How Do I File a Complaint Against My Broker?

Last Updated Apr 5, 2009 5:25 PM EDT

Dear Ali: I'm so mad at my real estate broker I could kill him. Who do I complain to?

A: It depends what you want to complain about, but in the interest of stopping more violence like that in South Carolina -- where a customer who wanted his deposit back decided the solution was to shoot a Coldwell Banker manager in the gut -- let me outline three levels of complaints:
  1. Housing discrimination. This is a Federal crime, punishable by fines and jail time, and the government wants to hear about it. Examples include if you were denied housing because of your race or because you were pregnant. You can find out more about Fair Housing at the website of HUD, the government department of Housing and Urban Development, and there's even a kids' info section featuring Franklin the Fair Housing Fox. (I don't make this stuff up.) Or you can call HUD at 1-800-669-9777. Recourse for victims can include housing and cash settlements.
  2. Agent inattention. A typical example of this is if you're trying to buy a property and you submit an orderly bid in writing, but you think the listing agent hasn't presented the bid to the owner. The first step you should take is to contact the agent's boss -- generally the manager of the firm; often this person is known as the sponsoring broker. If the person you're dealing with IS the broker, try a complaint to the local Board of Realtors (on a web search, type in the name of your town plus the phrase "Board of Realtors"). You can usually get someone reprimanded or suspended if your complaint is valid.
  3. Agent misbehavior. If you think, for example, that your real estate broker is mishandling your funds, run -- don't walk -- to your state officials. The web search here is for the name of your state plus the words "Real Estate Commission" or "Department of State." You can get an agent or broker's licensed pulled; you can also get him fined or even jailed.
Hopefully you will never have to use these complaint mechanisms, but if you do, going through the right channels will speed up the process -- and allow you to leave the implements of violence alone!
  • Alison Rogers

    Since graduating from Harvard summa cum laude, Alison Rogers has been a reporter, an editor, a real-estate agent, a Wall Street desk jockey, a columnist, a failed flipper, and a landlady. A member of the National Association of Realtors, she currently sells and rents luxury co-ops in Manhattan for the Chelsea-based firm DG Neary. (If you've got $27,500 a month, the firm has an apartment for you!) Her book, Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, was called "a valuable guide for rookie buyers" by AOL/Walletpop, "beach-read fun" by the New York Observer, and "witty" by Newsweek.