Changing agents is easy if you have no contract

STARTING OUT

September 11, 1994|By Dian Hymer

How can I change real estate agents?

Changing agents (or "brokers") before you've entered into a contract to buy a home is relatively easy. If you're working with a conventional agent -- that is, you haven't signed an exclusive buyer's broker contract -- you can simply tell that agent that you'll no longer need his or her services. This may require determination on your part. Some agents are manipulative and will try any means possible to keep you as a customer.

A buyer's broker may require that you sign a contract that says you'll work exclusively with that broker to find a house. The contract may require you to pay the broker a fee even if you buy a house through another broker. Make sure that any buyer agency contract you sign allows you to cancel the contract if you're dissatisfied with the service.

Unsuspecting buyers can find themselves in the midst of a commission dispute between two agents who both feel they're working for the buyer. This sort of problem usually arises when buyers set out to do house hunting on their own.

Let's say you walk into a Sunday open house and you decide it's the house you want to buy. The open house agent may assume that he or she will assist you in the purchase unless you specifically tell that agent that you already have an agent. Even if you don't have one, you might be wise to tell the open house agent that you currently don't need an agent, unless you'd like this person to be your agent.

Real estate brokers use the concept of "procuring cause" to determine who's entitled to a commission if there's a dispute. Generally, the agent who introduces the buyer to a property and works with the buyer to complete the purchase is entitled to the commission. Disputes arise when one agent introduces the buyer to the property and another writes the buyer's offer.

Misunderstandings can occur if you call the listing office in response to a For Sale sign, or an advertisement, and make an appointment to see the house with the agent who takes the call (who may or may not be the listing agent). If you have an agent, it's best to have that agent show you the property.

If you're wondering why agents get so worked up over "procuring cause" issues, it's because most real estate agents work on commission and only get paid when a sale closes. They don't get paid for showing property or holding open houses.

FIRST-TIME TIP: Changing agents once you've entered into a contract to buy a house is difficult. You'd probably only want to make a change if you're not getting good service. If this happens, call the agent and express your concerns. If this doesn't result in better service, call the managing broker who oversees the agent's work and discuss your dissatisfaction. If the manager can't shape the agent up, ask that another agent in the office be assigned to help you complete the transaction. When all else fails, talk to an attorney and plan on monitoring each step of the transaction yourself.

Dian Hymer's column is syndicated through Inman News Features. Send questions and comments care of Inman News Features, 5335 College Ave., No. 25, Oakland, Calif. 94618.

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