How to Handle Lying, Unethical REALTORS®

Real Estate Agent with Florida Property Experts
Daytona Beach Real Estate & Community Events blog. By Lisa C. Hill, "THE SMART CHOICE!"

glassesI recently wrote a blog post about...

  • A house I just sold that was in horrible disrepair
  • The worst listing agent I've ever encountered.

These were both part of the same post and transaction.

This story is real, but extremely unusual. I'm writing it for educational purposes, for both real estate professionals and for consumer knowledge.

(This paragraph has been added, since apparently some commenters thought I wasn't clear enough in my first draft.) My reason for leaving this post open for the public to read is NOT to draw attention to bad agents, but to show that it is very rare to find an agent this bad (which should be pretty obvious since this is my first time encountering an ordeal like this one), and to disclose some details on what they already know, but this time they're getting the added benefit of what the rules are in these circumstances. And I want the public to learn how to communicate exactly what they expect from their agent, and possibly even get it in writing. This will avoid a lot of future problems.

I mentioned that I would soon be writing a post with details about the listing agent (sans his real name). But I don't know if I'll ever get to that point, since new problems just keep arising. I just discovered he had the nerve to short my commission check. I was pretty sick with some sort of virus for over a week, so today I finally went to pickup the HUD-1 (closing statement) and check. Surprise, surprise. My commission check is short.

Thankfully, the way the transaction transpired, right from the start I suspected things would get worse, so I took extensive notes, kept every e-mail, and most importantly, I printed the MLS listing sheet which has the commission amount on it. (Another addition: our Board of REALTORS® can see every time the commission is changed in the MLS, plus if the Association requests a copy of the listing agreement, the listing broker is required to supply it to them. So having a copy of the MLS printout was important for my own records, and my brokers, but not necessary for me to get the correct amount of my commission.)

Now, to go over some overall pertinent facts, and some details about the transaction.

sold sign We're supposed to work for the client. So we should show them every property that meets their criteria. Unfortunately, many agents are not diligent in putting the clients' needs before their own, and instead, decide to show only the properties THEY want to show... the ones that meet THEIR needs.

The purpose of this post is also to educate people both in and outside of the real estate industry of...

  1. The unethical behavior of some real estate agents
  2. The likelihood that there are many *things you may not know about your agent when you hire them, regardless of their time in the industry, or experience level, and this even includes top producers. But if you're in the business long enough, or if you buy and sell enough real estate, you'll eventually run across a real estate agent that completely violates the law, the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, and even what's best for their clients.
  3. The way our Code of Ethics and (Multiple Listing Service) MLS rules call for some situations to be handled.

So, to start from the very beginning, I had a buyer who found my web site 3 years ago, but had several properties to sell before moving to Florida... Fast forward to now, when her last house finally sold, and we're standing in the house (in the Daytona Beach area) she is most interested in buying.

While we were in the house, my buyer started asking a lot of questions which only the listing agent could answer, so I gave him a call. (Now bear in mind. This is a top producing agent... I'm afraid this post is going to make you think twice before you ever again assume that "top producer" is synonymous with "best service" or even "most knowledgeable", *although any level of agent can be this negligent.) It turned out that this agent had never even been inside the house, although it was on the market for 2 years. (That couldgavel and books be a whole other blog post.) So when my buyers asked why the house had not sold, we discussed the most obvious reason, which was the horrible condition of the house, and the listing agent and I discussed several things, although I wasn't really getting any answers. Now, it is completely against the law to "price fix", which is why all commissions are negotiable. So, although there are many brokerages and REALTORS® who will not list properties below a certain percentage, the sellers still have the right to attempt a negotiation of the commission. And real estate agents, their clients and potential clients are free to negotiate commissions amongst themselves. However, since there are laws against price fixing, REALTORS® from differing real estate brokerages should avoid discussing anything even remotely along the lines of what their "usual commission" might be.

