real estate

Yes, you can fire your agent -- maybe

Steve McLindenQuestionDear Real Estate Adviser,
Can I cancel an agent contract to sell my house? She advised me to sell my house for what I thought was a too-cheap price, and then promised I could buy a better one for the same price. The way things are going, I think she totally misrepresented herself and I feel cheated signing a lengthy listing contract with her.
-- Lesya

AnswerDear Lesya,
You are trying to void your listing agreement, also called a real estate brokerage contract, because you feel your agent has acted in bad faith. Typically, that is doable, but not always easy.

Unless there is listing-contract language that states that either party can terminate the agreement at any point, you're bound for the duration of the listing term, at least hypothetically. However, once the seller-agent relationship is compromised, it seldom makes sense for either party to continue -- unless there's a sale pending, of course.

Inform the agent as politely as possible that you'd like her to sign a "termination of buyer agency" form, which would void any and all agency-seller agreements. If pressed, tell her you believe she isn't operating in your best interest, and be ready to back that up with notes, incidents and issues, assuming you're keeping a dated log of your ongoing discontent. Most agents will relent because a trust has been broken. If she doesn't, consider offering her a fee to cover her marketing expenses. Failing that, you may have to threaten to file a complaint with your local or state real estate board.

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Yes, it's not uncommon for certain agents to stretch the truth to acquire a listing -- or potential double listing in your case -- and such folks can make it difficult for all the aboveboard agents out there to earn client trust. But I can't totally dump on your agent without knowing more details. There's always the chance that she felt your initial desired price was unreasonably high, and she may be right. In that case, she could argue she was looking after your interests.

By the way, I strongly suggest that sellers not sign a listing contract for more than 90 days, regardless of the enthusiasm or reputation of the agent. Six-month contracts, in my opinion, are too often counterproductive no matter what your market's DOM, or days on market, average is, with the exception of extremely expensive, isolated or otherwise hard-to-sell properties. That's because listings, buyer interest and the marketing efforts behind them tend to go stale after a few months, particularly in the perception of buyer's agents. If you do go under contract toward the end of a 90-day listing, you can always extend the listing.

From the sound of things, your agent wants to be the listing agent for your present home and the buyer's agent for your replacement home. Bad idea. What you really need is a dedicated buyer's agent who has an exclusive fiduciary duty to you and only you in the buying leg of your plan. Interview at least three before you commit, ask for references and be sure to check with local real estate boards to see if any complaints have been lodged against them.

Most times, real estate agents will take the path of least resistance and recede when you find their representation inadequate. But not always! Before you hire another agent, take a long and realistic look at sale prices of recent home sales in your market to get a feel if your asking price is in step with reality.

Good luck!

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