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If you’re reading this, you’re probably in a bit of pickle. Maybe you—and not your real estate agent—found your dream home in an online listing. And in this hot real estate market, you asked your agent to make the offer for you.
But perhaps the relationship with your agent isn’t gelling—whether it’s due to a lack of confidence, unanswered texts, or a personality clash.
Though you can see the light at the end of the homebuying tunnel, you still feel unsettled and want to switch agents to close the deal. Is switching real estate agents even possible in the final stretch? In short, sometimes. Here are the crucial factors you should know about the process before you decide.
Can you change buyer’s agents after making an offer?
“There is no universal answer to the question. The devil is really in the details of any possible switch,” says Steven Goldschmidt, broker and director of sales for New York’s Warburg Realty.
Laws vary by state, but generally buyers have the right to representation and can change agents if they are not satisfied with the service.
But the timing of the switch can be an issue, especially when it comes to figuring out who’s entitled to the commission fees. For example, if your agent has only shown you properties without making any offers, you can usually switch brokers without the original broker claiming a commission.
“On the other hand, if the original broker has gone so far as to make an offer on a property, the buyer would be hard-pressed to be able to make a change at that late date,” adds Goldschmidt. “The original broker might claim a commission as the procuring cause of the transaction.” (Procuring cause means the agent directed the buyer to a house.)
Did you sign a contract?
Another critical piece of the puzzle to consider before switching buyer’s agents is whether or not you signed a contract. Real estate contracts vary depending on if you are a buyer or a seller.
“The situation involving buyers is more nuanced than the situation involving a seller,” says Goldschmidt. “Where sellers are bound by the terms of the exclusive listing agreement they signed, buyers do not always sign agreements with an agent.”
But if you did sign a buyer’s agency agreement, you and your agent have agreed to an exclusive working arrangement for a period of time, generally six months.
“And you may not be able to terminate the relationship,” says Nathan Perkins Jr., an agent with Century 21 Envision in Upper Marlboro, MD. “The agent will still receive full commission no matter the situation unless you file a complaint with the real estate commission.”
Procuring cause and effect
So even if you’re headed to closing on your dream house, it is possible to switch to a new agent who works for an entirely different brokerage or agency. But there’s still the thorny issue of who gets the commission—the agent that made the offer or the new agent you selected. At what point does an agent have the right to claim a commission as the procuring cause?
“If an agent, let’s call them Agent 1, takes a buyer out and shows the buyer several properties, but the buyer is dissatisfied and wants another agent, Agent 2, to submit and negotiate an offer to a successful closing, the procuring cause of the transaction is Agent 2,” says Goldschmidt. Generally, an agent has to do more than show a property to be considered the procuring cause of the transaction.
In some cases, two buyer’s agents in the same agency work for one client.
“Switching Realtors but staying with the firm is possible,” says Perkins. “If that is the case, the commission would be split between both agents.”
Breaking up is hard to do
Even though you may be able to switch agents, ask yourself whether it’s a wise decision.
“If the offer is accepted and a deal is moving forward, it could complicate things by switching buyer representation,” says Michael J. Franco, a broker at Compass in New York City. “A new agent might be very leery about coming on board if they are apprised of all of the facts. It could result in a dispute over who is entitled to the co-broker commission based upon who procured the sale.”
Yes, the primary role of a buyer’s agent is to represent your interests and guide you through the complexities of buying a home. Still, it’s also a professional relationship—and we know that relationships take commitment and work from both sides. Truth be told, you might be unwittingly guilty of committing some things agents hate.
Since you’ve come so far and your agent has already made an offer on your behalf, it may be prudent (albeit awkward) to have a heart-to-heart before switching agents. It’s probably not too late for your agent to validate and address your concerns. If you can work it out, you’ll both walk away with a successful and amicable homebuying experience.