How To Break Up With Your Real Estate Agent

Dealing with your real estate agent shouldn't be one of life's stressors. But the truth is, the wrong individual can have you rethinking your decision to move. One of the biggest complaints against real estate agents is they don't communicate well, according to Forbes – and poor communication skills can turn a real estate transaction sour in myriad ways.

Just imagine: Maybe the agent keeps you in the dark about an open house, and now you're scrambling to spruce up for potential buyers. Maybe you're about to sign a contract to rent a shore house with your pooch, and the agent never mentioned dogs were off-limits. Or how about finding out way too late that the agent thinks he could have gotten $50,000 more for your ranch? Other big complaints identified by Forbes are lying and laziness, negative qualities that'll get you Tom Hanks' "Money Pit" with a raccoon in the dumbwaiter, not your dream house. If you think that bad communication skills or any number of other shortcomings will work against you as a buyer or seller, you may be able to free yourself even if you signed an agreement.

Here are just a few ways to break up with your real estate agent. Of course, the best way to avoid this hassle is to investigate the agent at the start, because we all know that breakups are painful — and even a bottom-of-the-barrel agent may have invested time and energy .

You can just walk away from your agent if there's no contract

Buyers who haven't signed a broker agreement hitching them to a particular agent can walk out the door without legal constraints and into the arms of a new agent. That kind of ease does not exist when a buyer-broker agreement is in effect. A buyer-broker agreement is a contract, and as such, legally binds you to the terms of the contract until it expires, says The Balance. Bottom line: With a buyer-broker agreement, you have consented to work with a particular agent to buy a home, which makes a breakup complicated. But if you haven't signed and irreconcilable differences develop, there's nothing keeping you.

Sellers could also avoid legal hoops in parting company with their sales agent. Once again, it comes down to whether a contract is in place, binding the seller to a particular agent. Because it would be relatively easy to go from agent to agent without a contract, few agents work that way. One of the first steps they will take is sit you down to sign documents, including a listing agreement. A listing agreement is a contract, giving the sales agent authority to list your house for a certain length of time, says Nolo. There's even an exclusive-right-to-sell agreement that means only your sales agent can sell the house (and get the commission). Not every agent gets an exclusive; it's really a case of let the seller beware of what they're signing.

Should you break up with your real estate agent via email?

As in life, there are many ways to break up with someone, some kinder than others. Notifying your real estate agent can be a simple as sending a text or email, calling them on the telephone, or contacting another office staff member if you feel too uncomfortable to deal with the agent directly, U.S. News & World Report suggests. 

While an email or text can sever the relationship in minutes, most agents would rather hear about the impending breakup straightaway, and definitely before they get the bad news from someone else, says Apartment Therapy. It's paramount to make sure that the agent knows you are heading in another direction. Consider the awkward moment that would arise if two real estate agents bump into each other, each searching for your home sweet home. Contract or no contract, feelings can get hurt, and you may run into the agent if you're moving into the neighborhood. No sense starting out in a negative light. 

Keep in mind that these methods are just to get the news out about the breakup without delay. In many cases, you'll want to follow up with a letter to avoid misunderstandings and a potential war between your old and new sales agents over a future commission.

Having a change of heart about moving? Your agent probably won't mind

It's unlikely any agent will force a seller to leave their house if they no longer want to move. If your contract is with the agent or brokerage firm and not a buyer, your change of heart may be greeted with understanding and a willingness to accommodate. An agent will want to keep the door open in the event you decide to sell in the future — maybe when the kids create an empty nest. 

For agents, it's good practice to treat customers kindly to keep those referrals coming. "If you just decide that you no longer want to sell the property, agents are very good about that," Carol Mazur, owner of The Top Producer Group, told U.S. News & World Report. "They're always going to put their customers first. They never want to force someone to move."

Your agent may forgive, but buyers could take you to court, as it's rarely simple to change your mind after entering a contract with a buyer. "I do these cases all the time, but it's generally a very tough case for the seller and typically you would rather be on the buyer side," L.A. lead attorney Zachary D. Schorr told Bankrate. "It's easier for a buyer to cancel and hard for a seller to get away without a penalty."

