Every once in a while, a buyer or seller becomes totally dissatisfied with his or her real estate agent.
In a single recent week, Alan May of Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty in Evanston, Illinois, received two calls from sellers who were disappointed with the lack of service from their listing agents. After a brief conversation with each, in which May outlined what he would do differently, they both decided they would like to fire their agents and hire him instead.
Beyond griping that their homes haven’t sold, unhappy owners complain largely about a lack of communication from their agents, according to most of the realty pros who recently discussed the topic on industry website ActiveRain.
That’s what May’s two callers were beefing about. One “complained that he would call his listing agent and would not get a return call for two or three days,” he said.
That, alone, is grounds for dismissal, responded Richard Iarossi of Coldwell Banker in Crofton, Maryland. “Two days is absurdly long by any standard,” he said.
Candice Donofrio of Next Wave Real Estate Investments in Bullhead City, Arizona, agreed: “I’ve said it a hundred times -- this is not a sales business, it’s a communications business.”
So if you’re not satisfied, how exactly can you dump your real estate agent midstream? Turns out, there’s a proper way to accomplish this.
First off, you are bound by what’s in your listing agreement, including items such as the length of the contract, how the agent plans to market your house and under what conditions you can terminate the deal. That’s why you should always read what you’re signing and balk at things you don’t like.
“Don’t take these terms for granted,” Katie Johnson, general counsel for the 1.3 million-member National Association of Realtors, advised in an interview. “Discuss them with the agent and articulate what both parties agree to.”
For example, some contracts last a year, but in that time, the market could completely turn. If you try to minimize your risk by pushing for a shorter contract, though, the agent and broker won’t be willing to spend as much to market your house.
If you’ve given the agent a decent amount of time and he has not performed up to your expectations, you might think about ending the agreement prematurely. If your listing expires in a relatively short time -- or if you just don’t like confrontation -- then sit tight and allow your contract to run its course.
If there are still several months to go, though, tell your agent you want to part ways. Do it nicely -- no yelling or obscenities -- and put your reasons down on paper so there’s a record. Consider hand-delivering it.
This is a courtesy step, because it’s not your agent who owns your listing; it’s his or her broker, the person whose name is on the door. The broker can, if they so choose, overrule the agent and agree to break the contract. Under some listing contracts, though, you may be required to reimburse the agent and broker for whatever marketing expenses they have incurred for your property.
Under the standard contract in Florida, sellers must sign a withdrawal agreement, pay back what’s been spent on their behalf AND pay a cancellation fee. The amount of that fee is left blank, to be filled in when the listing agreement is signed, so it can be any amount -- or nothing at all. Another reason to read carefully and negotiate before signing.
The broker can waive all this. But in Florida, at least, brokers can play hardball because the agreement also states that if the house is sold between the time the pact is terminated and the time it would have expired on its own, the seller must pay the agreed-upon sales commission -- less the cancellation fee, of course.
Brokers might try to hand you over to another agent in their shop, or cut you loose altogether. But they can also refuse to release you from your contract. And if that’s the case, you’ll just have to gut it out. Maybe.
If you believe the agent acted unethically, and he or she’s a member of the local Realtors’ association, you can take your complaint to that board, which can sanction the agent if it agrees with you. Admittedly, though, this can be a slow process.
While you are going through all this, start looking for another agent: one with far better communication skills. That way, as soon as you are able, you can sign with them and lose little time on the market.
Agents aren’t allowed to initiate contact with buyers or sellers who are under contract with another agent. But if you call them, they can make full-blown presentations, if that’s what you want.
Some agents won’t talk to anyone who is currently listed with a rival. Kimo Jarrett of WikiWiki Realty in Huntington Beach, California, is one. “I make it a policy not to discuss any business issues with anyone under contract with another agent, regardless of the circumstances,” he said.
May, and others, respect that position. But as May pointed out, “The rules say that as long as I didn’t initiate the contact, and they contacted me, we are allowed to talk.”