I’d like to start this article with a disclaimer. In no way do I intend this article as a way to encourage you to fire your real estate agent by cancelling your existing contractual listing agreement with them. But in my role as a Broker/Manager, and as an active real estate agent for almost two decades, I feel it only fair that a homeowner thinking of selling their property understands what it means when you sign a listing agreement, and what you might have to go through to get it cancelled if you ever want to fire your real estate agent.
A listing agreement to sell your property is two sided: the seller’s side, and the brokerage’s side. That might be where your first ‘surprise’ might come from if you’ve ever had to cancel a listing agreement in the past. Your listing contract is not with the real estate agent, but with their brokerage.
Based on the contents of the listing agreement, both the seller and the real estate brokerage have responsibilities, duties and obligations they must fulfill. It would only make sense that if one party did not fulfill their share of the responsibilities, the other party could cancel the contract, right?
In my career selling properties as a real estate agent, I’ve never had to cancel a listing agreement because of failing to fulfill my obligations to my client. In my years of being a Broker/Manager, it’s a different story. There are instances where I’ve been in a situation where a request by the seller to cancel a listing agreement was a result of another real estate agent outside my brokerage soliciting the listing. And there were some instances where sellers felt their real estate agent wasn’t doing the job of selling their property.
If you’re thinking about selling your property, here are a few things you need to know if you ever reach the point that you’re considering firing your real estate agent. To make it easier to understand, I’m going to continue this article in the form of questions and answers, with homeowners planning to sell property asking the questions, and me providing the answers.
Q: Can I cancel my listing anytime?
A: In most cases, no. Unless your real estate agent expressly guarantees that your satisfaction is of utmost importance to them (which is what I did for my clients), and that they’re open to cancelling your listing if they ever fail in providing adequate service, the way the listing agreement is worded, you are committed to the time period specified which is typically a minimum of three months, though some real estate agents sign clients on for longer — anywhere from six months to a year or more. When you read OREA’s Form 200, the word “cancel” only ever appears once, and it’s in the section that asks you as the homeowner if you ever want to be bombarded by a slew of solicitation calls if your contract were to ever expire. If you’re selling your property and signing a listing agreement, pay attention to the time period you are committing to because in a worse case scenario, you’re going to have to see the contract through until it expires.
Q: What happens if I somehow find my own buyer, perhaps a relative, or someone I know? Can I cancel the agreement and sell the property myself?
A: This would be a different reason for cancelling the agreement, although it is a valid one. However, clause #5 on the listing agreement talks about “referral of enquiries” — meaning you as the homeowner are obligated to let your real estate agent know if your friends, family, and anyone you know (even a random stranger who shows up at your door) asks about your property or wants to put an offer in. I’ve had situations where agents I’m managing have been approached by their sellers after a family member or someone they know wanted to buy the house and bypass the services of the real estate agent.
My advice to you as a seller is this: if you already have a family member, friend or someone you know interested in purchasing your property, and if you want to sell it to them directly, go to a lawyer and have an agreement drafted. Yes, you can also utilize the services of a real estate agent and agree on a fair compensation structure, but do this right in the beginning. Once you sign a listing agreement for a real estate agent to market your property, you’re committed to seeing it through regardless of who purchases your home.
Q: I changed my mind. I don’t want to sell my home. Can I cancel the agreement?
A: This is very rare to happen but it does. For whatever reason, a seller decides they’d rather stay put and keep their house. In a situation like this, you have to ask your real estate agent if you want to cancel. You’ll have to explain your reasoning and if you genuinely want to stay put and not sell your home, your real estate agent can’t really force you, can they?
Chances are they will ‘suspend’ your listing agreement instead of cancel it outright. Since you’re not planning to sell your home anyway, suspending the listing agreement is what some brokerages will do — meaning your contract is still enforceable, but marketing efforts to expose your property to potential buyers will be suspended. You won’t have any showings, your listing will appear as ‘suspended’ on the MLS listing, and you likely won’t get any offers.
Q: I hate my real estate agent and I want to fire them. How do I cancel my listing agreement?
A: The most obvious answer is: you ask. Is your real estate agent and their brokerage obligated to cancel your listing agreement? No, they’re not. Many real estate agents do a lot of work and spend a lot of time, money and resources to market their sellers’ homes. From a business perspective, they won’t let all that effort go to waste. And I agree with real estate agents who work hard for their clients. In some situations, such as difficult markets where homes are taking longer to sell, sellers get frustrated and think something’s wrong with their real estate agent.
