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Dec. 4, 2021, 7:47 a.m. EST

My Realtor is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19, but I need to find a home ASAP. Is it OK to break our business arrangement?

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By Jacob Passy

Dear MarketWatch,

I live in Fayetteville, N.C., and am currently selling my home and looking to buy another one.

My Realtor just told me that his daughter has COVID-19 and he has to get tested. He also said that he will be quarantining for a week.

I am in a crunch for time and need to go out daily to try to find a new house.  He is barely answering my texts and told me we’ll work it out.  What can I do?


Confused in Carolina

‘The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column looking at the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Do you have a question about buying or selling a home? Do you want to know where your next move should be? Email Jacob Passy at TheBigMove@marketwatch.com.

Dear Confused,

I can understand your concern. Even if the real-estate market has cooled off a bit from the frenzied pace of sales months ago, it’s still a very competitive, sellers’ market. There’s still a large degree of competition for homes in many parts of the competition.

That might be good news for you when it comes to selling your home — but you’re facing the same conundrum many would-be home sellers are worried about: Needing to find a new place to live. Indeed, I have multiple friends who sold their homes and then ended up renting because they weren’t able to find a new home to their liking to buy.

Nevertheless, for any buyer in the market today, it’s important to keep COVID-19 in mind and go in with a level head. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend a 14-day quarantine for anyone who is unvaccinated and exposed to someone with COVID-19. People who are fully vaccinated and don’t display symptoms don’t need to quarantine, but they are told to get tested five to seven days after exposure, and to isolate if they have any symptoms.

It sounds as though your agent may be taking some extra precautions — or perhaps he is unvaccinated and is looking to prevent possibly spreading the virus. I know you are stressed, but I think it’s important to take a moment to recognize that he has your best interests at heart. He’s doing the ethical thing by avoiding getting his clients sick — not to mention, it could be the policy for his brokerage to take these steps to stop the spread.

At the same time, I recognize that time is of the essence. If he’s part of a larger brokerage firm, I would start by contacting them to see what they might be able to do. “Typically in a situation such as this where a real estate agent has gotten sick, it would be customary for the agent to refer their client to another capable agent within the company,” said  Bill Gassett , a real-estate associate with RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton, Mass.

If that were to happen, that new agent would become your buyer’s agent and provide you with the same services, Gassett said.

You mentioned concerns about communication, which leads me to wonder whether you have had a hard time getting in touch with your Realtor in general in the time you’ve been shopping for a home. If you are truly dissatisfied with your service, you could consider switching to another agent. But beware: That can be easier said than done.

If you signed an exclusivity agreement with this agent, you’ll find that it’s difficult to break. Particularly if the agent had already showed you a home that you were to decide to purchase with another agent, your original Realtor could have rights to a commission on the home anyway. Because of that, other agents may be wary of working with you since it could jeopardize any commission they might expect to receive.

You could seek to request your current agent to cancel your contract with him — if you choose to go this route, you should put the request in writing via email and give him the courtesy of a phone call, as well. That said, he could choose not to cancel it, in which case you would essentially be stuck. These exclusivity agreements typically have a time limit, usually around six months, so you would be forced to either work with him or wait until you could work with someone else.

“When there is no buyer’s agent contract in place, the buyer could decide not to wait and move forward immediately with an agent from another firm,” Gassett said.

My ultimate advice: If this is the only issue you’ve had while working with this agent, give him the benefit of the doubt. See if another agent from his firm can help you in the meanwhile. If you’re close to signing a contract to sell your existing home, you could look to include some flexibility for yourself in terms of the move-out or closing date to buy yourself more time.

And if you do choose to hire a new agent, I would recommend asking if they’re vaccinated against COVID-19. Unvaccinated people are far more likely to contract COVID, and you wouldn’t want to fire this agent only to sign with one who later gets ill herself.

I know that in today’s market it may feel like a mad dash to scoop up a home for sale, but you also don’t want to rush into buying a home that’s not right for you. I hope that you can resume your house hunt soon and find your dream home.

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.  <STRONG>By submitting your story to Dow Jones &amp; Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties</STRONG> .

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