One exception I've seen is when when a REALTOR® from another brokerage attaches an addendum to a contract, requesting a higher commission for themselves, than what is being offered in the MLS. I've never known this scenario to be taken up on a legal level, so if you're a REALTOR® who has knowledge of any legal proceedings under these circumstances, I'm curious to know of any court or panel rulings. As far as I know, it seems to be a grey area.


  1. In the comments, several agents from different states have indicated that using the commission request forms is common practice in their areas. I personally have only gotten a few over the years.
  2. Another comment addressed the fact that the MLS data sheet has the clause that the information on it is "not warranted" and that only the contract is legally binding. That is true for the contractual agreement between the buyer and seller. But the commission is not part of that contract. In my edit at the bottom of this page, I mentioned that our commissions are not on our contracts. In our area, it's considered unprofessional to involve the buyer and seller in any problems between the agents. AND, in the classes that are offered at our REALTOR® Association, we're specifically instructed to NOT have any reference to the commission on our contracts. The contracts are an agreement between the buyer and the seller. The only reference to the real estate brokerages is to state which brokerages are involved.
  3. Our MLS rules state that the commission that is placed in the MLS is the amount that must be paid. And I've already spoken with our REALTOR® Association about this particular transaction. They know what days this agent made MLS changes to the commission. I already know that I'll receive my full commission. Now back to the original post.)

My buyers knew that this house had been on the market for 2 years, and even to the naked eye, it obviously needed a LOT of help. And they wanted some more specific answers. So I asked the listing agent for his opinion on why the house had not sold yet, and several other questions my buyers were asking. (They were standing right in front of me, continuing to ask more questions.) It didn't take long to realize this agent had never been in the house. At some point in the conversation, as the listing agent's answers grew shorter and shorter, in his attempt to get me off the phone, I mentioned to this listing agent, the conversation that I had previously had with my buyers about all the possible reasons why a house may not sell. But during this part of the conversation the listing agent suddenly asked what commission was on the MLS printout. When I told him the amount, he told me that was wrong, and then told me the correct commission amount, which scaleswas a full percentage point higher. He also said he would have it corrected in the MLS, immediately, which he did.

I'm now going to jump forward, past all the extraneous drama that accompanied every single day of this transaction; since I'm still mentally exhausted from dealing with this agent; and relay what happened this morning, when I discovered that my commission check was short. Knowing how condescending and difficult this agent was, I was not looking forward to calling him, but hey, his brokerage owed me money. So I made the call and told him my check was short. He then said it was not short, because when I showed the house, the commission was lower. So I reminded him that he told me that was a mistake and that I had the corrected version of the MLS printout! His next excuse was to demand why I was calling a full week after closing about this. I then had to inform him that I had been sick and had not left the house in 9 days. His next response was that it was on the HUD-1 and I signed off on it. So I now informed him that I had not signed anything since the entire closing for both the seller and buyer had been a mail-away. The title company goes over the numbers with the buyers and sellers. I only get involved at this point if there's a problem with my client's numbers. This is the first time in 8 years that I've ever had a commission problem.  He then repeated everything again. At some point I told him that everything he had to say was irrelevant because the MLS rules are very specific. Whatever the MLS states is the commission to the selling brokerage, is the amount they're required to pay. His final statement was that he was going to contact the title company and let them sort it out. My final statement was to not bother calling them. I'd be going through the proper channels by contacting the Board of REALTORS®. I then called my manager, made photocopies of everything for her, and now she or our broker will be handling it with his broker. It may end up in mediation or arbitration through the Daytona Beach REALTOR® Association. But I know without a doubt that I'll receive the remainder of the commission that he tried to take from me. All of his reasons and excuses are completely irrelevant because the rules are crystal clear. Whatever commission is stated in the MLS is the amount that has to be paid. Oh, and when I checked again I discovered the commission had been changed a 3rd time, to a 3rd amount.

You can read more about the house itself in my post titled "Would You Buy This House?" and a follow-up post titled "Real Estate Takes A Moment of Mourning".

Edit: Find out the result of my commission check shortage!