In most cases, there are only three things that affect the sale of your home: the condition of your property, the marketing of it, and the price. All three of these can be controlled. You as the seller are responsible for the condition of your house, meaning how clean it is, and how presentable it is. Your real estate agent is responsible for giving your home as much exposure as possible through various marketing efforts in order for it to attract the right buyer. Ultimately, even though it’s the market (and the right buyer) who determines what your home is worth, you and your real estate agent have to agree on the right price that’s realistic with the present market conditions.
Yet in spite of these three obvious and controllable elements affecting the sale of the home, I’ve seen situations where sellers grow frustrated to the point that they hate their real estate agent and want nothing more than to fire them. There are several valid reasons for this as well. Their real estate agent doesn’t communicate with them, doesn’t promote the property, and hasn’t found a buyer in spite of the property being listed for months.
If you as a seller can truthfully say you’ve invested a complete effort in preparing your home to be as presentable as possible and in the best condition possible, and you’ve worked out a price with your real estate agent that is reflective of today’s market conditions, then the fault would lie on your real estate agent failing to properly promote your property to attract the right buyer for you. If your real estate agent isn’t doing anything to market and sell your property, you can most definitely fire them — but even still, you need to go through their brokerage to do that.
In most cases, you’ll need to speak with your real estate agent’s Broker/Manager, or the Broker of Record of the brokerage, and explain why you want your listing to be cancelled. The Broker/Manager or Broker of Record would investigate the activities of your real estate agent, and if your concern is valid, they have the authority to cancel the listing agreement.
In certain cases, brokerages would like to keep your business and may ask you if you’d like to work with another real estate agent. They may transfer the sale of your home to another real estate agent who is much more capable. This option will be presented to you and you get to decide. If you still want to cancel, they may go ahead and do it, or they might just suspend your listing.
Q: Does ‘suspending’ a listing agreement mean the same thing as cancelling it?
A: No. When your listing is suspended it simply means all marketing efforts to promote your listing to attract buyers has been ‘suspended’ but the listing agreement as a contract remains in full effect. Some brokerages will sign a suspension instead of cancelling your listing. This is to protect their interest because of the efforts they may have exerted so far in marketing your property for sale.
There have been numerous cases where I’ve been personally involved and a real estate agent outside of my brokerage is soliciting the seller to sign with them, even though the seller has a listing agreement in effect. Not only is this unethical, it is also prohibited under the rules and regulations that govern the real estate profession.
In cases where my real estate agents have put a lot of effort into marketing the property, and an outside agent is trying to derail their efforts by soliciting the seller directly, I won’t cancel the listing agreement, and the only outcome if the seller doesn’t want to continue with marketing their property is to sign a suspension.
If you’re ever in a situation where you’re selling your property, and another real estate agent is trying to solicit your listing and promising you the world if you cancel the listing agreement with your current agent, be prepared for the brokerage you’re working with to suspend your listing instead of cancelling it.
If you don’t want your listing to be suspended and you just want to cancel, speak with your brokerage’s Broker/Manager or Broker of Record.
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Signing a listing agreement is a serious commitment. Make sure you’re working with a real estate agent and brokerage that will put your interests first and foremost above theirs. Understand each step of the selling process and be realistic with your expectations.
Cancelling a listing agreement is a valid option. Most of the time it’s the seller who initiates this, but sometimes the real estate agent and their brokerage may cancel a listing if they’re working with a property that’s not marketable, or a seller who’s not being realistic.
If you want to fire your real estate agent, speak with them first. Confidently communicate your expectations and if they really want to help you, your real estate agent should be able to value your feedback and give you their advice.
If you still want to fire them and they won’t let you cancel the agreement, escalate the discussion to their Broker/Manager or Broker of Record.
If the Broker/Manager or Broker of Record doesn’t want to cancel your listing agreement, and if you feel the brokerage is doing you harm and not protecting your best interests, you’ll have to escalate your case further to the Real Estate Council of Ontario to file a complaint.
I can only hope that you find the right real estate agent and real estate brokerage to deal with who will properly communicate their selling process to you and achieve the best outcome for the sale of your home. In case that doesn’t happen, at least you know what you can do to fire them.