Rental agent demands money for nothing

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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I signed an agreement with a real estate agent to find a renter for my property. Three hours after faxing the contract to him, I heard from a family I had shown the place to, saying that they wanted to rent it. Since the agent had done nothing to market the home, I called to ask him to cancel it. He said no, he’d have to treat me like another agent and “split” the commission with me. Wasn’t I entitled to a three-day rescission of the contract as I requested when I called him?
— Laura O.

Dear Laura,
We know the real estate agent didn’t do jack to merit a commission, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t stuck contractually. However, a truly above-board agent, at least in my book, would agree to cancel the agreement under the circumstances, especially if he incurred no costs.

If said agent had driven to your house, toured the place and spent time consulting with you on rent rates or whatever, he would have been within his rights to request a small fee for his efforts. But a “split” commish? C’mon! Sorry, agents, but that’s not doing the right thing, despite the barely dry ink on the three-hour-old contract. You obviously found the renter before your agreement was struck. Yet some folks are scrambling for any morsel of income they can scrape up in these still-tough times. And the agent does possess a trump card — that signed contract.

Did the listing agreement start immediately or was it for a period that would start a day or more after the signing? That would seem to be the only contractual out, unless you added other specifics to the agreement, which I doubt.

You could try to send the agent a check of say, $100 or even $200, to help make him go away, perhaps stating on the check that signing and cashing it ends all your obligations to him. Failing that, you could try sending a straightforward letter to his superior describing the scenario. If the agent is part of a locally prominent real estate agency, that might be enough to nip this in the bud in the name of community relations.

Sorry, there is no rescission period for such agreements unless you added one. In various states, a three-day right of rescission does apply to some vacation rentals, time-share purchases, home-equity loans and lines of credit, but not to listing contracts. Depending on how much money is at stake, you may need the services of a real estate attorney if the agent doesn’t drop the issue, which is still a possibility.

By the way, here’s hoping you thoroughly vetted your renters. If you get the wrong ones in, they’re tough to get out.

Good luck!

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