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I Lost Money Because of My Real Estate Agent’s Breach of Duty

Curiale Hostnik PLLC Sept. 4, 2023

When you retain the services of an attorney to represent you in a legal matter, that attorney has a duty to represent your best interests at every turn. Moreover, you expect them to.

The same holds true when you hire a real estate agent to represent you or your business in a transaction. Throughout the process, the agent should eschew personal gain as well as neglect and ensure they represent your best interests in all matters related to the transaction. 

What happens if you lose money due to a real estate agent breach of fiduciary duty?  

Curiale Hostnik PLLC offers support for individuals and businesses in Tacoma, Washington, exercising their legal rights when they have incurred damages due to a real estate agent’s breach of fiduciary duty. We understand fully the duty we owe to our clients and the consequences if we fail. Your real estate agent should know as well.  

What Are the Duties of a Real Estate Agent?

The reason you hire a real estate agent is to benefit from their time, skills, and experience when selling or purchasing real estate. 

Real estate agents are bound by Washington law to their fiduciary obligation owed to their clients. In fact, six duties comprise this obligation: 

  1. They owe their clients a duty of full and honest disclosure. First, they should seek information that should be disclosed about a property. Second, they should disclose all information they find out to their clients so they can make informed decisions during negotiations and purchase. Disclosures should be included in the real estate contract to protect the best interests of the agent’s clients. 

  1. Agents owe their clients a duty of loyalty, always putting the clients’ best interests above their own, even if it means surrendering personal or professional gain. 

  1. Agents owe a duty of strict confidentiality. They should not reveal any information you give them in confidence lest that information damage the client during negotiations. 

  1. Agents owe a duty of careful accounting of money and documents. Clients’ money should never be commingled with the agents’ and documents given to the agent, such as deeds, should be separate and secured. 

  1. Agents owe their clients a duty of care and diligence, employing their skills, education, and experience in every matter.  

  1. Agents owe a duty of obedience to all lawful requests made by the client. 

How Do I Recognize a Breach of Duty by My Real Estate Agent?

You count on the agent to research properties suitable for your needs or market to appropriate audiences to find prospective buyers. You count on them to find comparable properties that help value the property accurately. You count on them to give you educated and honest advice throughout the negotiation process so you can make informed decisions. You count on them to abide by their legal duty to be motivated at all times by your best interests. 

If a real estate agent—through action or omission—fails to abide by any of the six duties, they breach the duty owed to their client. Here a just a few examples of breaches of duty: 

  • The agent doesn’t disclose other offers on a property before the seller accepts an offer. 

  • The agent does not disclose property defects they are aware of. 

  • The agent accepts an offer or declines one without consulting with the seller. 

  • The agent represents both the client and the seller, constituting a conflict of interest. 

  • The agent makes money on a transaction outside the percentage as specified in the contract. 

  • The agent discloses personal information about the client to the other party during negotiations. 

In any civil lawsuit, you must prove that the damages you allege you have suffered were caused by the agent’s breach of fiduciary duty. For example, if you sold the property for less money than an offer the agent did not disclose until you had accepted the lower offer, you would need to provide evidence that the agent owed you a fiduciary duty, the agent knew and failed to provide you with the higher offer, and as a result, you made less money on the sale that you otherwise would have made. 

How Can I Seek Remedies for My Financial Loss?

If you believe your real estate agent breached their fiduciary duty and you lost money as a result, you should question the agent about the breach. You should also discuss the issue with the agent’s broker whose agency is on the line for the agent’s behavior.  

Review the terms of the contract you signed with the agent, the purchase agreement, closing documents, and any other information pertinent to the transaction.  

If the agent will not admit to a breach of duty and compensate you for your losses, you can agree to a form of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, to resolve the dispute. If you lost money due to the real estate agent, you can file a lawsuit for breach of duty in the appropriate civil court. 

What Does Filing a Lawsuit for Breach of Fiduciary Duty Entail?

When you file a lawsuit, you are the plaintiff, and the agent is the defendant. The burden of proof for the lawsuit rests with you and, wisely, your attorney. You will need to gather all documents, agreements, witness testimony, and other evidence of the defendant’s breach of duty, and do so in a timely manner. 

In Washington, you have three years from the discovery of the breach to file a lawsuit. 

Once you file suit, the discovery process will begin. Your attorney will submit questions the agent is required to answer in writing and under oath and request documents the defendant must provide under oath. Your attorney may also want to conduct sworn depositions of witnesses, experts, and other parties.  

Discovery works both ways. The defendant’s attorney is entitled to make these same requests of you. Your attorney will help you prepare all responses to discovery requests. 

Will My Case Go to Trial?

You may be able to resolve your case long before jury deliberations. A plaintiff’s verdict in a lawsuit involving breach of fiduciary duty will involve sanctions against the defendant’s professional status at a minimum and more likely, loss of their real estate license. Defendants are often motivated to settle claims for damages, especially once they begin to discover the evidence supporting the plaintiff’s claim.

Hiring an experienced attorney is critical in litigating your claim in court. However, you will benefit enormously from your attorney’s involvement in negotiations as well. Your attorney will serve your best interests, which means doing what is necessary to achieve maximum compensation for your damages and not settling for less than your claim is worth.  

Of course, when you present your case to a jury, you never know what verdict it will reach. Allowing your attorney to negotiate on your behalf, while maintaining all your rights to make every decision during the process, is negotiating from a position of strength. Whatever decision you make about attorney involvement, it is wise to never sign any type of settlement agreement without having it reviewed by a knowledgeable attorney. 

Let Our Experience Guide You

As real estate law attorneys, we have seen the often devastating ramifications resulting from a real estate agent’s breach of duty. We also recognize that clients harmed by one professional with a legal obligation to protect their best interests are wary of working with lawyers, who also owe them a fiduciary duty.

To us, that duty is not merely a legal obligation. It is sacred.

If you believe your real estate agent breached their fiduciary duty, don’t wait. Call the offices of Curiale Hostnik PLLC in Tacoma, Washington today. Our firm serves people throughout the Pierce County communities of Puyallup, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, and University Place.