What Is a Dual Agent?

What You Need to Know About Dual Agents

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Dual agency is a real estate term that means one agent or brokerage represents both the seller and the buyer in the same real estate transaction. A dual agent must walk a narrow path to be neutral toward both parties, and they may not disclose confidential information to either party.

Learn more about dual agency, how it works, and what your options are if you're faced with it when buying or selling a home.

What Is Dual Agency?

Dual agency is when the listing agent and the buyer's agent are the same entity; in this case, the entity can be either one agent representing the buyer and seller or two agents from the same brokerage firm. The brokerage benefits from both sides of the transaction with two agents.

How Does Dual Agency Work?

Dual agency occurs when one real estate agent or brokerage represents both the buyer and seller of a home. This arrangement is beneficial to the agency because they receive a percentage of both sides of the transaction, depending on state laws and practices.

Dual agency is legal in most states, but it is heavily regulated to protect buyers and sellers from predatory practices. For example, Alabama requires both buyer and seller consent to be represented by one agent or agency.

You should always ask your agent whether they are representing the opposing party in your real estate transactions.

As an example of dual agency, imagine Betty Smith, an agent for the Smith Brokerage firm, lists a home for sale on Main Street. If another agent for Smith Brokerage, John Doe, presents an offer on behalf of a buyer, Smith Brokerage is acting as a dual agent. The company stands to benefit from both ends of the deal.

More complicated forms of dual agency can occur as well. For example, Betty Smith represents one client (the seller) as the listing agent and finds them a buyer for their home. The only problem is the buyer needs to sell their current home to buy the seller's house.

Betty Smith then signs a listing agreement with the buyer to help them sell their home so they can buy the seller's home. Ms. Smith and the firm stand to benefit from two home sales as a dual agent.

Fiduciary Responsibilities

Dual agency can cause legal issues because fiduciary duties bind real estate agents. These duties require undivided loyalty to their clients. A buyer's agent must act in the buyer's best interests, and a seller's agent must act in the best interest of the seller. A single person acting as a dual agent would require loyalty to both sides of the negotiating table—a tricky, if not impossible, task.

Real estate professionals' fiduciary duties are written into a state's contract, tort, and licensing laws. Therefore, real estate agents must fully disclose dual agency relationships. All parties must understand the terms and give full and express consent to remain compliant with the law.

As a client, you have the right to refuse dual agency representation even when the clause is presented to you in a boilerplate real estate listing or buyer agency agreement. You can hire another broker to represent you if you're uncomfortable with a dual agency arrangement.

Dual Agency Benefits

Although dual agency presents some unique concerns and problems, those potential problems can be balanced somewhat by a few advantages.

If you're in a dual agency relationship, it might speed up some response times. Your agent can answer your questions without waiting for the opposing party's agent to get an answer from their clients.

Dual agency can also streamline the transaction process, whether you're the buyer or the seller.

With one fewer agent in the mix, scheduling various events can be more manageable. This can make a transaction proceed faster.

You could also potentially save some money, particularly if you're the seller. Typically, you would have to pay a commission to your agent—often 6%—which would then be split with the other agent. If you're dealing with just one agency, agent, or entity, you may be able to negotiate that percentage down a little. 

Dual Agency Disadvantages

One example of when dual agency can't work is that a dual agent can't negotiate to get both the seller's highest price while getting the lowest price for the buyer.

What's more, a dual agent might be tempted to work toward a higher selling price to put more money in their pocket via the commission.

There are no fresh eyes in a dual-agency situation. Having two separate agents, brokers, or entities involved can mean that one party might—or at least should—notice if the other takes a misstep so the issue can be corrected. An agent responsible only to one party is called a single agent, and their loyalty is much more apparent.

Single-agent negotiations can make for a more flawless transaction and can create a more level playing field for both parties.

Key Takeaways

  • Dual agency is one real estate broker or agent representing both seller and buyer.
  • Dual agency is legal in many states.
  • Dual agency, where legal, is tightly controlled.
  • You can refuse to be represented by a dual agent.