Unethical ... Me?

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Realty



The stinging words that a Realtor does not want to hear ... "You are Unethical".  Words that I had the misfortune of receiving as they were carelessly tossed at me in a telephone conversation.  The other party .. the listing agent who had earned the reputation in our community as one that is a challenge to work with at times. 

The story began as I was representing and working with buyers who were moving to area.  We had looked for several days to find that special home but I had failed to see that light up expression of excitement come across their face.  Their time in town was limited and now we were reaching towards the end of their visit.  With home under contract, my clients were becoming anxious and had decided to "settle" on a property, the best of their choices.  After making sure this is what they really wanted to do, we launched forward with an offer.

Offer submitted to the listing agent, my clients fly back home and are now poised for negotiations.  Indeed, the seller responded and the ball was in our court .. when a brand new listing comes up on MLS and yes, it is what I feel is a true match.  I send the new information to my clients and they too seem excited .. I viewed the home and it indeed was just what my clients were seeking.  But wait, we have the ball in our court with a counter. 

I was instructed to stall on a buyer's response to the seller's counter which I did .. tap dancing away (one of the talent's I guess we need as a Realtor).  My clients flew back, looked at the home and within a day they loved the house!  Then came the question from my client .. can we have two offers submitted at the same time?  We just want to make sure we will be able to reasonably purchase this great home but don't want to risk losing the other. 

We have option periods and the right to terminate here in Texas.  Although I personally do not like to juggle balls in the air to see where they land, I did have to respond to my client .. yes you can have two offers out and even two contracts accepted.  I went on to explain the loss of option fee and their risks, I also threw in the feelings of the seller who would receive a termination, etc.  With that .. proceed, submit an offer on the new home while the ball is still in the court with the past offer.

The new home worked out and a successful contract was put in place.  The first offer never went to a contract as it had stalled out with the ball in our court, counter never accepted.  The other home had remained Active on MLS, never was under contract.  When I called the first agent to explain that my clients were withdrawing from the negotiation but wanted to express appreciation to the seller for the counter, etc. the listing agent inquired as to why .. reasonable question as the seller surly would want to know.  I explained that the home, although lovely was just not right for my clients and they came to realize they were compromising some of their needs. 

A few days later the phone call came .. You are so unethical ... the agent had found out that my clients went under contract on an agent's listing in her office.  I was unethical because it was not right to leave her seller hanging in an negotiation for so long.  She had invested so much time working this offer in a very busy time while her partner was out and she was covering a lot .. on & on.  So I just let her vent and just listened and then said .. I personally would not have preferred to handled the negotiations in that manner but that was not my choice.  You see, my clients after inquiring and being told of their rights and also about the risks instructed me to move in the manner they chose.  It was a right they have, not illegal, not wrong just not one that was a popular choice.  As far as unethical .. please watch your accusations and be sure of your stance before you make that judgment.  You are welcome to file with the state a complaint if you feel I have acted unethically.  (At the time I was a member of the state ethic's board, a fact I did not share with the Realtor).

We are at time faced with the responsibility of representing our client's wishes even when the permitted option they choose is not popular.  We are also faced with remaining professional in the moment and working with other agents who present challenges.   This happened about 3 years ago and I have had the opportunity to work with this agent a few more times .. our bridges did cross again.  No ethics complaint was ever launched and the transactions we did together after this event went very smooth.   

Comments (83)

Brenda Mullen
RE/MAX Access - Schertz, TX
Your San Antonio TX Real Estate Agent!!

I haven't read all of the comments so I am sure this has been said, but I am sure that I learned in Real Estate School that a counter is actually a rejection of the first offer, it is NOT a true contract.  If the counter was never responded to, you weren't really in any kind of negotiations nor under option.  If you were under option, then you are still good, because as the listing agent should know and should advise her clients, option gives the buyers the unrestricted right to pull from the contract for whatever reason, (to include buyer's remorse). 

Bottom line, you WERE NOT unethical.  You were responding to YOUR clients needs and you have NO obligation to the listing agent or her clients.  They didn't change anything in the MLS, so technically she was still advertising her property.  

Now, would I be annoyed as a listing agent...probably, but I wouldn't call you unethical.  Glad your clients found the perfect home for them :)!

Feb 06, 2011 01:41 AM
Irene Kennedy Realtor® in Northwestern NJ
Weichert - Lopatcong, NJ


We all know that our sellers (and ourselves) get disappointed when negotiations do not result in a deal.  A far cry from unethical...

