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Can you get out of an estate agent's contract? Estate agent contracts explained

Estate agent contracts - they're one of those fine details that you simply cannot afford to forget. Take it from us, to overlook your agent's contract you'd be downright foolish, as it's here where the agent hides all their sales caveats, loopholes and technicalities. Basically, the things that they're legally obliged to state, but don't want to tell you to your face. Catch our drift?

You have to remember that at the end of the day, an estate agent is simply a salesperson, trying their best to win your business. They're not your friend, business chum or someone to confide in. If they were, they'd never allow you to sign such an agreement in the first place (gulp)! And even if they did, they'd make it easy for you to get out of.

But thankfully, we're not an agent, so when it comes to getting out of an estate agent contract, we're more than happy to help. So if you're reading this at the mercy of a complex contract (sole or dual agency), relax - there is a way out! Here's how to get rid of your real estate agent and sell your house FAST...

After something specific about cancelling an estate agent contract?

Why do real estate agents make you sign a contract?

Don't mistake estate agent contracts for simple scraps of paper. They're anything but! In fact, that is why an estate agent issues one in the first place.

An estate agent contract is a document that outlines the overall terms of your agreement to sell your house. Usually, these contracts are various pages long and are split into sub-sections. Ask an agent and the reason for issuing the contract is to protect both you and them in the event of a disagreement. And while this is true, when you consider how an agent uses a contract (as a loophole minefield), you can't help but think it's written more in their favour.

Here are just a few of the caveats that you need to watch out for before backing out, or in fact signing, an estate agent agreement...

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  • Do they have sole selling rights? - The first (and most obvious) thing you need to identify within an estate agent's terms and conditions of sale, would be how they'll be appointed. Will they be the sole agent? If you change your mind, will they be happy to go joint agency? Or, is that something they'd penalise you for? Make the wrong move here and you could find yourself tied into a more complex agreement than you first thought. To discover all the different types of estate agent contracts, as well as what they mean, keep reading.

  • Tie-in periods - Agents are crafty. Remember, they want you under their wing for as long as possible. The longer they have to market your house, the more likely it is to sell. Hence why some estate agent contracts come with lengthy tie-in periods of as long as 10 or 12 weeks! Spot one of these and you've not only saved yourself from signing a dicey contract but also from using what can only be described as a bad agent. Usually, good agents have relatively short tie-in periods for a reason - they're confident they'll deliver and that you'll stay with them if the sale takes longer than expected.

  • Payment arrangements - No two estate agents are the same, so as you'd expect neither is the way they take payment. Some (mostly online agents) will demand payment upfront - a caveat of their contract - whereas others will only request payment upon completion. These are usually your high street agents. And while the fee you pay both is labelled the same (usually an 'estate agent's fee'), what it's actually for is different. One is the cost of selling your house, while the other is a fee to market your house. Don't ever forget that!

  • Marketing and advertising - While all agents will say that property marketing is a necessity, that's not to say they'll include it in their contract. You see, while some agencies do include marketing support as part of their fee, others do not. So before you sign a contract, be sure you're aware of what market support/ tools you'll need. If there are any mentioned, check the fine print to make sure they don't come as extras (cough) hidden charges. And if there's a form of marketing that you don't see on the contract, ask! The agent may have left it off for a reason. No one likes a surprise bill for a virtual tour or property listing because they neglected to take out their reading glasses.

  • Withdrawal fees - Speaking of withdrawal fees, make sure you fully understand an agent's philosophy on withdrawals before signing on the dotted line. Ask to see a few agent's contracts and you'll see that many differ in length; estate agent contracts can be brief for a reason. They may wish to generalise a certain aspect of what they offer, so you don't realise what you're signing. Or, they may just want you to sign as fast as possible. Take it from us, probe an agent with any questions that enter your head and only pull out of a contract if you're 100% certain of what the costs will be.

Types of estate agent contracts

For anyone looking at how to get out of a real estate agent contract, you first need to understand what type of contract you have. As with most legal documentation these days, each company has their own version - there's no one size fits all estate agent contract. In fact, they come in four types, and even then each individual agency has its own version of each type. Mind-boggling stuff! Nevertheless, to help you understand which type you're looking to cancel, here's an overview of the main four

Types of estate agent contracts include...

  • Sole selling rights - Sign this type of estate agent contract and your agent is the only one permitted to sell your home within the specified period. As much as the name suggests, they have the 'sole' selling rights. This also means that even if you were to source your own buyer within the given time, that you'd be liable to pay an agent commission (gulp).

