If you thought that breaking up was hard to do, try parting with your real estate agent. It is not always so easy, especially if you signed a listing agreement. It's considered a binding and enforceable contract that usually lasts six months, says Enza Cammarasana, a Northport real estate attorney. It allows the agent to list the house for sale and do everything possible to sell the property, including placing ads and holding open houses. "However, most listing agreements contain a cancellation clause, which varies from Realtor to Realtor and sets specific provisions for cancellation," she says.
Here are some points to keep in mind:
1. READ THE FINE PRINT
Read the cancellation clause carefully, and check if there's a prohibition against listing with another Realtor before the expiration of the current agreement, Cammarasana advises. While agencies are usually negotiable, be prepared that you may have to wait it out before listing with another agent. But if they are negotiable, ask for a general and unconditional release signed by the agent so that you can list immediately with someone else.
2. WAS HE GOOD TO YOU?
If your agent performed his duties diligently (held open houses, advertised actively, engaged potential buyers), certain conditions may come with the release. For example, you may be granted a release if you pay a portion of the expenses that the agent incurred, or the agent may attempt to negotiate a referral fee with your new listing agent, Cammarasana says. Customers usually want out of a listing agreement because their house isn't selling or there's a personality conflict with the agent, says Arlene Schwartz, branch vice president for the Smithtown office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "When we take a listing, I send a letter to each client to let them know that if they have any issues to call me, and that we'll try to resolve the problem within 72 hours. Give your agency a chance to correct the issue," Schwartz says.
3. PROTECT YOURSELF
Make sure, Schwartz adds, you sign a listing agreement that includes some kind of seller service guarantee to be certain that your agent does his job: advertising, a marketing plan, feedback, regular communication, availability for appointments. "Then if not, you'll have recourse to cancel your contract," she says.
4. GET EVIDENCE
While some agencies have managers who oversee all of the agents, some often don't, leaving clients to deal directly with an agent. In those cases, if homeowners want to terminate a listing contract, they'll need to prove that the agent didn't fulfill the promises outlined in the marketing plan, says Catherine Lindstadt, a licensed associate broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Huntington. "Keep the plan handy and take notes with dates of all communications -- or lack of communication," she says. Good agents will always have copies of ads as well as a detailed log of all activities (that is, showings, offers, open houses, etc.) to support their files, she adds.
5. AVOID A BAD BREAKUP
Whatever you do, don't go sneaking around buying or selling through another agent -- you'll create more problems for yourself, warns Gregory S. Lisi, a Uniondale real estate attorney. You could end up with two binding contracts. "For instance, if you are in contract with Broker A for 4 percent, and you secretly sign up with Broker B for 4 percent, you could be on the hook for 8 percent in commissions. And if you don't pay Broker A, the agency has a right to sue you -- it's a straightforward breach of contract," Lisi says. "You can't change brokers willy-nilly."
6. WORD OF ADVICE
More established Realtors would probably be very hesitant to enforce a listing agreement, Cammarasana concludes. "In a business that relies heavily on reputation, good will and word-of-mouth, fear of negative publicity could greatly outweigh the benefits of holding an unhappy customer to their contract, or releasing them with the condition that they are prevented from re-listing. Most would sooner wish them well, and move on to the next sale," she says. But no matter how amenable the agency may be to letting you go, be sure to walk away with a signed release. If you have any questions, contact a real estate attorney.