How do I terminate a listing agreement?

May 21, 2012

The listing agreement is a personal services contract. The contract is between you and the real estate company or broker, not the agent. Most brokers work extremely hard to manage and coach their agents and have set protocols to respond to customers concerns. Without all the details, my advice must be general in nature so as not to mislead you as to what the broker would do if you asked to be released….

Reader Question: To terminate a listing agreement may not be easy. We just listed our home with a company 3 weeks ago and we have some concerns on the Realtors marketing of our home. I emailed him ( so as to document it) and voiced my concerns in the method being used, MLS only. There are no signs for open house, (wife is always home), and I have to initiate the phone calls to the Broker. We are in our 3rd week and had just 2 prospective buyers. When we listed our home with this Broker, he said he had at least 4 prospected buyers interested in our location. Still waiting… What are my options if things don’t change… I’m tied into this contract until Nov. 1, 2012. “Help !!!!!”  Frank G.

Monty’s Answer: I do not know your relationship with your agent. Have you done business with them in the past? Have you spent much time with them? What made you decide to choose the agent? Did the agent make any promises to you? Was an action plan discussed? Were multiple agents interviewed? How was the asking price determined? How long ago was the email sent? Is the agent the designated broker in the office or under the supervision of another broker? Were your expectations discussed during the listing process?

The listing agreement is a personal services contract. The contract is between you and the real estate company or broker, not the agent. Most brokers work extremely hard to manage and coach their agents and have set protocols to respond to customer’s concerns. You have not yet asked for a release; for this reason, we do not know what the broker will do.

Here, is my suggestion:

Call the agent and set an appointment to meet with them face to face. Do not attempt to voice your concerns on the telephone. Meeting in their office elevates the importance of the discussion. Simply make the appointment to meet with them. Try to meet at their office during normal business hours or perhaps on a Saturday morning.

Go to the meeting with a written agenda. By so doing, you will remember all the relevant points. Get an agreement for a rule to allow both sides to state their points and get them on the table before the other party responds. As the agent responds, write down your thoughts as they speak on your outline so as to stay on track. When they finish responding, give them your feedback. This exercise allows discussion time between each point to reach agreement point by point. Agree on what, when, where, these action plans will take place at each point. It is essential to share your concerns and frustration, but it is also necessary to maintain control so as, not to shout, threaten or be disrespectful. As the saying goes, ” One gains more with an ounce of sugar than with a pound of salt.”

If you get agreement on what they will do to sell the house, when you get home organize your notes about what was agreed. Send a followup email confirming your understanding of the conversation and ask them to respond by a certain date if their understanding is different. Hopefully, this meeting will result in a better understanding of expectations between you. It may go well from here, and your concerns addressed.
If the situation does not improve, your next step is to call again, but this time request the Designated Broker intervene and join the meeting. If the agent balks, call the broker yourself. Repeat steps 2 and 3.

Now, after this discussion, there are several choices on your course of action;

  • Give the agent more time if the broker agrees.
  • Ask to be reassigned to an agent that the broker believes can meet your expectations.
  • Ask to be released from the listing agreement through the use of a cancelation and mutual release form that frees you to list with another broker with no cost or obligation.
  • If choosing the release above, it seems logical to me that the broker might agree to release you if you handle the situation in this fashion. Having given them the opportunity to perform, they have failed to do so under the broker’s supervision and now your only satisfactory alternative is to ask to terminate the agreement.

Here are additional comment and observations to reflect upon as food for thought.

It appears you want to sell to sell the home quickly. Is your agent aware of this fact? Are you aware of market conditions in the neighborhood? Two showings in the first three weeks may be spectacular. When I think of open houses, open house signs are present. There are exceptions in certain communities with rules and restrictions that prevent signs. Could that be the case here?

Every state has different laws and rules pertaining to the listing agreement; it may be beneficial to seek additional advice from the state department that regulates the brokers and agents and even your attorney. DearMonty.com articles may benefit you in your current relationship or help you prevent a repeat when choosing an agent again.

Are your expectations too high? Did the agent set them high in their enthusiasm to convince you to choose them? Or, high expectations are simply a part of your personality? As you suggested, you may be stuck with this until November. Keeping the discussion on a business level increases your odds of terminating the relationship in the best possible way.

I hope you find this information helpful, Frank. Ask if there are other questions.