Am I needlessly irritated? Is this legal?
September 19, 2012 8:09 PM   Subscribe

Sold my old house: is it legal for the new owners to change the locks and start working inside the house prior to closing?

I don't know if there is much I can do. I sold my old house, and it is scheduled to close tomorrow. Old house is in Indiana, I live in California. I found out from my friend in Indiana who has been helping me with the house that the locks were changed and the new owners were in the house working on stuff, all prior to closing. Is this legal? Should I report my agent (who was a worthless parasite that I should have fired)? Any advice? My agent has not kept me in the loop on anything and I am quite a bit irritated. Thank you in advance.
posted by bolognius maximus to Home & Garden (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know about legality, but I certainly would be irritated if I were in you shoes. Any number of things could happen prior to closing, and I would totally be uncool with them being in there.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:12 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not legal. You could call the police on them, but they're banking that you're not going to because you want to sell the house.

I probably would, because I'm spiteful like that, even if it scuttled the sale entirely. But that's me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:14 PM on September 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

You should find out how long they have been working in the house and prorate and demand a daily rent. Or just let it go and be glad you sold in this crazy market. But it was a crappy thing for them to do without your permission.
posted by pearlybob at 8:16 PM on September 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

I wonder if this means they owe you rent.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:21 PM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Um, how did they change the locks if you close tomorrow? They just showed up at a house with a locksmith? Prior to closing? You have not yet sold the house.
posted by barnone at 8:23 PM on September 19, 2012

Blargh, I wouldn't want them in there before there own the house and PAY THE HOMEOWNER'S INSURANCE themselves. Aren't you still liable for anything that happens to them until the closing?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:24 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

You have the deed? Call a locksmith to meet you outside and change the locks back. Assure them they can certainly expect to receive your keys at closing. For all other access please make an appointment.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:25 PM on September 19, 2012

They're in the wrong. Let it go. You sold the house. Money in your pocket tomorrow.
posted by yclipse at 8:25 PM on September 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

yeah, i don't get how they were able to get into the house if the sale hasn't closed yet. did they break in?

regardless: dude, you close tomorrow. let it go.
posted by violetk at 8:28 PM on September 19, 2012

My real estate agent let them. And didn't tell me about it. Thanks for all of the replies so far.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:33 PM on September 19, 2012

Imagine you sued them, what would be the settlement? You're out the use of a house you weren't using. I'm thinking nil.
posted by pompomtom at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2012

Not legal. You are right to be irritated. But I suggest you cross-fingers and hope all ok for closing.

But their actions open you up to a whole mountain of risk. And it might be considered criminal (they are removing or damaging your possessions - like the door locks for example). What if their contractor's equipment set fire to the house and it burns down tonight? What if somebody unknown to you enters and steals all the copper piping? etc. You think they'll expect you to cover it on the insurance? Or they pull out of the closing leaving you worse off. It's crazy.

If you are using a lawyer for the closing (conveyancing), you might want to mention it to them. It does mean however they now have an investment in your house and if you did want to play hardball, they'd be more reluctant to pull out themselves. If you did want to do this though, you'd need to secure the house and have the police called if they attempted to enter it again. They might not even know they are doing something wrong if the agent has cooperated with them. Explicitly order the agent not to let anyone in the house and not enter it themselves.

You certainly can have words with the agent or their boss/employer. You could also fire the agent for breach of duty (in the morning) and refuse to pay the fees.

But life's too short.
It'll all be fine. :-)
Good luck.
posted by Xhris at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Does your real estate agent have a boss? I'd be inclined to let the sale go through but then send some sort of very stern note to the boss. And if there's a parent office, CC them as well. If you could get a lawyer to write it, all the better.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:43 PM on September 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

ah, then i would report your agent.
posted by violetk at 8:44 PM on September 19, 2012 [27 favorites]

Um, how did they change the locks if you close tomorrow?
posted by barnone

I've never run into this situation personally, but - do locksmiths typically ask for proof of ownership on a property if someone calls and says "hey, I lost the keys to my house, could you come change the lock?" or whatever. Perhaps there are regulations about this stuff, but I'm curious - I know nothing about it.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:45 PM on September 19, 2012

Maybe the agent knew that allowing them in a little early would make the sale go through. Are they getting an FHA-backed loan? The FHA requires the lender inspect a property before the house closes, and if it doesn't meet these criteria, the loan won't happen. Maybe they were fixing some issues to get the loan to buy your house, and maybe the agent gave them permission to change the locks so they wouldn't have to bother the agent every time they did a repair. I don't know... that's speculation on my part, but if your house has any of the problems on the list, maybe give your agent the benefit of the doubt.

Emotionally, I understand where you are coming from. Your agent overstepped their bounds.

Rationally, however... how exactly have you been harmed? In one day, your house will be their house. In the scope of things, this really doesn't matter all that much. The house was unoccupied anyway.