Feb 06, 2011 02:19 AM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

I don't see the ethical violation here. I sit on the ethics panel for my AOR and while I am certainly no expert I do not see the issue. Sounds more like sour grapes to me. There was no contract.

BUt it is a good lesson for those who might get into this situation and keeping careful notes, counseling and guiding our clients appropriately will keep them and us out of trouble.

Feb 06, 2011 02:43 AM
Kim Dean
www.GoSimplyTexas.com - McKinney, TX
Simply Texas Real Estate - Broker/Owner

Connie - Jeff (#66) is right - sour grapes. It's a strange part of our job that we sometimes have to do something that *we* normally wouldn't do - but if it is ethical and legal we have that duty to our clients to do as they wish. You did the right thing.

Feb 06, 2011 03:00 AM
Brian Madigan
RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto) - Toronto, ON
LL.B., Broker


This is difficult. But, your obligation is to act for your client. From the seller's perspective, that's one of the risks. They should have accepted your first offer rather than countering. They accepted the risk of countering, that's just what happens.

In a very busy market, when it's hot and there are bidding wars, buyers often have several offers out there at the same time. They are often bidding against the same people, and they just hope that they will get one.

In a slow market, the ethics don't change, but I do appreciate that the sellers were disappointed.

Their feelings have nothing to do with your ethical obligations.


Feb 06, 2011 03:29 AM
Pamela Seley
West Coast Realty Division - Murrieta, CA
Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA

I agree with Lenn who points out the counter is a new offer.  Buyers are free to move on.  Of course, as a listing agent I don't like to hear buyers making multiple offers, and my listing being one of them, but I know this happens.  From experience I have standard protocol now to prevent my sellers from being left in the dust.

Connie, you handled it ethically and did nothing wrong.  You got your buyers in to the home they love!  Job well done.  

Feb 06, 2011 04:31 AM
Nancy Conner
Olympia, WA
Olympia/Thurston County WA

Too bad that the listing agent's frustration & disappointment led her to make accusations that just aren't true.  Nothing unethical in what you did that I can see.  But a  good reminder that agents should always make sure their clients understand that the moment they counteroffer, the other party can walk away - it's the risk they take. 

Feb 06, 2011 05:38 AM
Dan Falco
Assist-2-Sell Buyers and Sellers Advantage - Newtown, PA
Assist 2 Sell Full Service Discount Broker

Connie, agents should always inform their clients of the "worst case" scenario during negotiations. That would mean when your seller counters an offer on their home, it is in fact a rejection of that offer and they do risk losing the buyer. The other agent most likely did not do that. You obviously handled it correctly.

Feb 06, 2011 06:00 AM
Jeff Pearl

I wonder  if she accused the other agent in her office of stealing her buyer? If there was no time limit on when you could reply to their counter, and she knew potential buyers were out of town, I assume she knew there would be a few days before getting a counter back, so I don't see why there was much to complain about. Was the house still available to be shown to other potential buyers while she was waiting for a counter? Suppose you just rejected their counter ending that process, then you found this other house a week later and made an offer on it? I don't see anything really unethical in this scenario.

Feb 06, 2011 06:34 AM
Tammy Fullriede
Bale Realty - Wilmington, IL

I was once called unethical by one of the top agents in the state of Illinois. He had a buyer client on one of my listings. The buyer, although qualified, had not done his due diligence in getting his financing in place. After 3 extensions, we were about to grant him the 4th. However on the day the 3rd extension expired I had all all cash buyer call me and tell me he want to buy the property. This was on a Friday and he wanted to close on Monday!

 My sellers decided to go with the new offer even though it was a few thousand less.  The agent had worked VERY hard, spending hours of his time dealing with this difficult buyer.  I felt bad, but I wanted the best for my sellers and it didn't seem like this deal was going to go through.  So we did not grant the buyer his 4th extension and granted the home to the new buyers. The other agent called me unethical.(This was a duel transaction) I felt bad, I did.  But my job was to get the house sold and his buyer was making me very nervous. (I mean come on! The buyer applied for his financing AFTER the financing period had ended?) The new buyers are very happy in their new home but I do feel bad that I was called unethical, when I know that being ethical and honest is my number 1 strength.

Feb 06, 2011 09:09 AM
Patricia Aulson
Realtor - Portsmouth NH Homes-Hampton NH Homes

Thanks for the post today.   Don't let this throw you, your responsibility is to your client. Do what you have to do, do it well and things will fall where they may.

