Can You Sue Your Real Estate Agent for Negligence?
People use real estate agents to help them buy or sell property. These agents rely on education and training in the performance of their services and are licensed by the state. South Carolina’s Real Estate Commission regulates the industry, including agents and brokers.
Understanding the answer to can you sue your real estate agent for negligence begins with the following knowledge: Like all professionals, real estate agents must exercise due care when representing their clients. When they fail to, they are potentially liable for any damages they cause.
If you are considering whether to sue a real estate agent, contact Surasky Law today. We can analyze whether you have a claim. Not every real estate transaction that falls through warrants a lawsuit—but some do. We will begin compiling evidence and discussing possible remedies.
Real Estate Agent Responsibilities
Agents help move real estate transactions forward by providing some of the following services for their clients:
Prepare properties for sale
Walk clients through a property and answer questions
Complete standard client forms
Answer questions about the purchasing/selling process
Communicate with the other side’s agent
Review lease agreement, rental contracts, and purchase/sale agreements
Analyze what is a good price for a property
Negotiate the price of the sale or purchase
Close a deal
Real estate agents cannot do everything, however. They can’t provide legal or tax advice related to real estate.
Examples of Real Estate Agent Negligence
Agents must perform their duties with a certain level of competency. This means they must use reasonable skill and care and fulfill their duties conscientiously. When they fail to, or when they make deliberate omissions, you can often sue them. Real estate agents are fiduciaries and owe certain duties to their clients.
In South Carolina, you might sue your real estate agent for:
Failing to disclose a defect with the property. The agent might know the roof leaks or the foundation is cracked. Although sellers are responsible for making these disclosures, their agents must also disclose anything that could materially affect a real estate transaction.
Failing to protect a client’s personal data. Agents must carefully safekeep information like your Social Security Number, bank data, and loan information. An agent could negligently allow an unauthorized person to access this information.
Acting without the client’s approval. For example, a buyer might only authorize a purchase up to a certain price. If the agent goes over and offers more, then they could be liable.
Keeping secret fees or profits, which they do not disclose to their clients.
Failing to inform clients that another offer is on the table. Consequently, the client might accept an offer that is lower than what they otherwise could receive.
Negligently performing a duty, such as failing to include contingencies in a purchase or sale contract or failing to communicate with the other side. Deals can fall through or clients might be unprotected due to negligence.
Negligently make misrepresentations. Agents must be truthful. If you ask whether there has ever been mold in the house, and the agent lies by saying “no,” then you could sue. Some misrepresentations are intentional. But South Carolina also recognizes negligent misrepresentations which impact real estate transactions.
Many people don’t know whether they have a valid legal claim against a real estate agent. Ideally, you should meet with an attorney to review the facts before rushing off to court to file a lawsuit. Your attorney can also help identify what other information you need to really strengthen a claim. If your case is solid, you might even negotiate a settlement and avoid the stress of trial.
How to Prove Negligence
By definition, negligence is the failure to use reasonable care under the circumstances. But what does that really mean? What’s “reasonable care”?
Typically, we have to imagine what a competent real estate agent would have done. What choices would they have made and what information would they have disclosed? We then compare your agent’s conduct to this hypothetical careful agent. If your agent’s conduct fell below this standard, then you could bring a claim.
At Surasky Law, we work with expert witnesses to better understand how skilled real estate agents would have acted. Should your case go to trial, this person could provide expert testimony.
We also need to gather all relevant evidence. This often involves conversations you had with your agent. We need to review emails, letters, and any voicemails that you have preserved. We might also ask you to testify as to face-to-face conversations. If someone was with you, then their testimony might be relevant.
Remedies for Suing a Real Estate Agent
When filing a lawsuit, you need to request that the court give you something if you win. These are the “remedies” you request.
In most cases, a court will award money damages to someone injured by real estate negligence. Money damages are the easiest for a court to award and are meant to compensate you for losses stemming from negligence.
For example, you might have made a $300,000 bid for a home, but your agent neglected to pass along the offer. If you end up buying an equivalent home for $350,000, you have suffered $50,000 in damages.
Likewise, sellers can receive compensatory damages. For example, an agent could fail to disclose an offer for $350,000, so you ended up selling for $300,000. You have suffered $50,000 in damages.
These are a particular type of compensatory damages. Your agent’s negligence might have caused you to need to vacate your home and rent a hotel room instead. These losses flow naturally from the negligence, and you should seek compensation for them.
Rescission of the Contract
In certain circumstances, you might want to cancel your real estate contract. This is called rescission. When the contract is rescinded, you don’t have to follow through with your agreements.
This is a rare remedy. Essentially, specific performance is a court order to go through with a sale. A judge will only order specific performance when money damages cannot provide a remedy to someone victimized by negligence.
An attorney can analyze what kinds of damages are available. This is complicated. The key is to ensure that you receive what you are entitled to.
Can You Sue Your Real Estate Agent for Negligence?
Surasky Law has helped many clients with negligence cases against professionals, including real estate agents in South Carolina. Please contact us to find out what your options are for suing an agent due to a failure to fulfill their duties.