Realtors once served as gatekeepers of data, providing customers with access to exclusive information that helped them price their homes or determine the true value of the properties they were eyeing.
But with reams of data now online and virtual tours available at the click of a mouse, the role of real estate agents has started to evolve, with more agents expanding their repertoires to include services like staging and professional photography.
Pauline Aunger, president of the Canadian Real Estate Association, defends agents, saying they possess detailed knowledge of local markets.
"The realtor's value is interpreting the data," says Aunger, who's also a realtor based in Smiths Falls, Ont. "Though you can look at a snapshot of what the house next door sold for, you may not know what's in that house."
Agents can also ensure that all of the necessary inspections have been conducted and regulations have been met.
"You can almost equate it to doing your taxes on your own versus doing them with a professional," says Toronto real estate agent Derek Ladouceur. "Yes, you save money doing it on your own, but there's a good chance you might be audited because you skipped something."
Ladouceur says clients can also benefit from agents' expansive networks of contacts — from stagers and contractors who can help you polish up your home before it hits the market to other agents who will bring their clients in to have a look.
Nonetheless, some homeowners are finding the costs of using an agent are simply too high as house prices in several Canadian cities soar higher — and so too do the commissions earned by realtors.
Sellers typically pay six per cent of the sale price, with half going to their agent and the other half to the buyer's agent. For a $1 million home — now the average price for a detached house in Toronto and Vancouver — that translates to $60,000 in fees.
"I don't think people need to pay that kind of money," says Paul Rouillard, a realtor and the owner of discount brokerage Flatprice.ca.
Although homeowners can't list their properties themselves on the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, a slew of discount brokerages can prepare the listing for a fraction of the cost charged by a full-service agent. At Flatprice.ca, realtors help home sellers list their properties on MLS for only $99.
But others still prefer the convenience of using an agent.
Pam Campbell and her husband recently sold their home and bought a new one, both in Acton, Ont., with the help of an agent. Between working full-time as an accountant, taking courses to upgrade her credentials and raising a six-year-old boy, Campbell says there's "no way" she could have found the time to sell her home.
"We would have had too much on our plate to try to do it," she said. "I think it's worth the commission that you pay."
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