Dual Agency – Authorization, Disclosure and Safeguarding Confidential Information

By Stephen Fussell, Chief CPO

         An agency agreement is an agreement between a real estate firm (or sole proprietorship) and its client – a buyer, seller, landlord or tenant. The agreement usually describes the relationship between the firm and its client, specifies the services to be provided by the firm, describes any obligations of the client, and indicates how the firm will be compensated for its services.

            A real estate firm’s relationship with a client also determines the relationship of the firm’s affiliated brokers with the client. See the following examples:

  • Single or Exclusive Agency – the firm and ALL of its affiliated brokers represent only the client (buyer OR seller).
  • Dual Agency – the firm and all of its affiliated brokers represent both clients (buyer and seller).
  • Designated Dual Agency – the firm designates one or more brokers to represent the seller exclusively and designates one or more brokers to represent the buyer exclusively. However, the firm and all of the firm’s other affiliated brokers represent both parties.

            Many firms endeavor to sell their own listings and therefore offer dual agency as a way to achieve this goal. If your firm offers dual agency, then you must obtain the client’s express, written authorization for the firm and its affiliated brokers to act as a dual agent. Ideally, this written authorization will be included in the listing agreement and in the buyer agency agreement.

            Additionally, as soon as you learn that the other party in the transaction is also represented by your firm, you must disclose this fact to your client. Remember, you must obtain your client’s authorization to act as a dual agent before a dual agency situation occurs, and then disclose to your client when dual agency arises. Example: An offer is submitted by a buyer who is represented by the listing firm. Even if the agency agreements for both parties authorize dual agency, the listing agent must clearly disclose the dual agency situation when presenting the offer to the seller.

            If a buyer or seller has concerns about the inherent conflict of interest posed by dual agency and, if your firm offers designated dual agency, then the client may request designated dual agent. While this will commonly be noted in the agency agreement, a separate written agreement addressing the type of agency the firm and client have agreed to may be used. However, a broker who has received confidential information about one party cannot be designated to represent the other party. Remember, in order for a firm to provide designated dual agency in a transaction, both parties must agree to designated dual agency. And, a firm cannot designate a broker to represent one party without also designating a different broker to represent the other party.

            Firms that offer either form of dual agency (designated or non-designated) must exercise great care to safeguard the confidential information received from its clients. A designated dual agent who accidentally receives confidential information regarding the other party in a transaction which could affect their client’s decisions regarding that transaction must share the information with their client. While the sharing of this information may be detrimental to the other party in the transaction, the designated broker’s fiduciary duty requires him or her to disclose any information that could affect their client’s decision-making. It is therefore imperative that firms practicing dual agency and/or designated dual agency have clear, strictly-enforced policies and procedures for protecting clients’ confidential information to prevent accidental disclosures of confidential information.