Q: My husband and I were trying to sell our house on our own. A real estate broker saw our ad in the paper and called us. We decided to hire him to sell our home.
We agreed that for 45 days we would list the home “for sale by owner”; but the broker would also attempt to sell our home at the same time. If we found the buyer, we agreed that we would pay the broker only a 1 percent commission. If he found a buyer, we would pay him 3 percent.
We also agreed to list with him exclusively for the first two weeks and then we had the option to put the property into the local multiple listing service (MLS) if we chose.
While we were on a trip, we agreed that the broker could hold an open house for us. He received an offer during the open house and called us. While negotiating a sales price, he told us that a real estate agent from another company wanted a commission because she was the one who brought the buyer to our house. Our broker held a conference call along with the other agent and they argued about who would get what. My husband wound up agreeing to pay a 4 1/2 percent commission for both agents to split.
I feel this was illegal because we were not on the MLS and our contract stated that we were to pay “our” broker 3 percent should he find a buyer.
A: You need to go back to the documents you signed with your real estate agent to figure out what you agreed to. If the agreement you signed indicated that the real estate agent’s commission was 3 percent and was not qualified in any way, you have the right to be upset.
A listing agreement or other agreement for the sale of a home with a real estate brokerage house will indicate what the duties and responsibilities will be for the listing agent and will specify what the commission will be.
If you didn’t sign a traditional listing agreement — and it appears that you did not — your real estate agent thought he might be able to sell the home to someone who would not be represented by a real estate agent. He might have thought he could sell the home to one of his own clients.
Many home sellers find out during the course of selling their home that lots of real estate agents are interested in “helping” sellers sell their home. In some cases, more real estate agents than buyers call these sellers to offer their services or claim to have buyers that are willing to buy their homes. In your case you found a real estate agent and he actually found you a buyer.
The question is whether the 3 percent commission should have been the entire commission you paid to sell the home. If the agreement you signed with your broker said as much, you should have only paid 3 percent. If the agreement indicated that the 3 percent was for his services and any additional commissions would be at your expense, then the negotiated 41/2 percent is a fair amount.
You asked about the multiple listing service (MLS). The MLS is a system run by the local real estate broker board to list all properties in a given area. If you are a real estate broker in that area and a member of the local board, you have the right to list your properties in the system and all other real estate agents in that area have access to the information that broker has placed on the system.
Your broker might have been a member of the service or not. If he was not a member of the local board, you could still hire him to sell your home and he would receive whatever commission you and he agreed upon.
While it differs in various parts of the country, in most areas a 5 to 6 percent real estate commission is “standard.” But that number can vary from 4 to 7 percent depending on the type of home and the local market in a given area.
Paying only a 4 1/2 percent commission for a fully-represented deal (meaning that the buyer and seller have agents) is pretty good for most markets. While paying 3 percent would have been better, your deal might have fallen through if the buyer’s agent had not been paid something.
Given that your home sold rather quickly, it might not matter whether the home was on the MLS or not. The important thing to keep in mind is that it sold and presumably sold for an amount you were happy to sell it for.
If the home had not sold in the first several months and you had listed the home in the MLS with this broker, would the commission still have been 3 percent? If so, do you know what the broker that assisted you would have done for the other broker’s share? If he planned all along to claim the 3 percent for himself, he mislead you into believing that you would end up only paying a 3 percent commission. Any real estate agent coming to see the home would expect payment for bringing a buyer to the table.
If after you review the documents you signed with your agent, you still feel that you were taken advantage of, you should take those documents to a real estate attorney in your area to discuss any legal options you may have.