Examine your contract and search for a cancellation clause

A mountain of paperwork — that's what it may look like when you sit down with a sales agent to sign documents at the beginning of your relationship, whether as a seller or a buyer. No one likes paperwork, and you may have reached the point of just blindly signing — including the contract that sets the tone for your working relationship. Now, you're going to want to take a hard look at that contract for an escape clause. Yes, the exit door is written into some real estate contracts, but it may take reading the fine print to find it. 

As you examine the contract, look for terms on how to leave your agent without breaking the law, because, a contract is a legal document. Also pointing to the cancellation clause as key to a successful breakup, Hawaii Realtor Alex Cortez told Realtor, "It will disclose under what conditions it can be terminated prior to its expiration." For instance, the buyer-broker contract may dictate giving the agent 48 hours notice of the impending breakup, according to Realty Times. The contract may also require a buyer who fails to give advance notice to financially compensate the agent, warns HomeLight. 

As a seller, reading the fine print on the listing agreement signed with your agent could also point to a cancellations section. Here you may find what is expected of the agent, a good gauge to see if they deserve a breakup.

Make it official with a termination letter

No matter how you choose to first tell your real estate agent, you will need to follow up with a termination letter to protect your interests, according to Realty Times. It's not enough to just call the sales agent and give your relationship the axe. Your choice to break ties must be in writing; ditto for their response. For added protection, get the agent or broker to void the contract. 

Taking these steps is not a mere formality. You will need written proof that both you and the agent agreed to sever the relationship, especially if a conflict over commission costs arises later. No drop in the bucket, a commission can be 5% to 6% of a home's selling price, according to Redfin. If your NYC condo sold for $500,000, the agents would be splitting $25,000 with a 5% commission.

If this is a broker-buyer agreement, San Diego real estate agent Beverly Hourlier told Realtor, in most cases the breakup can be cemented with a letter of cancellation or termination. "Make sure you get a signed termination from the Realtor just to cover your bases," Hourlier recommends. This will go a long way to safeguard you from future disputes that might surface in this often-unpredictable real estate industry. A seller can also write a letter to try to cancel their real estate listing agreement — in essence fire their real estate agent. This request should be made without delay, says The Balance.

Getting out of a tight contract may take proof against your real estate agent

There may be grounds to send a termination letter if you can prove your real estate agent has fallen short on the job. While many sales agent work hard and have your best interest at heart, there may be a few bad apples. Consider whether your expectations are realistic: You don't want to go through a breakup and then find out the next sales agent also can't meet your demands in the current market. If you can truly say your real estate agent is not doing the job, it's important to back that up with proof. Strong evidence stands a chance of shaking a tight contract, says Realty Times.

According to Zillow, the listing contract outlines responsibilities that the sales agent must fulfill. That may include extensive marketing with professional photos. You can use this list to see where a real estate agent is derelict. It is also expected that the sales agent keep their new clients up-to-date and not disappear without responding to calls. Again, it comes down to poor communication, and that's a huge flaw with a major investment like real estate. If none of this happens, you may have a basis to contest the contract.

Buyers and sellers can ask the real estate agent to cancel the contract

If there is no hard evidence against your real estate agent, but you're still disappointed and feel it's best to move on, you also have a chance with a polite request for the sales agent to let you off the hook. They may be swamped with customers and not regret cutting the strings, knowing that it may help preserve their reputation. The direct approach may be especially helpful if you've entered an exclusive agreement to work with only this particular agent as a buyer or seller. Those agreements are much harder to break. 

For instance, a buyer who has granted an exclusive for six or more months may not find any legal grounds to ditch the sales agent. But rather than endure months of misery, they could go straight to the sales agent and ask them to please cancel the contract. The sales agent may not want to continue to work for someone who is that unhappy with their work. If they have not invested much time or energy (perhaps it's early in the process), they may be willing to let go without a fight, according to Rocket Mortgage.

