Q: I have serious fraud complaint about a real estate agent who represented me as a buyer. I cannot afford the $10,000 initial fee to sue her and local Board of Realtor’s Ethics Committee is beyond useless, saying this is a two year process and I should contact an attorney.
I would like to know if there were other complaints to establish a pattern to add weight to my case. The Board of Realtor’s Ethics Committee refuses to give me a list of realty companies she has previously worked for. The state licensing web site only goes back 5 years and shows 5 or 6 charges of serious fraud brought against her.
A Google search indicates that she has a tax lien and a major lawsuit and a recent bankruptcy. The Realtor Board’s site shows none of these things, and she has a clean slate with them.
How do I get the Board of Realtors to cooperate and give me a list of her prior employers? The brokerage firm she is associated with is sympathetic and has promised I will get my money back. But it has been a year now and I believe they are trying to stall me until it is too late for me to complain to the Real Estate Commission in Hawaii.
Do you have any ideas other than to hire a lawyer? I am out $100,000.
A: You haven’t indicated why you are owed money or what happened. But if you are right, and a fraud has been perpetrated against you, you do have a number of options.
Your first choice is to hire an attorney. We know you don’t want to hire an attorney, but you should consult with one anyway. It won’t cost you $10,000 to get some basic advice on the situation and you’ll need an experienced attorney to help you and to perhaps negotiate a settlement.
Litigation is expensive, if it comes down to that. But better you spend the money with an attorney and get as much of your money back as possible than see it all vanish.
Another option would be to file a complaint against the agent with the state agency that regulates the licensing of real estate sales people in Hawaii. That office may have a system in place for your complaint against the broker. However, the state agency may be under no obligation to follow up on your complaint. In some states, some enforcement offices are quite backlogged and are unable to follow up on all complaints filed.
You can also file a complaint with the attorney general’s office in Hawaii and with the Better Business Bureau. Finally, some Realtor firms and organizations have their own internal complaint officers that can investigate your complaint and assist you. But as you have discovered, they may not always work swiftly nor do they necessarily look out for a consumer’s best interests first.
The National Association of Realtors, based in Chicago, has an Ethics division and you can file a complaint, but the organization has little it can apply in the way of pressure other than canceling the offending agent’s membership.
All of this leads back to the original suggestion that you might have to hire an attorney to represent you in this matter. Some states have statutes that would allow you to recover your attorney’s fees in case you win against the broker. You won’t know whether you should proceed against the broker and sue her until you have hired a competent litigator that has had experience litigating real estate cases against brokers.