  • Ready, willing and able purchaser - If you're trapped in this type of contract, don't move a muscle! By signing this form of contract, you agreed to pay the agent for finding a buyer, even if you don't sell. So basically, as soon as the agent has presented you with a proceed able buyer, you're liable to pay them. One hefty withdrawal charge!

    FYI: Bear in mind that because they've got paid just by finding the buyer, the agent is likely to be less eager to work on your sale and push it through later on. After all, they've banked their money, so why rush?

  • Multi-agency - If you've signed this type of contract you'll have opened yourself up to a larger pool of buyers and in essence had a HUGE chance of achieving a sale, let alone a high sales price. So, if you're considering backing out because of a low price, then be warned. Not only are the fees associated with multi-agency higher, but in the case a buyer enquires with more than one agent, they'll likely be a dispute over fees. Consider also that if the agents in question charge a withdrawal fee you'll have to cover all of these too. Hardly ideal!

  • Sole agency - If you understand sole selling rights (above) then you should be able to grasp sole agency. If you're in a sole agency agreement and looking to back out, you're probably in the best position you could be in. Sole agency is the same as sole selling rights apart from if you end up finding a buyer yourself, you won't be liable to foot the agent's fee.

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Is there a cooling-off period when signing with an estate agent?

The short answer is yes.

Since 2014, all estate agents in the UK have been obliged to offer a cooling-off period of at least 14 days. Is this news to you? If so, you may be in luck!

You see, an estate agent's cooling-off period only begins when you are first informed of it. So, if you look back in your contract and there's no mention, or what is it isn't very transparent, then cancelling your contract with the agent may actually turn out to be a lot simpler than you imagined. In fact, if this is the case the odds are overwhelmingly in your favour. Even if it does state so in your contract, but you weren't told of it in person, we'd also advise you give this a go. Government legislation dictates that you need to be 'informed' of your right to cancel.

Want to explore all the legal small print? Click here.

FYI: While agents are obliged to offer a 14-day cooling-off period, that doesn't mean you can't be tricked into signing it away. With many agents, if you agree to start arranging the specifics of your sale before the end of this period (photography, floorplans etc.), then you'll automatically sign away your rights to your 14 days! However, to do so, the contract must be signed by you in person, so if you've just agreed on a deal with an agent and they seem overly eager for you to sign, be suspicious. This could be the reason why.

Can I take my house off the market before my contract expires?

Yes, it is possible to remove your house from the market before your contract expires. However, that's not to say it's possible in every instance. In fact, there are quite a few exceptions, many of which could see you violate the terms of your contract and leave you liable to pay withdrawal costs. Or worse, cover the agent's fee. So to help you avoid this costly fait, here's just a couple of ways how you CAN take your property off the market, without footing a charge...

  • Withdraw it from the market - In the case the contract you've signed doesn't stipulate any restrictions or 'minimum period' in which you 'have' to market your property, then you should be able to withdraw your house at no cost. The only instance where you may have to foot a cost is if the agent charges a withdrawal fee. However, if you're a fan of the agent and know you'll be returning to them (and them only) later down the line, then this is likely something they'll reimburse you for.

  • Let it out - If the house you're selling is a second home or a rental property that isn't shifting over the open market, then you could put your housing sale on pause and rent it out for a period of time. Yes, you may have a withdrawal charge to foot (as above), but if your first rental payment makes that up then someone else has paid it off anyway, so what does it matter. Even if you wanted to stay on the market, letting your house in the process could be a nice way of generating a bit of extra cash.

  • Go off-market - Remember: the market isn't the 'be all and end all' - it's just one way of selling your house. Take your property sale off the market and your buyer may be willing to cover your withdrawal fees in order to get their hands on your property. This is no myth... cash buyers (like us) have been known to do so before, as will an eager private buyer.

Stuck in an estate agent contract?

Do I have to pay estate agent fees if I pull out?

Okay, so we won't beat around the bush. Whether you have to pay an estate agent if you pull out depends on the specifics of your contract. Each agent's contract will be different, so you really do need to investigate it thoroughly before pulling the plug. If you're unsure, go seek the advice of a legal professional.

TIP: If you choose to pull out before the exchange, it's far less likely that you will have to pay the agent's fee as the sale isn't legally binding. However, as soon as your property has been exchanged, the agent's fee becomes your responsibility to settle.

So when assessing your estate agent contract there are various clauses that you must assess before pulling out. Here are 3...

  • The 'you can't pull out to go directly to another agent' clause - Watch out for this - is a cheeky caveat that could be a major speed bump if you plan on leaving your current agent to list your property somewhere else. Why is this even a part of estate agent contracts? Most likely because the agent wants to minimise the chance of their competitors successfully touting their business. Now of course you could say this is a precautionary measure, but is it also the sign of an insecure agent? We'll leave you to decide.

