My real estate agent is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19, but I need to find a new home ASAP. Am I breaking our business agreement? – Community News
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My real estate agent is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19, but I need to find a new home ASAP. Am I breaking our business agreement?

Dear MarketWatch,

I live in Fayetteville, NC, and am currently selling my house and looking for another one.

My real estate agent just told me that his daughter has COVID-19 and that he needs to get tested. He also said he will be quarantined for a week.

I am short on time and have to go out every day to find a new home. He barely answers my texts and said we would work it out. What can I do?

Honestly,

Confused in Carolina

‘The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column about the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Do you have a question about buying or selling a home? Want to know where your next move should be? Email Jacob Passy at [email protected]

Dear confused,

I can understand your concern. Even if the real estate market has cooled down a bit from the insane sales pace of months ago, it’s still a very competitive seller’s market. There is still a great deal of competition for housing in many areas of the competition.

That may be good news for you when it comes to selling your home, but you’re faced with the same conundrum many potential home sellers worry about: having to find a new place to live. Indeed, I have several friends who have sold their house and then started renting because they couldn’t find a new house to buy.

Nevertheless, it is important for any buyer in today’s market to keep COVID-19 in mind and go in with a sober eye. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to recommend a 14-day quarantine for anyone unvaccinated and exposed to someone with COVID-19. People who are fully vaccinated and show no symptoms do not need to be quarantined, but they are told to get tested five to seven days after exposure and to isolate if they have symptoms.

It sounds like your agent might be taking some extra precautions — or maybe he’s not vaccinated and trying to prevent possible spread of the virus. I know you’re stressed, but I think it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge that he wants the best for you. He does the ethical thing by preventing his clients from getting sick – not to mention his brokerage’s policy of taking these steps to stop the spread.

At the same time, I recognize that time is of the essence. If he’s part of a larger brokerage firm, I’d contact them to see what they could do to begin with. “Typically in a situation like this where a real estate agent has become ill, it would be common for the real estate agent to refer their client to another skilled real estate agent within the firm,” said Bill Gassett, a real estate agent at RE/MAX. Executive real estate in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

If that happened, that new agent would become your buyer’s agent and provide you with the same services, Gassett said.

“Normally in a situation like this where a broker has become ill, it is common for the broker to refer their client to another competent broker within the company.”


— Bill Gassett, a real estate partner at RE/MAX Executive Realty

You mentioned communication concerns, which makes me wonder if, in general, during the time you’ve been looking for a home, you’ve struggled to get in touch with your real estate agent. If you are really dissatisfied with your service, consider switching to another broker. But beware: that is easier said than done.

If you have signed an exclusivity agreement with this agent, you will find that it is difficult to break. Especially if the broker had already shown you a property that you would buy from another broker, your original broker could still be entitled to a commission on the property. Therefore, other agents may be wary of working with you as it could jeopardize the commission they would expect to receive.

You can try asking your current agent to cancel your contract with him – if you choose to go away with this one, make the request in writing by email and give him a call as well. That said, he could choose not to cancel it, in which case you’d essentially be stuck. These exclusivity deals usually have a time limit, usually around six months, so you would be forced to work with him or wait until you could work with someone else.

“If there is no contract with a buyer’s agent, the buyer may decide not to wait and move forward immediately with an agent from another company,” Gassett said.

My ultimate advice: If this is the only problem you’ve had while working with this agent, give him the benefit of the doubt. See if another agent from his office can assist you in the meantime. If you’re about to sign a contract to sell your existing home, you can try to include some flexibility for yourself regarding the move-in or closing date to buy more time for yourself.

And if you choose to hire a new agent, I recommend asking if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Unvaccinated people are much more likely to contract COVID, and you wouldn’t want to fire this agent just to sign on someone who later gets sick themselves.

I know that in today’s market it may feel like a crazy feeling to buy a house for sale, but you also don’t want to rush into buying a house that doesn’t suit you. I hope you can resume your house hunting soon and find your dream home.

By emailing your questions, you agree that they will be published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including through third parties.

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