Did you know that Business Insider reported a 9% increase in lawsuits against real estate agents in 2022?
The truth is that sometimes, client-agent relationships go south. Whether it is due to being misled, misrepresented, or actual fraud, a client may have reason not only to cut ties with an agent but to report them.
So, can you report a real estate agent? Clients can and should report real estate agents who have failed to uphold their fiduciary duty. Even where compensation is not the result, it is essential for clients to speak up about agent misdealings to ensure they don’t repeat offenses.
In this article, we’ll explore when and how you can act if you believe your agent has crossed professional lines. By reading on, you will be armed with knowledge to protect your interests and ensure fair play in your property dealings. So, let’s unravel this together!
How to File a Complaint Against a Real Estate Agent
As an agent, it is a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that there may be instances where clients feel wronged by their agents. These relational hardships could even extend from agent to agent. We covered some of these reasons in our take on how real estate agents lose their licenses.
It’s, therefore, crucial to understand that if you believe your agent has acted inappropriately or unprofessionally, you have every right and are encouraged to report them. However, before embarking on any formal complaint process, ensure that, indeed, the agent committed a misstep.
What to Do Before Filing a Complaint?
Before filing an official complaint, there are several steps you can take that might help resolve the issue more quickly and without added expenses. The first step is trying to address your concerns with the real estate agent directly.
This could involve explaining your grievances clearly and calmly in a face-to-face meeting or over a phone call.
If this approach doesn’t yield satisfactory results or isn’t possible due to circumstances, consider contacting the agent’s manager or broker.
These individuals hold responsibility for overseeing their team’s conduct and should be informed about any issues concerning their staff members.
As part of this process, it would serve you well to gather all supporting documents and evidence related to your case – emails, text messages, and contract papers. Gather anything that helps substantiate your claim against the agent.
When communicating with either party (the agent themselves or their broker), make sure they understand what resolution you’re seeking from them: an apology? A refund? Cancellation of contract? Be clear about what outcome will satisfy your grievance so they know precisely how best they can rectify things for you.
Remember, these initial steps should ideally be pursued before considering filing an official complaint, as they often provide quicker resolutions at less expense than legal proceedings.
Where to File a Complaint
If communication with the broker and their agent doesn’t yield, you can take matters higher up the real estate command channel. Every state has several authorities from whom you could seek intervention.
Real Estate Licensing Authorities
One option is your state real estate commission or board. These entities are explicitly designed to oversee and regulate the industry, making them an ideal place to address any grievances.
Visit the licensing agency’s website. There, you will find a link to file a complaint. The link is characterized by the anchor “File a Complaint.”
You will be redirected to a place where you can access the complaint form. Licensing bodies will need you to be very direct about the events that led to and caused the offense.
For example, the California Department of Real Estate requires complainants filing form 519 to answer:
Real Estate Associations
Real estate associations are also an excellent place to take real estate complaints. These associations have ethics committees dedicated to ensuring fair practices within their membership.
An example in this category is the National Association of Realtors. The NAR has an elaborate code of ethics all realtors are expected to follow.
If they find that an agent has erred, they can help enforce professional standards of conduct. But before approaching any association, the NAR included, verify that the agent is a member.
With their trademark, realtors are an easy group to identify. Look at the agent’s business card or listings for the prestigious trademark.
Better Business Bureau
Another avenue for lodging complaints is through consumer-oriented organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or other consumer protection agencies. The BBB, for instance, allows consumers to submit complaints about businesses that they feel have wronged them.
These could range from misrepresentation of property details to unfair pricing practices.
Do note that you will have to contact your local BBB division. Once you place your city within the search on the BBB website, you should be transported to the closest office in your locale.
Attorney General’s Office
For severe allegations involving violation of laws and regulations, such as fraud or discrimination in housing transactions, turning towards legal authorities might be necessary. In this case, contacting your Department of Justice or the consumer protection division of the Attorney General’s office would be advisable.
Individuals who would like to report agents specifically for criminal activity in the State of California are advised to visit either or both the local district attorney and the general attorney’s office.
Civil Court or Arbitration Services
Finally, if all else fails and resolution seems out of reach through these avenues alone, consider pursuing action via civil court proceedings or arbitration services. These entities may offer you a formalized process for dispute resolution.
