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I changed agents in the middle of my apartment hunt. Who gets the commission if I buy?

Check the agreement you signed with your broker before switching to a new one. 

Austin Havens-Bowen for Brick Underground/Flickr

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Question:

I've switched real estate agents since I started looking for a co-op last year, because the agent wasn't giving any insight into pros and cons of the apartments I was seeing. One of the places I went to with my old agent just had a big price cut that is making me reconsider. If I buy it with my current agent, will they get the commission? I don't want to wind up in some kind of commission battle.

Answer:

It's your right to change agents if you're unsatisfied, but make sure to check any contracts you've signed and put your decision in writing, our experts say.

If you signed an agreement with the first broker, carefully review the document to see what they are legally entitled to by working for you. There should be a cancellation clause in the agreement, which may stipulate that you give your first broker a certain amount of notice before ending the relationship.

"In order to be entitled to a commission, an agent must be the 'procuring cause' of the transaction," says Jeffrey Reich, a partner at the law firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. "Merely introducing a buyer to a property may not be enough to entitle an agent to a commission."

Being a "procuring cause" means that the apartment was sold as a result of the agent's work. Since that's not the case here, and your previous agent was unable to help you negotiate the price of the apartment you're interested in now, they shouldn't be entitled to the commission for its sale. 

Still, it's best to cover all your bases by formally letting the first agent know about the switch. 

"You are a consumer, and you are able to work with whoever you think will represent you in the way you want to be represented," says Deanna Kory, a broker with Corcoran. "The thing that you should do is write to the exclusive sales agent and let them know that you are switching agents. Or if you do not want to have representation and go to the seller's agent directly, write that as well." 

Kory suggests emailing the first agent and getting confirmation from them about your decision. It's a good idea to bring your new agent up to speed, as well. 

Consider giving the first agent a bit of explanation as to why you've chosen to work with someone else. 

"I personally like to be given some feedback," Kory says. "It helps people who are concerned about their service quality rectify any issue in the future." 

The broker-client relationship can be a sensitive one, so when you're considering hiring a new agent, look for someone with a good reputation, who works with an established firm, and feels like a good personality match for you. 


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