Is a verbal agreement between client and realtor valid?

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Is a verbal agreement between client and realtor valid?

Our realtor agreed to keep an eye on our home in PA when we moved to ID until he sold it for us. This was to include adjusting heat, etc. Pipes burst on the third floor and the house essentially self-destructed. He lied about having checked on the place and/or adjusting the heat. Our homeowners initially sent in clean up crews, then eventually denied the claim. As a result we ended up having to claim bankruptcy. It was a brutal, very stressful few years. It still seems to me that the realty company and our insurer owe us something.

Asked on May 10, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Idaho

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Oral or verbal contracts are generally enforceable--there are a few exceptions, like for the sale for realty, but those would not seem to apply here--so in theory, you could sue the realtor and *possibly* his employer for breach of the agreement. The reason that it is only *possibly* the employer is that if that is not a service they normally provide and he did not get it approved by the company to do this, it may be that they are not liable for his actions--basically, that he cut a side deal or agreement with you that did not involve the company.

However, even though oral agreements are generally enforceable, you have several possible problems--which is not to say that you should not still consult with an attorney to evaluate your potential claim in detail. The issues:

1) If he disagrees with your recollection, proving the existence and terms of an oral agreement can be difficult.

2) You'd also have to prove that it was an agreement, and not an unenforceable promise, by showing that he was getting something in return for providing this service.

3) If he agreed to watch the home, you'd have to prove that a) he violated the agreement (so did not do what he should have) and b) that the damage came because of his actions. For example, if he checked the home as regularly as expected but the pipes froze and burst anyway, he'd not be liable.

As to the insurer: you did not indicate why they denied the claim. That is the key issue. For example, was the problem that they felt that the house was effectively unoccupied, and your home owner's insurance was for a house being actively used by you as a residence? It may be that they had good grounds, under the policy, to not pay.


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