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Coping with Incompetent and Unethical People

Overseeing Your Home Buying Transaction

Are you uneasy about the events taking place during your home buying transaction? Is your real estate agent, attorney, or other person involved less than helpful--or worse, unethical, asking you to do things you feel uneasy about?

There are posts every day on the Home Buying and Selling Forum from unhappy buyers and sellers who are (rightly) confused and upset about the path their transactions are taking. What's unfortunate is that many of them feel uncomfortable confronting the people who are causing the problems. Don't let that happen to you!

You'll find as many unethical and incompetent people in real estate as you do in other life situations. Agents, attorneys, buyers, sellers, mortgage people, appraisers, surveyors--they can all create problems.

It's Your Money, Your Time, Your Future

Would you put up with poor service from your auto repair person or from the plumber who fixes your kitchen sink? Of course not, so don't let it happen when you purchase a home. Never let anyone push your questions aside or talk you into doing something that you feel will hurt your present or future ownership interests. Trust your instincts--if something doesn't feel right, start asking questions now

Examples of Common Problems

My agent is also the agent for the seller and is taking sides against me.

Are you the agent's client or customer? There's a big difference. You are a customer if you did not sign a contract with the agent, agreeing to allow him to represent your interests.

Both customers and clients should be treated with care and honesty, but a listing agent working with a buyer customer is duty-bound to get the best deal for his client--the seller.

Learn the facts about working with agents. If you feel your needs are not being met, or that the agent was less than honest about how he could help you with the sale, explain your situation to the broker in charge of the real estate firm and ask to switch agents. The listing agent won't want to do that because it means a reduction of commission, but press for a solution:

  1. The agent refers you to another agent in the office (the original agent would be paid a referral fee)

  2. The broker in charge takes over your transaction

Staying within the same office doesn't truly solve the problem, because all agents in that office represent the seller--but it shifts the responsibility of helping you away from the listing agent--the agent with the most personal relationship with the seller.

Similar problems occur when attorneys represent both the buyer and seller, especially when one of them has worked with the attorney in the past. Switch attorneys within the firm or go elsewhere.

The seller didn't make the repairs agreed to in the contract

We had a case where a listing agent from another firm told us that a home's agreed-on repairs were nearly finished, but they hadn't even been started. It's uncertain if the agent knew the information was bogus or was simply passing on statements from an unethical seller.

Don't take someone else's word that repairs are complete. You and your home inspector should check repair progress as early as possible, well before closing, not at your final walk-through.

Delay closing if you find that repairs have not been made, or go ahead and close, but insist that a portion of the seller's proceeds are held in trust to pay for repairs after closing. Hold at least two times the estimated repair amount in a neutral party's trust account, with a written agreement that states who controls their use.

Personally, I think you should control the funds. It's your house now and you want the repairs to be completed by a reputable person. Unethical sellers will be looking for the least expensive alternative in order to get a portion of their funds back. They don't care about the quality of repairs.

My closing agent hasn't sent me the final paperwork

If it's four months after closing and you are still waiting for your title insurance policy and other documents that weren't available at closing, demand that the closing agent provide them.

Making Complaints

Nearly every person involved with helping you buy or sell real estate is governed by a licensing board in their state.

  • Agents are controlled by state commissions. Local Board of Realtor offices also accept complaints about their members.
  • Attorneys are controlled by a State Bar.
  • Bankers answer to banking commissions.

Search at the state level to find the governmental agency that accepts complaints against the person creating your problem. Keep a written log of the events that are taking place, since specifics might be difficult to remember if you must make a statement to an agency (or in court) months later.

Every Transaction is Different

There are hundreds of potential problems that can occur during a real estate transaction. Don't hesitate to speak up, and keep speaking up until all problems are resolved.

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