  • The 'you're liable to foot the withdrawal fee' clause - If you've given the agent sole selling rights or are part of a joint agency agreement, then you could be legally tied into footing the withdrawal fee. While of course this will differ depending on the agent, if you're unlucky enough to have a signed such a strict contract, you may be liable to foot this charge in full... regardless of whether you're considering relisting your property with the same agent later down the line. Not that you would if they tied you into such a vicious loophole.

  • The 'you're already liable for the cost of added extras' clause - An agent can't do everything for you when selling your house - they're not a Jack of all trades. So naturally, to make life more convenient for you (and to make a little commission for themselves), they refer you to certain services, that are in their eyes professionals. This could be anything from legal professionals and surveyors to photographers and EPC providers. But, if you're to pull out early, this is all commission that they set to lose. Hence why this caveat can appear in an agent's contract.

FYI: It's worth being especially careful of caveats like these when going through an online estate agent. Because marketing charges and even necessities like viewing support come as an added extra, they're a cost that's often written into the small print of your contract. If so then you may have to foot a bill that's a lot bigger than just a withdrawal fee.

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Can a real estate agent sue a buyer?

An estate agent is just like you or anyone else - they 'can' sue you. However, that's not to say that they will. In fact, it's VERY rare for an agent to go in all guns blazing and sue a buyer, especially if it's just from withdrawing from a contract. Look at it this way.

You withdrawing your contract and violating the terms is going to cost the agent: (A) a lot of time and (B) a good chunk in court costs. Not only that but if word gets out that they've taken one of their clients to court, it could very easily scar their reputation. Hardly the ideal reputation to have when trying to win over customers.

So to sum up then, by taking you to court it would cost the agent:

  • A large chunk of time in which they could put into selling other properties to very easily make the money back.

  • Court costs, which as we know these days, don't come cheap.

  • Their reputation, could lower consumer confidence and prevent a lot of people from listing their house through them.

But none of this stops you from suing them. Although if you're unsatisfied that shouldn't be your first port of call. Before any legal action, you should take your complaint to the Property Ombudsman - a government scheme which can issue compensation of up to £25k.

You can also make a complaint direct to the National Association of Estate Agents - the trade association that most agents will be part of. Only in the event that neither of these methods comes up trumps should you pursue legal action.

I've terminated by estate agent contract. Where next?

If you're reading this a free man (or woman) congrats! You've navigated your way successfully through the loopholes of an estate agent contract and made it out the other end unscathed. And even if it cost you a pretty packet to escape this comprehensive piece of paper, don't let it stop you from giving yourself a pat on the back.

Why? Because now there's no longer a ball and chain around your ankles you can now get down to the business of actually selling your house (WOPEEE!). The question is, when you've spent a lot of time trapped by a malicious contract, what is the best way to do so? We break down your options below...

  • Go back to another agent - Why when you've just cancelled an estate agent contract, you'd want to tie yourself into another we do not know. But in the case that you do, you should now be able to get yourself a better deal. Not that it'll be any better in terms of time though. Open market sales are still notoriously slow and open you up to all the hassle that comes with finding a buyer... again. Nevertheless, they're still a viable option for you.

  • Take a trip to auction - Another, potentially faster route you could explore, is taking a property to auction. Do so and you'll usually be able to sell your house on the day of the sale. However, in order to do so they'll be a fair amount of 'auction prep' you'll need to do beforehand. Couple that with the faff of conducting viewings and the stress of setting the correct guide price and you're still not certain of securing a sale. Plus, auctions aren't cheap. There are administration charges, commission on the sale, marketing costs to cover - the list goes on.

  • Sell house fast - You find us an easier method of selling your house and we'll personally give you a pat on the back ourselves

As an industry-leading cash buyer of property, we can take your house off your hands in less than 7 days, regardless of its location or condition. Nope - that isn't a typo! Our team of property pros have in excess of over 50 years of experience in buying homes and is equipped with the industry know-how to get you moved FAST!

On top of being experts in what we do, we'll also make sure you have no fees to pay either. We cover your solicitors. We cover your survey. And we offer you a cash sum for your property, which can be in your bank as soon as next week. Plus, our team can also help you save money too! In the past, they've been known to even negotiate on behalf of sellers and get them a healthy reduction on their onward purchase. All perks of choosing to sell fast through TPBC.

But enough about us - what about you?

Joe McCorry

Joe is our SEO Specialist that helps produce and develop content. He enjoys finding out about all the new property trends and learning about the property market.