see if there are any complaints against them via a provincial real estate council.
- Real Estate Council of British Columbia
- Real Estate Council Alberta
- Saskatchewan Real Estate Commission
- The Manitoba Securities Commission—Real Estate Division
- Real Estate Council of Ontario
- Organisme D’Autoreglementation du Courtage Immoblier du Quebec
- Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission
- New Brunswick Real Estate Association
- Prince Edward Island Real Estate Association
- Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Government of Northwest Territories
- Yukon Real Estate Association
Questions to ask prospective real estate agents
Once you have a list of candidates, and have confirmed their credentials, it’s advisable to interview three or four prospective agents. Here are some questions to consider asking them.
1. What is it like to work with you?
This open-ended question helps you explore whether the agent’s working style is a match for your needs. For example, you might explore their communication style and methods to understand whether they’ll be in regular contact via text or will only reach out when they have a property for you to view. Are they available to arrange showings during times that match your schedule, or do they only work business hours Monday to Friday?
2. Do you have an area of specialization?
Some agents may specialize in particular types of houses, such as condos, historic homes, or rural acreages. Others might work primarily with first-time homebuyers, people planning to flip fixer-uppers, or buyers looking for investment properties.
You also want to work with someone who is very familiar with the neighbourhood where you want to move (or, if you’re selling, the neighbourhood where you live). Their local expertise can make a difference when advising you on pricing and property characteristics.
3. Can you provide recent references?
Don’t be afraid to ask for references from former clients, who can share their perspective on what it was like to work with that agent.
4. What’s your commission rate?
If you’re selling, it’s important to know how much of your potential profits will go toward the commission. You can also ask if they are willing to negotiate on their fee or its structure.
5. What kind of marketing tactics will you use to sell my home?
If you’re selling, it’s especially important to understand what services the real estate agent will provide in exchange for their commission. You may want to found out:
- Where your listing will be published and seen.
- Whether a professional stager and photographer is included in the agent’s fee.
- The number of showings or open houses they’re willing to handle.
- What changes or improvements they’ll require prior to showing the house.
6. What is your list-to-sales price ratio?
If you’re selling, you’ll want to hire an agent with a history of negotiating sale prices that are close to or above their list prices.
Frequently asked questions about finding a real estate agent
Realtors are members of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). Not all real estate agents are realtors. If you’re interested in hiring a qualified local Realtor, try using the search tool on CREA’s website.
Real estate agents are paid on commission, meaning they don’t make money unless you successfully buy or sell a house. Agent commissions typically range from 3% to 7% of the property’s final sale price. If a house sells for $600,000, for example, the real estate agent’s commission would be between $18,000 and $42,000. In some circumstances, sellers can negotiate different or lower commissions.
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