Patricia/Seacoast NH & ME

Feb 06, 2011 11:28 AM
Craig Hatcher
Georgia Residential Realty, LLC - Atlanta, GA

It's not something to throw around lightly. Sometimes we are put into hard positions it's all part of the game of real estate.

Feb 06, 2011 01:19 PM
Kristin Petersen
Adams, Cameron & Co., Realtors - Ormond Beach, FL
Realtor - Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach - Ormond by

I think you handled it well and perhaps the listing agent can learn something from this event.....but that stings to be called unethical for sure!

Feb 07, 2011 01:41 AM
Chris and Berna Sloan
Group 1 Real Estate - Tooele, UT
Tooele UT

I find that many of the agents that throw the unethical accusation around have a tendency to straddle that line themselves, and can't see that someone may have very real,legal and ethical reasons for doingwhat we do. Sometimes a duck is just a duck.

Feb 07, 2011 03:13 AM
Jan Stevens
Coldwell Banker Pittsburgh - Cranberry Township, PA

I'm pretty sure that I learned in licensing classes that a counter-offer automatically cancels/nullifies the original offer -- so your clients had no obligation and did nothing wrong. In fact, you represented your clients well!

With your clients' permission, it would have been nice to inform other agent that the lack of response was because they were considering other options. But, if your clients wanted to keep that a secret your responsibility is to honor their wishes. Sounds to me like no rules were broken.

Feb 07, 2011 05:13 AM
Larry Riggs
Century 21 Redwood - Frederick, MD
GRI, SRS Your Frederick County Specialist


     I didn't take time to read all the comments but I did see there were some that got it right from a stricktly legal view. The counter was a rejection of your offer so you were not obligated to take any further action unless instructed by your buyers. It appears the listing agent did something I teach my students in ethics class never to do. The agent became emotionally involved in the negotiation. That's when the letter goes out the window and agents slip into the unauthorized practice of law.

Feb 07, 2011 05:58 AM

Hi Connie,

After reading your story and trying to wade through many of the comments, I would have to say that this is not an enviable position to be in.

it does seem a bit inconsiderate of the buyer to continue holding on to the one "just in case" but if that is how it works in your area, then I find no blame, but do understand the angst of the other salesperson and their vendor.

In my region, time is of the essence... even in a counter-offer situation so if I had vendors who countered and gave what we considered to be a reasonable period of time for a response and none was forthcoming, then we would consider the deal dead. Perhaps the other agent should have simply contacted you to say that they were open to other potential buyers since the time had lapsed.

All of us have to make decisions some times regarding better and best and in the case of your clients... they would have been forced at that point to decide how to proceed. Either take a chance on losing second best in order to 'go for the gold' or continue on with the first offer.

Life is seldom black & white though and fortunately for your clients, they got the home they truly love. That's good. Let's hope the other folks were finally able to get their home sold and able to focus on the next chapter in their own journey.

There are few businesses that have as many grey areas in them as ours because there are few businesses that deal with such a major investment that is so important to us. Our HOME!

All the best in your future endeavours.



Feb 07, 2011 09:01 AM
Joelle Embres
jsellhomes@live.com - Parkland, FL
Re/Max Advisors

Hi Connie. Good post! If they didn't accept the offer and countered it is a new offer. I think you were not only ethical but went out of your way to do the right thing so the listing agent really knew your client were out of the running on that home. Some people are just unhappy people. Its never fun when someone is unhappy with you aand rude but congratulation for taking the high road with this woman. I'm sure thats why your future transaction with her went so well.

Feb 08, 2011 06:54 AM
Mary Stewart
HomeTrust Real Estate, LLC, Homes for Everyone - Wilsonville, OR
Wilsonville and Surrounding Portland Metro Areas

Thank you for sharing this experience.  You did all of the correct things and represented your clients with their best interest following their instructions.  Not unethical at all.  As soon as they countered they did start at the beginning again.  The agent was very rude because I am sure she was upset to have the offer not get off the ground, and since you had smooth transactions with her later on this seems to be the case.

Feb 09, 2011 11:11 AM
Joyce Herr
Prudential Lancaster Real Estate - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster County & Beyond

I had a similar situation a few years ago and thank goodness for the counter-offer as my buyers wanted to get out ot the contract within 24 hours of submitting the offer.

Feb 09, 2011 12:47 PM