Each path has its set procedures and timelines, so ensure you understand what’s required before taking action.
What to Expect After Filing a Complaint
After you’ve taken the step to file a complaint, it’s natural to wonder what comes next. Let’s look at what to expect:
Process and Timeline
The process and timeline can vary depending on the nature of your grievance.
But generally speaking, once your complaint is filed, it will be reviewed by the appropriate authority or department. They’ll scrutinize every detail before deciding whether further action is warranted.
If you consider the real estate licensing body, they must first determine if the agent in question is licensed within their jurisdiction and whether they violated real estate laws.
Organizations like the BBB, however, can question most businesses. But before investigating any activity, they must decide if your complaint fits their investigation criteria.
Where time is in question, the BBB promises resolutions within 30 days. But other complaint-handling agencies cannot guarantee time.
Think about this in terms of a real-world example: imagine you’re lodging a complaint against faulty plumbing work in your house. After filing, an inspector from the local council might visit your property to examine the issue firsthand. Depending on their findings and workload, this could take anywhere from days to weeks.
Potential Outcomes and Remedies
The potential outcomes and remedies also differ greatly based on each case. If we continue with our plumbing scenario, if found guilty of poor craftsmanship, the plumber may be required to rectify their mistakes at no extra cost or provide financial compensation for any damage caused.
But the nature of the outcome also depends on the authority you approach. Licensing bodies like the California Department of Real Estate cannot give you a refund or order the agent to end the contract. These, however, are outcomes courts can demand.
Not all decisions go as planned, which brings us to appeal options and rights. These are designed as safety nets should you feel dissatisfied with how things turned out.
Filing an appeal often happens at a higher level. If you feel a lower authority has failed to protect your rights adequately, you can reach out to an agency higher up in the channel.
In some cases, like our hypothetical plumbing disaster, you might have grounds for an appeal if new evidence emerges after resolution or if procedural errors occurred during the investigation.
Although appealing may seem like another hurdle in an already exhausting process, it’s there as part of ensuring justice is served correctly. And that’s something we can all appreciate when navigating difficult situations such as these.
How to Avoid Future Problems with Real Estate Agents
Congratulations, your complaint has been resolved. But how can you escape such ordeals in the future?
Tip #1: Do Your Research
The first step in avoiding future problems with real estate agents is doing your homework before choosing or partnering with an agent. This involves more than just a casual Google search. It requires diligent research.
Look for online reviews, ask friends, family, or colleagues for referrals, and don’t hesitate to interview multiple agents until you find one that fits your needs like a glove. It’s essential to ensure they are licensed and experienced, but equally important is finding someone who aligns well with your personality and approach.
Tip #2: Journal Everything
Once you’ve found the right agent, clarity becomes paramount. Be explicit about what you expect from them and make sure all agreements are put in writing, whether it’s listing agreements or buyer representation contracts.
This way, you ensure there’s no room for misinterpretation down the line.
Tip #3: Establish Open Communication
Open communication channels form the backbone of any successful relationship with a real estate agent. Address issues as soon as they crop up instead of letting minor hiccups snowball into major headaches later on.
Clear communication isn’t just about voicing concerns; it’s also about articulating your needs effectively.
Tip #4: Ask Questions
Understanding every detail is crucial when dealing with transactions, especially those involving large purchases. If anything seems unclear or confusing, don’t shy away from asking questions until everything makes sense to you.
The aim here is not only to avoid surprises but also to empower yourself by knowing exactly where your money is going. This way, you turn the property buying or selling process into a rewarding journey instead of a stressful experience.
A Guide to Avoiding Future Hiccups
Navigating the world of real estate can be tricky, but understanding your rights and how to protect them is vital. Remember, you have every right to report a real estate agent if they fail in their professional duties or act unethically.
If you believe a real estate agent has wronged you:
1. Document all interactions: Keep records of emails, text messages, and other communication.
2. Speak up: Address concerns directly with the agent first.
3. Reach out higher: If unsatisfied with responses from the agent or broker, consider filing a formal complaint.
4. Choose wisely next time: Thoroughly research agents before selecting another real estate professional.
Do you have experience dealing with unethical practices in property transactions? Or perhaps tips on how best to navigate these situations? We’d love to hear about it! Share your insights below!