Discussing the governance of agent behavior

Agent Actions

Q: We recently sold our deceased mother’s home in Columbus, Ohio. The house needed quite a bit of work, was structurally sound, and was in a very desirable neighborhood.

My siblings and I selected an agent after a couple of interviews, and emptied all contents from the home. In the six weeks or so before it was listed, our agent came to us with an “unsolicited” offer from another local agent, who is also quite well known and well connected in the real estate community.

The verbal offer was about 23% below what ended up being the final sale price, with the buyer waiving the buyer’s agent commission. We told the listing agent we were not interested. We were offended that he would present such an obviously low price to us.

I get it: He makes an easy 3%, the buyer buys out a grieving family, flips and makes a quick buck. By doing this, it seems like (the other agent) is attempting to cheat the sellers. Many families that are waiting in line get outbid over and over again, (even) her own clients.

Is this legal? And if not, who governs agent behavior?

A: As we read over your question, we felt very much like you: this behavior has to be wrong. But while putting a seller in that situation, particularly when the seller is grieving or in a vulnerable position, may not be right, it may also not be illegal.

We’ll start by noting that the real estate agent that came to you was not your real estate agent when he approached you. It’s interesting to note that he approached you on behalf of a different real estate agent and we wonder why the real buyer didn’t just show up and try to buy the property directly from you.

It’s possible that the two agents worked together and were looking out for their best interests and not yours. The agent that came to you would get a commission and the agent that purchased the home would get a great deal on the purchase. You and your family would end up getting quite a bit less than what the market ultimately proved the property was worth.

Having said that, we know of quite a number of situations where family members are eager to avoid preparing a home for sale, having showings and waiting for an offer to come in. Those families are eager to sell and move, and there’s no way for these agents to know which camp you fall into: wanting the best possible price or unloading the property as fast as possible.

If you had signed a listing agreement and hired the agent as your official listing broker, that listing broker should then look out for your best interests. If a buyer comes along that bids under market, the listing broker should tell you that and give you the pros and cons of taking the offer. They should also let you know what they think the market will bring when you list it for sale, which will help you understand the benefits and risks and make a savvy decision.

As for bad agent behavior, each state has a department that licenses real estate agents and brokers, and that department takes complaints against those real estate professionals. Most real estate agents are members of a national, regional or local board of real estate agents, and those boards will take ethics and business complaints against its agents. Finally, the manager of the office in which each real estate agent works can also discuss problems or issues home buyers or sellers have with their agents.

Having said that, you’ll still need to consider whether the actions of the agent were legal, if aggressive. You mentioned that the person that brought you the unsolicited offer was your “agent” and we assume they helped you in the eventual sale of the home. As you decided to work with this agent, we assume your complaint is against the other agent, who you feel was trying to press you into accepting far less than what the property was worth.

In our view, that agent had no relationship with you, was able to make any offer they liked, and you were able to accept or decline. You did decline, and ultimately listed the property and received a higher price.

We don’t see that they did anything wrong. That’s how the free market should work.