If you're buying or selling a house, did your real estate agent explain the difference between a buyer's agent, a seller's agent, a cooperating agent and a dual agent?
It's the sort of thing that might sound like WSIGAC -- why should I give a carp -- but consumer advocates suggest paying attention. Agents in Maryland are supposed to give you a disclosure form to sign at your first appointment with them so you understand who they (and their bosses) are actually representing at the negotiating table.
Are they a seller's agent or a cooperating agent in the transaction? Then their "duty of loyalty" is to the seller alone, the state says. They can help someone else buy the house, but they're not representing that buyer -- surprising the heck out of some buyers.
If they're a buyer's agent in the transaction, they're representing the buyer and have a signed agreement from the buyer to show for it. A "presumed buyer's agent" is representing the buyer without a signed agreement and will need to get one before submitting any offers on property.
"Dual agency" happens when the buyer and seller in a single transaction end up being represented by agents working for the same real estate broker. Maryland law bars a single agent from representing both parties, but the agent's broker can do so, according to the Maryland Real Estate Commission.
John F. Sullivan, a Maryland agent who works only for buyers and thinks dual agency is fraught with conflicts of interest, is hoping the General Assembly passes a bill that would make the disclosure form disclose more -- bringing the state into a tug-of-war between a trade group for Realtors and the trade group for brokerages that represent buyers only.
He's planning to testify this week that "chronic misunderstandings about agent fiduciary responsibility have contributed to the foreclosure crisis both in Maryland and across the nation" -- namely that buyers weren't given good advice by agents about what they could actually afford, and thus did not have their best interests protected.