Two or three weeks ago, way back in 2004, we wrote a two part article about what a seller has a right to expect from a real estate agent in return for the average commission of 5.2% due to that agent at closing. It was an extensive list and, hopefully, made some consumers aware of how hard an agent works for that 5.2%. Especially since the average agent actually pockets a commission of less than 1.5% of the sale price by the time all of the other parties involved take their cut of the money.

In parts one and two of that discussion we stated that a seller was entitled to the following from his agent:
  • An honest opinion of the market value of the home
  • Straight talk about the property, even if the seller did not want to hear it
  • Advice and guidance about the best way to market the home
  • Provision of reasonable access to the home by buyers and other agents and follow up with and feedback from potential buyers who had viewed the home
  • Effective marketing
  • The agent�s absolute loyalty and dedication to the seller�s best interest.
We also mentioned two things that a seller has no right to expect from an agent: constant and/or unreasonable availability as well as any requests or demands that might possibly infringe on an agent�s personal or professionally mandated code of ethics.

A listing is, however, a reciprocal contract and sellers have unstated obligations to their agents as well. It may be that, in fulfilling these obligations, you will make life easier for your agent. Nothing wrong with that. But there are instances in which doing your part as a seller may save your agent from serious legal liability that could result in monetary penalties or loss of license. In other cases you may be advantaged as much as your agent when the transaction moves along a smoother and steadier course.

  1. Full disclosure

    In the earlier articles we stated that you can never expect an agent to hide or lie about a material defect or potential problem with a property. The laws in most states are pretty clear about an agent�s obligation to reveal problems about which he or she might be aware, and there are substantial penalties attached to a failure to do so; triple damages in some states.

    Let�s go a bit further. If you are aware of a problem with the property, actual or potential, you have an ethical obligation to proactively reveal this to your agent when you list your property. This means not just lying about or hiding a problem when it becomes an issue, but stating the problem right up front.

    From a legal standpoint, if a problem emerges after the sale, an agent may have to prove in court that she was unaware of the material defect. This can be pretty hard to do; proving a negative always is. Courts often take the tack that the agent SHOULD have known. If you have failed to reveal a problem it is hardly fair to an agent who is not a housing inspector, a general contractor, or clairvoyant.

    From a practical standpoint, an experienced agent may be able to advise you how to handle a problem with the property. For example, if you have a failing septic system that you can�t afford to fix, your agent may suggest that you offer a rebate at closing for repairs or replacement or adjust the selling price to account for the defect and make it clear on the listing sheet that this adjustment has been made and why. Sometimes stating a defect right up front, on the listing sheet or in a newspaper ad, will allow buyers to adjust to the idea before they even view the property. It also builds up a degree of trust that may carry a deal past some other rough spots. Trust your agent to help you work through the problem, something she can only do if she knows about it.

  2. Loyalty

    Your agent must put you first, but you should put that agent first as well. Do not undermine his position. Calling other agents to ask for feedback or to gripe about your listing agent are terrible tactics. Once a house is under agreement, everything pertaining to the agreement should go through your agent. Calling the buyer, his agent, his attorney, inspector, or mortgage officer are sure fire ways to scuttle the sale.

    Sellers have even been known to call buyers to offer a deal if they hold off an offer until after the listing contract expires. That one could land both seller and buyer in court � and it should.

    Give your agent a realistic chance to sell the house. Marketing times vary wildly throughout the country. In the urban Northeast, parts of California and other hot spots, average selling times are measured in days. In other regions you must plan on six months to a year. Find out, up front, what marketing time to expect in your part of the world then, providing your agent is living up to his obligations, sit back, relax, and let him do his job.

    Don�t criticize your agent to neighbors and friends. Reputation is everything to an agent and a few bad words can spread fast. Unless your agent is committing grievous offenses about which the world should be warned (and 30 days on the market is not one of them), remember Thumper the Rabbit�s mother: �If you can�t say something nice, don�t say anything.�

    Of course, if you can say something nice, say it loud, clear, and to everyone. It is the best gift you can give your agent.

  3. Cooperation

    You hire an agent because you believe he has the expertise necessary to sell your house. Therefore, unless you have good reason to do otherwise, cooperate and do as your agent asks. If she advises you to leave the house when a showing is scheduled, do it if you possibly can. It isn�t always convenient, but it is necessary. If she asks you not engage with a buyer or answer his questions if you are home during a showing, please listen to that advice. The answer is always �Gee, you will have to ask my agent about that� followed by a prompt escape to another room.

    Cooperate with your agent. Try to do as much as you can of what he asks. Paint the front door, rake up the leaves, keep the dogs penned up during showings, take all of the gee-gaws and gimcracks off the piano and refrigerator.

    It makes no sense to hire an agent and then fight him every step of the way.

    All of the above rules are part and parcel of the final and most important commandment of the Agents� Bill of Rights:

  4. Treat your agent with respect.

    A real estate agent is a professional and deserves to be treated as one.