Real Estate Subagency in California: What Prospective Agents Need to Know

What Is Subagency In Real Estate

As a prospective real estate agent in California, it’s important to understand the concept of subagency in real property transactions. During a standard transaction, the listing broker might collaborate with other brokers to achieve the agency’s goals, including securing a buyer, tenant, or lender. This collaboration, however, often leads to intricate legal relationships among the brokers and principals involved.

This discussion will explore the fundamentals of subagency in California real estate, including its definition, underlying legal principles, and possible repercussions. Additionally, we will examine how the industry has adapted to minimize subagency and offer guidance on navigating this area of the law.

What is Subagency in Real Estate?

Subagency refers to the appointment of a second broker to represent the principal (either the buyer or the seller) in a real property transaction. This appointment can occur in two ways:

  • Express or Implied Authority: The principal may expressly authorize the listing broker to appoint a subagent on their behalf, creating a new contractual and fiduciary relationship directly between the principal and the subagent. Alternatively, the appointment may be implied based on the actions of the parties involved.
  • Without Consent: Should the listing broker appoint another broker without the principal’s approval, this broker then acts on behalf of the listing broker, not as a subagent for the principal.

Legal Principles of Subagency in California

Subagency regulations in California have faced criticism due to their complexity and the often adverse effects they have on both buyers and sellers. For example, if a cooperating broker makes fraudulent misrepresentations about the property to a prospective buyer, the seller can be held liable for the broker’s actions. This is because the listing broker had express authority under the exclusive listing agreement to engage the services of the cooperating broker, making them jointly responsible for any misconduct.

Under California law, the acts, errors, and omissions (negligence) of a subagent appointed by the seller may be imputed to the seller. Similarly, if the cooperating broker is the authorized agent or subagent of the listing broker, any negligent acts may be imputed to the listing broker, potentially resulting in liability to third parties under the legal theory of respondeat superior.

Avoiding Subagency in California Real Estate

Given the potential risks and complexities of subagency, the real estate industry has grown to avoid it wherever possible. For example, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) amended its Multiple Listing Rules in the early 1990s to establish the concept of Multiple Listing Plus. Under these rules, the listing broker has the option of either offering a unilateral offer of subagency to the cooperating broker or simply sharing the commission without extending any offer of agency or subagency on behalf of the seller or the listing broker.

The industry now commonly avoids subagency altogether, making it necessary for prospective real estate agents in California to understand these changes and deal with the accordingly.

Tips for Navigating Subagency in California Real Estate

As a prospective real estate agent, it’s critical to stay up to date on the latest developments and best practices for navigating subagency. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Understand the listing agreement: Thoroughly review the agreement between the principal and the listing broker to assess whether the broker is expressly or implicitly authorized to appoint subagents.
  • Know your role: If you’re a cooperating broker, be clear about your role in the transaction and whether you’re acting as an agent or subagent.
  • Use Multiple Listing Plus: Employ the Multiple Listing Plus strategy to circumvent subagency and mitigate potential legal complications.
  • Disclose everything: Be transparent about all relevant information and disclosures with the parties involved in the transaction. This includes disclosing any potential conflicts of interest, such as dual agency or any existing relationships with other parties involved.
  • Consult with a legal professional: If you have any questions or concerns about subagency or other legal issues in a transaction, it’s always a good idea to consult with a legal professional who specializes in real estate law.

By following these tips, you can navigate subagency and other complex legal issues in California real estate transactions effectively and help protect yourself and your clients from potential liability.

The Bottom Line

Subagency in California real estate can be a complex and potentially risky area for prospective agents. By understanding the legal principles involved, staying up to date on industry best practices, and being transparent and honest with all parties involved in a transaction, you can navigate this area effectively and help ensure a successful outcome for everyone involved. Remember, if uncertain, seek advice from a legal expert specializing in real estate law to help guide you through the process.