Estate agents: The right – and wrong, ways to deal with them

Estate agents and buyers or tenants have certain obligations to each other. Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

Estate agents and buyers or tenants have certain obligations to each other. Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

Published Jan 17, 2024


Liaising with an estate agent to buy or rent a property can be complicated, especially if you end up needing to work with more than one, or even rival agencies.

But you have the right to work with as many real estate professionals and agencies as you like when looking for the right home – and an agent should never make you feel like you are obligated to work only with them.

South African real estate agents typically work for sellers or landlords as their fees are paid out of the proceeds of the successful property sale or rental, explains Berry Everitt, chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group.

Therefore, except in very rare circumstances, agents have no exclusive hold over any buyer or tenant until they have signed an offer to purchase or a lease agreement.

“However, estate agents in this country are required by law to try to protect the interests of both parties in any real estate transaction.”

Choosing an estate agent

If you are a buyer or a tenant looking to move to a new home, especially if you are not familiar with the area, there is nothing wrong with approaching an agent who is very active in that area to show you what they have available for sale or to rent. However, you should remember that most agents will only show you the listings they have available from their own clients (sellers or landlords), and not properties that other agents in the area are marketing.

Unless you have given a specific agent a ‘buyers mandate’, which is very rare in South Africa, he says you are free to contact as many agents as you like, as often as you like, until you find the home you want. This is provided that the properties these agents are marketing are different homes.

“If a property is being marketed on an open mandate – that is, with several different agents working on it, you should only view it with one of the agents involved. If you then decide to buy it, should also only make your offer to purchase through that same agent.

“It can cause huge complications for buyers, as well as sellers, if you view the property with more than one agent...”

If you have built up a rapport with a certain agent and would feel more comfortable working with him or her only, despite them not having the mandate on a property you are interested in, Everitt says you can ask them to approach the property owner and the agent who does have the mandate, and see if they would be willing to allow your agent to bring you in as a prospective buyer.

“Typically, the two agents will need to agree on a commission split if you buy the property but the sales documentation will be that which is used by the agent who had the sellers’ mandate. Your agent in this case will essentially be your representative in any negotiations.”

Ultimately though, the seller gets to choose which agent they want to market the property.

What to expect from your estate agent

A good agent will take the time to listen carefully to your needs and then send you a selection of links to suitable properties they are marketing.

“This allows you to review these homes, look at photographs and video tours, and then perhaps choose a few that you might like to view in person. The agent will then need to arrange these viewings with the owners.”

An agent who just sends multiple links to properties that are being advertised by other agencies in addition to their own listings is not offering you the personal service they should. Furthermore, they are being “quite silly” by doing this as you may take a liking to a home being marketed by another agent or agency.

"In other words, they are literally sending (your business) to other agents. They then have no right to be angry if you decide to also contact any of those agents.”

Your responsibility to an estate agent

While you, as a buyer, are always free to work with whichever agent or agents you like – and should never encounter any problem with that, Everitt states that it is good to be open and honest about the fact that you may be interested in other properties and are viewing them with different agents. Professional agents who are customer-focused will be more interested in seeing you find the right home than worried about closing a deal.

“In fact, the best of them will go out of their way to help you by collaborating with colleagues, and even other agencies, if necessary.”

Legally, the only time that your relationship with any agent becomes exclusive is after you have signed an offer to purchase or signed a lease.

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