The Man in the Middle

Private Property South Africa
Property Professional

Batting for the seller: the agent, the principal and the conveyancer. Batting for the buyer: himself.

It stands to reason that if you discovered that the attorney you had chosen to represent you was also appearing for your opponent, you’d be a little upset. Legally, this is referred as a conflict of interest and under South African law lawyers may not represent different parties in the same case. The story is somewhat different when it comes to property. Estate agents represent both the buyer and the seller; although legally speaking, they really represent the seller. This begs the question: if someone out there is protecting the rights of the seller, how can they effectively perform the same function for the buyer? Other countries have recognised the conflict that such action could cause and this has resulted in agents being separated into three different categories; listing agents, selling agents and buying agents. Is South Africa lagging behind the times and should buyers be given the opportunity to appoint someone who is entirely ‘on their side’?

Adrian Goslett, the CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa says that splitting agents into different categories has been very successful in the US. In that country, there are, he says, specific courses and designations that certify agents that have the necessary skill/expertise to service their clients efficiently. He says he has had personal experience where a buyer’s agent would have served the purpose for which these specialists exist. While looking for a new home, he briefed a number of agents as to what sort of property he was looking for and more importantly, where it needed to be situated. The family wanted their children to attend a certain school and the criterion was that they had to live within the school’s inclusion zone. The first two agents who contacted him, wanted to show him homes that were situated 10kms away from the school. The more he tried to explain the importance of living in a certain area, the more they pointed out what great value the property’s offered. Why? “Because they wanted to sell me the homes they had and not the home I needed because they had a seller, who was, their primary focus.” “A buyer’s agent would have listened to my needs and sourced the best property that fitted my criteria because he was mandated to do so and knew he would get a commission cheque if he delivered what we asked for.” Andy Todd, the MD of Seeff Southern Suburbs, believes there is a common misinterpretation of the term “buyer’s agent”. He says that traditionally the property market in SA is dominated by the property listing, therefore the focus of the agent and in fact the entire industry is on the seller. The fact that the agent has the listing draws buyers to the agent. The focus of the SA property scene is on which agent has the mandate (in almost all cases, the mandate is given to the agent by the seller) because the mandate will determine the agent’s entitlement to commission. It has become the norm that commission is paid by the seller, because the seller is the one who has appointed the agent. It appears that the buyer’s agent trend may be catching on in South Africa. According to Jeanne van Jaarsvelt from Harcourts, specialist buyers including investors, those seeking commercial properties and fractional ownership buyers are more inclined to work with an agent who takes care of their specific needs.

These individuals use an agent who actively sources the specific types of property being sought. Mr van Jaarsvelt believes that success in the industry boils down to the three simple questions buyers should be asking: can I trust you? Are you the best at what you do? and do you care about my situation? Clearly a buyer’s agent has the interests of the buyer at heart. It is of no consequence to him as to how urgent the sale is or if the property is overpriced. He simply wants the best deal possible and will go to the ends of the earth to get the right house at the right price in the right area.

The advantages of becoming a buyer’s agent are:

  • The ability to focus entirely on the client’s needs leaving the marketing, showhouses and other aspects of real estate to the seller’s agent;

  • Specialising in a specific area of property, frees you up to find the most suitable property that meets the client’s needs and therefore close a sale in the shortest possible time;

  • By forming a closer relationship with the buyer and servicing his needs, you will open the door to others looking for a more personal level of service;

  • You can work with a selected number of clients and not let buyers fall through the cracks.

The advantages for the person using the services of the buyer’s agent are:

  • Buyers find exactly what they are looking for in the shortest possible time;

  • There is no confusion as to whom the agent is acting for;

  • Buyer’s agents will have a far broader idea of what properties are on the market as they are not restricted to properties listed at one particular agency;

  • A buyer’s agent has sharper negotiating skills than the average buyer himself;

  • They will advise buyers if they believe the property is over-priced;

  • Buyer’s agents are subject to confidentially; buyers do not have to be guarded with what they say to them.*

Article courtesy of and is taken from their July/August 2010 issue.*

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