Learn more about REALTORS®, real estate and the Code of Ethics

View Daytona Beach area listing MLS videos

Additions after some of the comments.... ( There are other edits within the actual post as well.)

  • This entire closing was a mail-away. Neither the buyer nor the seller actually attended a closing. I've left out big chunks of this experience. But I need to address the MLS printout. Having the copy was good for my records. But the Board of REALTORS® can always go in the back door and see every change that was made, and on what date. So I'm completely covered on the commission issue.  And along those lines, disagreements over commission are not done in conjunction with a contract. That would be highly unprofessional! If I knew the commission was wrong before closing. I still would have closed on time, then addressed this issue after the fact, without involving my buyer. It would be handled by the brokers or through arbitration.
  • As for anti-trust issues... Be sure to read the entire post as a whole. Don't take one line out of context. I worked very hard at conveying what I've observed, while at the same time letting it be known that I DO NOT condone or participate in the many indiscretions I've observed over the years. I obviously was selling this house, regardless of the commission that was originally posted in the MLS. It just happened to be a mistake, according to the listing agent; and it was then raised. And the irony is, if he had ever just admitted to any of his mistakes, or apologized for his condescending attitude, and asked me to reduce my commission, I probably would have done so! But he remained a bully to the very end.
  • Also, I repeatedly stated that all commissions are negotiable and that price fixing is illegal. While I do have copies of the MLS printouts forall the commission changes,it's unnecessary because the Board has back-door access to all changes that have been made. And they can call the listing office and get a copy of the listing agreement as well.
  • And I've intentionally left this post open for the public to read. Nobody is naive enough to think that a single profession on earth is without problems behind the scenes. My intention is to make people aware that things are not always what they seem. And to encourage them to do their research.
  • I should also add that in the last 8 years that I've been strictly selling real estate full-time, this is the first time I've ever had an experience this bad. It's very rare that I encounter a truly incompetent or dishonest agent. But this time I got both. And I think the public should be aware that although this is extremely rare, everything that happened in this transaction, is a possibility, and steps can be taken to be informed and prepared.

  • Lastly, all it takes is for someone to flip through a few pages of my blog to know that this type of post is extremely rare for me to write! This was NOT an ordinary transaction. But that is what makes it both interesting as well as hard to believe. Even in the midst of all this, it all had a surreal feeling to it.

Truth is still stranger than fiction.  =)

Lisa Hill real estate agent

list real estate with lisa hill and adams cameron realtors and get it sold


Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape 

Due to so many differing responses from different states where things are handled differently, this post was edited twice on 9-28-08. I hope I have everything clarified better now. To be honest, I had a lot of difficulty writing this post because I wanted to keep the facts straight, but at the same time not violate our Code of Ethics, or licensing laws. That is why some things were repeated so many times, and why I cannot, under any circumstances give out a name. However, one amusing thing that happened during this transaction was when I was at the REALTOR® Association one day and mentioned this agents' name, and the ladies at the Association informed me that they had their own name for him! I can't even repeat it, but it rhymed with his real name and was pretty hilarious. But how bad is your reputation, when the people who work at the Board of REALTORS® have received so many complaints about you that they have given you a very nasty nickname!?!

Regardless, I guess the original post may have had a more harsh tone to it. I guess I was still working through my thoughts, and the fact that I was treated so harshly. But my objective is really just  to find a way to tell the events in a way that provided information to both real estate professionals, and the public, in an educational manner.


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  1. Kaleb Kunz 09/27/2008 03:42 PM
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Frank & Jodi Orlando
Frank & Jodi Orlando Get Us A Home Realty Atlanta Homes Sale - Cumming, GA

Wonderful post, In Geogia we have a doc called Instuctions to closing attorney. This has list and selling commisions posted and is signed by those parties. I know that nobody wants more paper work, but, perhaps your office can adapt an addendum. Lets face it, after the fact everyone will scream foul, but, no one really does anything except you!

