It’s unsettling to think your offer on a house is being ignored. After all, isn’t it only fair that every offer be shown to the seller? The real deal: While that might seem like a reasonable ask of the seller’s real estate agent (here’s how to find a real estate agent in your area), it’s not necessarily required. Is it ethical for an agent to present all offers to the sellers? Yes—and most do.
“In general, written offers must be presented,” says Paul Howard, a Realtor® in Cherry Hill, NJ. This falls in accordance with the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics, which states that Realtors shall submit offers and counteroffers objectively and as quickly as possible. However, not all real estate agents are members of NAR and required to abide by its code.
Why a seller might not see your offer
Some sellers set a limit for how low they’re willing to go in price and ask their real estate agent to dismiss any offers below that price.
“If the seller has specifically instructed the agent not to bring offers that do not meet a certain minimum requirement, the agent may not need to present any offer that falls short of the minimum,” says Phil Lunnon, a Realtor in Lakewood, CO.
Every state’s laws are different, but generally, if the seller has instructed his agent in writing to withhold certain kinds of offers, then the agent won’t present those offers.
The shady side of withholding offers
A listing agent withholding offers could be less than fully ethical if she is acting as a transactional broker (also known as a dual agent), representing both the seller and the buyer. (Keep in mind that dual agency is illegal in some states.) The concern is that the listing agent might withhold one offer in favor of a higher offer that benefits the broker financially. Doing so is a big procedural breach and can put the agent at risk of losing her license.
What to do if you think your offer is being withheld
As a buyer, if enough time has passed and you suspect your offer is being withheld, talk to your real estate agent about the situation. Agents deal with this kind of thing frequently and will know how to broach the subject with the listing agent. Advising you is your agent’s job, right?
Here are some of your other options:
- Ask for a rejection in writing. There should be a place on your written offer for the seller to formally reject your offer. You can request that your agent ask for this formal rejection.
- Contact the seller. It’s unlikely your real estate agent will be happy with your doing this, but it’s not illegal for you to contact the seller directly to ask about your offer. However, be prepared: This might not go over well. If a seller wanted to work directly with the buyer, he wouldn’t have hired a real estate agent in the first place.
- Report the agent. If you are truly convinced the listing agent is withholding your offer for selfish reasons, you can report the agent to her brokerage or to the licensing agency in your state. Again, this is not an option to take lightly as it could have serious repercussions for the agent in question.
- Just move on. Whether there really are ethical issues or the listing agent’s communication style just isn’t working for you, it might be best to look for another house. And do you really want to work with an agent you don’t trust? Unless this house is a picture-perfect, once-in-a-lifetime deal, it’s probably in your best interest to keep looking.