'For sale' sign with agent in background © iStock

Dear Real Estate Adviser,
My family and I are selling our home due to finances. It’s been on the market for 4 months and it’s one of the 2 lowest-priced homes in our area. But nothing! Our agent does open houses only on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and fails to give us adequate notice of other buyer viewings. We’ll run out of funds in the next 3 months. Is there a way to back out of our contact with the agent and get a new one without a fee?
— Jackie

Dear Jackie,
Sorry for your predicament. Technically, you’re bound to the length of your listing contract unless it states that either party may terminate at any point (relatively rare) or there are overt violations. Most of the time, however, an agent will back off of your listing if you claim breach of contract, which can constitute just about anything you feel hasn’t been done in your best interest.

Put yourself in buyers’ shoes

Without knowing more details, it sounds like you may have a legitimate case, though I don’t think more than 1 open house a week is warranted. The National Association of Realtors says only about 10% of buyers these days find the home they eventually buy at an open house. Also, most buyers won’t waste time visiting homes they’ve already viewed online.

As for the short notice you’re getting for buyer viewings: Common courtesy should rule the day, of course, but some buyers are strapped for time and may be in town for only a day. Any showing is better than no showing. Keep the house as view-ready as possible.

Assess agents’ motivations

It’s always possible that your agent’s heart may not be in your listing for some reason. While condition and poor location are possible buyer turnoffs (and resultant agent frustrations), a too-high price typically tops de-motivators. If you’re asking too much, no amount of song and dance will work, though you do say your house is among the cheapest on the market.

Additionally, there may be fewer tire-kickers because buyer agents don’t like the way the commission is being split. A too-low commission or flat fee equals fewer showings, fewer chances for you to sell and fewer options for homebuyers. It’s a lose-lose-lose.

Dealing with the broker

While agents say you should verbalize your concerns with them, I assume you’ve done this. Besides, it makes no sense to sustain the relationship anyway once it’s been compromised, with the exception of a sale pending. Some people allow the brokerage to hand the listing over to another agent, though this might be disquieting for you, given your lack of faith in the current one. Tell the agent you’d like her to sign a “termination of buyer agency” form, which would void any and all agency-seller agreements. Make sure you read the termination provision of the listing agreement first. You will likely owe the agent any out-of-pocket marketing expenses.

A shorter listing is better

I must point out a common seller mistake you made: signing a 6-month or even a full-year listing contract with the agent. There are zero benefits to this because you can always just extend the much preferred 90-day contract if you feel the agent is doing all that’s possible. If agents balk at this, they aren’t very confident in their abilities. Besides, time is of the essence for you with your dwindling reserves. When you are interviewing agents, impress that fact upon them and ask for a rough plan of attack for moving your home quickly.

You’ll need to put your best foot forward to move the place. Consider upgrading the listing and the house photos. You may also have to slightly readjust price. And make sure the commission split is equitable for the buying agent so you’ll generate optimal traffic.

Good luck!

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