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What to do if You Aren’t Happy with Your Real Estate Agent

By Elizabeth Whitman | October 16, 2018

What happens if you aren’t happy with your real estate agent or broker? The answer might be in the listing agreement you signed. Other times, you may have to negotiate a change to or cancellation of the agreement.

Know the Types of Real Estate Professionals

First, some background. There are two types of licensed real estate professionals–real estate brokers and real estate agents. Real estate brokers must have additional training and experience. Every real estate agent must affiliate with a licensed real estate broker.

There are more real estate agents than there are brokers, so most people deal with a real estate agent. However, only brokers can enter into listing agreements or hold escrow funds. Therefore, a real estate listing agreement is with the broker, even though the client may conduct dealings with the agent and not the broker.

Think of it like going to a car dealership to buy a new car. You likely will deal with a salesperson, not the dealership owner. However, when you sign a purchase agreement to buy the car, your agreement is with the dealership. You pay the dealership for the car, and the dealership is responsible for paying any commission due to the salesperson.

There are a number of reasons you might want to cancel your real estate listing agreement. You may have decided you don’t want to sell your property. Or, perhaps believe your real estate agent isn’t adequately marketing your property. Or, perhaps you think you can save money by listing your property yourself with Zillow or a similar online service.

Regardless of the reason, before cancelling a real estate listing agreement, you should take the following steps

Read Your Contract

Read your listing agreement to learn what it says about cancellations and commission payments. Also, if you are dissatisfied with the agent’s performance, see what the listing agreement requires the broker to do to market your property.

Some agreements require that a seller who cancels must pay the broker for its costs.

Most listing agreements will require you to pay a commission if you sell the property to someone who approached you while the listing was in effect. Some contracts might require that a commission be paid for the entire contract term even if the agreement is cancelled.

Talk to Your Real Estate Agent

Once you understand your rights and obligations, talk to the real estate agent and ask them to agree to cancel the listing agreement. Agree on the amount of any termination fee or other payment that is due to the broker.

If you believe the agent has not advertised the property enough or otherwise hasn’t performed good service, tell the agent this. Sometimes, the problem may be a miscommunication that can be corrected. If the agent expresses willingness to correct the issue, seriously consider giving them a second chance.

If your concern is that the commission is too high given the service you have received, some agents might even be able to reduce their commission or make other adjustments to the listing agreement to keep you as a client.

If you have lost confidence in that particular agent and you cannot cancel the agreement, talk to the broker. The broker might be willing to assign your listing to another agent at the brokerage. If that happens, it is up to the broker to work out how the agents share any commission.

Put It in Writing

Confirm your conversation with your agent in writing, so there is no misunderstanding (email is fine).

State why you wanted to cancel the listing agreement. If you were dissatisfied with the agent’s performance summarize that. Describe your understanding of takeaway from your conversation with the agent. Copy the broker on your written communication.

Get a Written Agreement Describing the Outcome

Get a formal written agreement signed by the broker. Read it carefully to be sure it describes the outcome of your discussion.

This should protect you from later claims for additional payments from the broker. If you are changing terms of the listing agreement, such as by reducing the commission, then you and the broker should sign a written agreement stating the new terms. If you are cancelling the agreement you may need a cancellation letter before you can relist the property with another broker.

Be Honest and Fair

Deal honestly and fairly with the broker and agent. In some states, a real estate broker can place a lien on your property if you do not pay them. Plus, it may be difficult for you to get another broker to list your property if you left your previous broker on bad terms.

Therefore, promptly pay any amounts that are due as a result of the cancellation. Do not immediately solicit people who looked at the property during the listing and ask them to buy the property without paying the commission (unless the broker has given up the rights to that commission in writing).

Often, concerns about a real estate agent’s performance can be addressed with a conversation. Other times, the broker’s involvement or cancellation of the listing agreement may be the best options. Regardless of your situation, it is important to get your arrangement in writing and to follow through with your end of the deal.

Elizabeth Whitman is an attorney and broker who has represented clients in more than $1.3 billion in real estate transactions.Elizabeth's law firm, Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC, is located in suburban Washington, DC and represents real estate owners and securities sponsors throughout the nation.
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