Sep 28, 2008 12:49 AM #37
Russell Lewis
Realty Austin, Austin Texas Real Estate - Austin, TX

Lisa, this is a wonderfully written post. I despise the lying liars and the lies they tell. It is so important that we always do our research and work even if we have to do the  other agents work too. The frustrating thing is that many of these incompetent agents will be gone from the market but leave a bad taste for other agents and consumers!

Sep 28, 2008 12:50 AM #38
Ellie McIntire
Ellicott City Clarksville Howard County Maryland Real Estate - Ellicott City, MD
Luxury service in Central Maryland

Lisa- In Maryland we have the ability to see any and all alterations that are made to the listing. The fact he changed it back should "cook his goose". Would love to know his name- maybe it's a public service to Daytona to tell all.

Sep 28, 2008 12:58 AM #39
Bryant Tutas
Tutas Towne Realty, Inc and Garden Views Realty, LLC - Winter Garden, FL
Selling Florida one home at a time

Lisa, The co-broke that was in the MLS when the contract was presented is the amount that is owed. As soon as the agent changed it verbally you should have faxed over a commission agreement to his BROKER for his signature. I would be very surprised if this deal makes it to mediation/arbitration. 

Sep 28, 2008 01:14 AM #40
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

It is ashame that this type of thing happens.  With regard to the questions on an addendum -- the buyer (not the agent) can always negotiate that the seller will pay X as commission on behalf of the buyer to the buyer's agent.  This is not a violation of the code of ethics if done properly and it is not a grey area -- just so you know in the future.  Good luck.

Sep 28, 2008 04:03 AM #41
Deborah Ryman
Santa Cruz, CA
M.A. Feng Shui Services, Santa Cruz County

You obviously are a diligent, competent agent. I admire how you laid the scenario out for us.


What a weaselly agent.

Sep 28, 2008 04:20 AM #42
June Stark
Elite Realty-Luxury Homes & Condos On & Off the Strip - Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas Condos & Luxury Homes Expert

I had the same thing happen to me. Fortunately, I kept the printout.  The listing agent went back into the MLS and changed the commission to a lower amount at the same tim she made it COntingent.  What a ploy!! I called her - told her I had the printout and that if she ever wanted me to show her listings again - she would stop the monkey business.  She at that point, changed the commission back to the original amount.  Boy - is it rough ut there or what?


Sep 28, 2008 04:54 AM #43
Terry Lynch
LAR Notary and Closing Services - Saint Clair Shores, MI


Hopefully arbitration means something different in your area than it does in mine.

In my area the arbitration is done by menbers of the board and they don't seem to care who is right or wrong and seem to want to make sure both sides get something, deserved or not since they may have to work with them in the future.

I don't mean to seem cynical but hopeully your arbitration is a little more concerned with getting it right, not being PC.

Sep 28, 2008 05:40 AM #44
Tim Monciref - Austin, TX
Over 2,000 homes sold…..

Gain power by doing some research about the agent.  I have been involved with some unbelievably unethical agents....that are bordering federal and state laws.  They border the laws as they know that the odds of being prosecuted are minimal.  Many of them are top producing agents that are being protected by their broker by having the broker look the other way. We took on one of the largest unethical agents that was in a substantial marketing campaign trying to take over the neighborhood that we market.  We did run into a situation whereby the broker did protect the agent do to the amount of business that they do.  The agent is also an attorney....oddly. So we found a substantial amount of advertising that all had the same theme of deception and all were missing key disclosure verbiage, fair housing logo, REALTOR logos.  Thus, we then had ammunition to prosecute them for federal civil rights charges, as well as NAR charges...with a blatant attempt to disregard the law.  With that power behind us, they backed down, but are still in violation of NAR and civil rights legislation.  So let them try me again.  There will be a few times in your career that if you do not get tough back you will be swallowed up by evil.  Don't let the evil gain control of your business or real estate business in general as they bring all of down a level. 