"A lot of Realtors don't handle rejection well," Montana agent Kelly Parks told Homes. "You have to be gracious and courteous and remember that people will remember your reaction to the situation. They'll remember it. If you handle it badly, it's not a good representation of yourself."

Go to the broker if your exit strategy hits a snag

For buyers who find themselves stuck in place, the broker may be a help, Money advises. Real estate agents are independent contractors, but they are not an island. Rather, they typically work in an office that is run by a broker. Brokers have experience selling real estate, so they possess extensive knowledge of the business. They just might convince the sales agent to let the relationship end smoothly. "Most of the time, the broker will force the agent to let the buyer go," Jason Gelios, a Southeast Michigan agent, tells Money. Sure the broker will be losing business, but perhaps not your future business. It's often worth it to the broker to release you from a contract now and remain in your good graces, according to Moving.

Like the firm but not the agent? Brokers may arrange for you to work with another agent who can get the job done without triggering the same concerns as the first agent. Brokers are accustomed to smoothing the waters when relationships get rocky and are usually just a phone call away. 

Wait until your real estate contract expires

If you can't find a broker willing to let you out of a real estate contract, take solace in the fact that these contracts have an expiration date. For a listing agreement, the average expiration date, according to HomeLight, is six months, but the timeframe can range from 30 days to one year. Sellers can walk away once a contract expires without owing any money or fees. There is an exception, though: If a buyer who looked at the house with the old agent comes back and makes an offer in up to 90 days, commission may go to the former sales rep. That's accomplished through a safety clause in the contract to protect agents and their revenue, says HomeLight For a buyer-broker agreement, the typical cut-off date is six months, although variations of 30 days to one year can happen. 

According to Money, sellers generally will have a tougher time getting out of a contract with their agent than buyers. This is why an expiration date is so important. Starting out, a seller might have signed paperwork to hire the agent exclusively without reading all the fine print. No mere formality, an exclusive right-to-sell agreement gives the sales agent first dibs. The bad news: Seldom do these agreements have an exit clause. The good news: The time spent waiting for an expiration date may be an opportunity to smooth the rocky relationship between the seller and agent — and maybe sell that house.

Sellers may break up with their agent if they compensate them

The real estate world is one that revolves around finances. Take care of your agent's expenses, and they may be more willing to cancel that contract. The agent's other key concern is making sure they don't get cheated out of commission. Addressing that financial fear goes a long way toward facilitating your breakup. 

When it comes to reimbursing the agent for expenses, you may wonder about the bottom line. The source for this information is your listing agreement, which often spells out all the fees designed to cover the agent's expenses, according to Realtor. Besides time and effort invested in trying to sell your home, the agent may have doled out for marketing, photography, and the cost of posting the property on the multiple real estate listing sites. Losing a client will be a lot easier for the agent to deal with if not losing all this cash as well.

In addition, if the sales agent did a lot of work, they may be entitled to some commission even if you jump ship to another agent. Again, the contract is a good source of info. One of the features to look for is a broker protection clause. This allows the broker to get full commission if a sale goes through within a certain amount of time after the contract expires, says The Balance. Good to know before your breakup.

Communicate to save your relationship with your real estate agent

Perhaps you really wanted to break it off with your real estate agent at the start of this article, but now are having second thoughts. That may be a good thing. Before working on a breakup, it behooves a buyer, seller, or renter to see if the waters of contention can be calmed. There are myriad issues to consider: Maybe the inventory of homes is so sparse where you're looking to buy that any agent would have a tough time delivering on your dream house. Or if you're a seller, maybe your beach house isn't move-in ready and that's discouraging working families who don't have the time or money to invest on repairs. Communication and realism may save the relationship and get what's in everyone's best interest: a successful transaction. 

The contract itself, according to Zillow, may specify how disputes will be settled. This makes the contract an ideal starting point for saving the relationship as well as breaking it off. NYC sales agent Carol Staab suggests a sit down to talk through the problems, and letting the agent know your concerns and expectations. This may save the relationship as common goals are reinforced. After all, you and your sales agent should have the same mission at heart, sharing smiles and good fortune at the end of a real estate journey.