Sep 28, 2008 10:13 AM #45
Bill Parecki
Elite Pacific Properties - Hilo, HI
RS, ABR, RDCPro, SFR, E-Pro, SRS, AHWD, Green

Aloha Lisa,

Every area has an agent or agents like the one you described.  I live and work on the Big Island and most of us agents who work here know a top producing agent just like the one you described.  The thing that drives me crazy is that often these types of agents are so successful

Sep 28, 2008 11:21 AM #46
Tammy Anderson
"The Gateway Home Team" of RE/MAX Alliance - Collinsville, IL
Owens, Broker/Owner

I will be interested to hear how this turns out.  I think that the commission that was being offered at the time of contract is the one they will stick by unless you have something in writing.  Anytime the commission changes higher or lower it should be in writing so these situations don't occur. 

Sep 28, 2008 02:55 PM #47
Alexander Harb
Knights Investing - Mesquite, TX
Dallas, Texas Real Estate Investing

Lisa...take a look at my latest blog about 10 companies and 15 people being investigated by the state of of the people being investigated was a "Top Producer".....


Sep 28, 2008 04:40 PM #48
Evelyn Panning
Property Connections Realty Inc. - Alturas, CA

Wow, you were dealing with a real winner there.  I've had my share of nonsense in my market - but nothing like that one. ~ Evelyn

Sep 29, 2008 03:22 AM #49
Bonita Malone
Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffie Real Estate - Sacramento, CA

I feel your pain. I am sure that many of us have had that deal where you just wish you could wake up and find out it was just a bad dream. I know as I read your post, it reminded me of a deal I had with an unscrupulous broker about 2 years ago. It was painful every single day of the escrow. It makes you wonder just how they continue to get business. Wait, I just looked on my MLS and guess what, he and his company are no longer listed...I do like Karma!

Sep 29, 2008 06:40 AM #50
Thesa Chambers
Fred Real Estate Group - Bend, OR
Principal Broker - Licensed in Oregon

go get em Lisa - I know what how you feel - you are in the right - good for you to keep great records

Sep 29, 2008 05:54 PM #51
Jack Climer
Jack Climer Realty, LLC - Springfield, MO

Good for you, i hope you feel better now. Just advise, your so right on keeping the records up to date............

Sep 29, 2008 08:28 PM #52
Dee Toohey
Innovative Realty Solutions Group - Longwood, FL
Broker, ABR, AHWD, CIPS, FMS, ePro

I read your post, I understand your point.  Honesty and integrity are important but we need to earn a living too.  Let me ask you this, would you show a $500,000 house with a $100 co-broke?  There are lots of big ticket houses out there with just that!  Who among you would show this property?  Be hones

Sep 30, 2008 12:10 AM #53
Lisa Hill
Florida Property Experts - Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Beach Real Estate

Dee- I'm really not comfortable answering that question. I don't know about your real estate school, but mne, along with every class I've ever been in has instructed us to NOT discuss the specifics of our commisions. I know, in my own mind, where I draw the line. And I think each of us has a bottom line. But we really shouldn't discuss it.

Sep 30, 2008 04:56 AM #55
Tony and Suzanne Marriott, Associate Brokers
Serving the Greater Phoenix and Scottsdale Metropolitan Area - Scottsdale, AZ
Haven Express @ Keller Williams Arizona Realty

Unethical and downright dishonest behavior is a hot topic for me right now.  It's incredible and appalling how some agents that are clueless when it comes to Short Sales boast of hundreds of transactions and high closing ratios - neither metric being supported by the MLS, apparently in the hopes of leading unsuspecting homeowners to financial disaster.

Sep 03, 2010 01:55 AM #56
Lisa Hill
Florida Property Experts - Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Beach Real Estate

Tony & Suzanne- This post is about 2 years old. And things have only gotten worse out there, as agents get more desperate. This particular agent has signs everywhere, yet many of them are not in the MLS (another violation).  I DID get my full commission amount, AS SOON as his broker found out what he had done. It was handled very quickly, between my manager and his broker :-D    And you're right about the claims vs the proof. That's another post as well!

Sep 05, 2010 08:25 AM #57
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Daytona Beach Real Estate
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