Just to add some perspective, my neighbor's house is for sale and has been since early spring. There have only been a couple of inquiries so far, even after two or three open houses, and today was the first time I noticed the agent giving someone a tour.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:53 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

P.S. The more I think about it, the lock changing was unacceptable. If anything, that would be something to complain to the agent about...
posted by MegoSteve at 8:56 PM on September 19, 2012

When I bought my house, I was given the option of gaining access to the property for renovations before closing, in exchange for some extra money. Your agent has given away for free something that is normally monetized, and done so without your consent. I wouldn't hold it against the buyers, though; it sounds like the agent is the problem.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:57 PM on September 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

Report the real estate agent to the licensing board. That is beyond unprofessional.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:06 PM on September 19, 2012 [40 favorites]

> Report the real estate agent to the licensing board. That is beyond unprofessional.

Seconded, this is crazy unethical.
posted by desuetude at 9:20 PM on September 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

I'm in Washington and not a lawyer, but I've recently sold a house. The house is still yours until closing -- that's when the papers are filed with the county or state or whatever. So no, they're doing work on a house that doesn't belong to them, without the homeowner's permission. But if it's going to close tomorrow I would just think dark thoughts and let it go.

Do report your real estate agent, though. That's highly sketchy.

> do locksmiths typically ask for proof of ownership on a property if someone calls and says "hey, I lost the keys to my house, could you come change the lock?" or whatever

Not in my experience. A locksmith once let me into a famous artist's warehouse on a weekend afternoon based on nothing other than my being willing to pay him.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:32 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Amazingly unprofessional of your agent. I bought my place a year ago, my *mom* was my agent and when I asked if I could get in early to clean/paint, she said point blank that she could get in a ton of trouble if she let me change anything prior to close. Or even in the place without her there to protect the seller.

Report the agent to their broker and whatever state regulator you have. Its beyond not cool of the agent.

Until you close, the house is still yours. They can still back out (and lose whatever money they have put down) and the sale can crash. Its terrible practice and the agent needs to be called out on it.
posted by right_then at 9:56 PM on September 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, weird.

When we bought this place I asked if we could get in early to paint and so on... offered to pay, indemnify the old owners, etc. Nope. Can't blame them, I guess. The risk is pretty substantial.

So the place sat empty for a month and the plants in the backyard all died.

Your agent in Indiana has some explaining to do.
posted by notyou at 10:05 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

It looks like consumer complaints against real estate agents in Indiana are handled through the Attorney General.

Not a lawyer but I suspect this is one of those things where if everything goes okay, you will only have the satisfaction of complaining (i.e. you probably can't get the commission back), but if things go seriously wrong, i.e. the sale falls through, you can go to court with a reasonable chance of success to sue the agent for associated costs (e.g. the cost of re-listing, changing the locks again, and undoing whatever the would-be buyers have done to the house).
posted by gingerest at 10:12 PM on September 19, 2012

How abouts, after closing you interrogate the agent, and if there's no reasonable explanation tell them you're docking their fee and/or will file a complaint?
posted by Dragonness at 10:50 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your agent is spectacularly stupid. You're paying her 5% or 6% and she's letting people alter your home and possibly damage it. And she doing this while you are holding the liability insurance.

I'd be very tempted to call her and terminate the listing contract and then thank the potential buyers for their free work on my house. I'd be tempted, but I wouldn't do it. You want to sell; they want to buy. No need to screw your transaction because your Realtor is clueless.

I would file complaints with the attorney general and the licensing board and anyone else. And I'd do everything in my power to not pay the full commission. Your agent should be protecting your interests.
posted by 26.2 at 12:14 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

At the closing, insist that the rental cost comes out of the agents fee, get a check from the agent before you sign.

Also, file the complaints.
posted by HuronBob at 2:40 AM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

You are rightfully irritated. The agent is at fault. Raise hell with him and his agency after closing.

Look for "possession at closing" in your contract for sale. What you've got is clearly offensive, but probably benign, however, it could have worked out a lot differently with another few days of squatting and a fire.

I would burn that agent a new orifice or two. Extremely unethical. Lose-his-license unethical.
posted by FauxScot at 3:28 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agents often get paid at the closing table. Once paid, why would the agent bother to deal with you, especially since the agent has already proven him/herself sketchy. Raise holy he'll with your agent and your agent's boss NOW. Negotiate a discount on the agent's commission BEFORE checks are cut tomorrow at the closing table.
posted by Ardea alba at 4:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you have a Real Estate board? If so, they may be able to tell you if there are other complaints outstanding against your realtor. I had a realtor who seemed sketchy, and I discovered through the board that they were about to be de-licensed for embezzling client funds.
posted by unSane at 4:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Had you gotten everything out of the house before this happened? If so, while it's pretty aggressive and rude, I'd just let it go. On the other hand, if you were expecting to be able to take one last check through the house, I'd be on the phone to the realtor and ripping them a new one. They haven't actually purchased the house, after-all. That happens at closing. Hell, they could be scamming and strip the house of wiring and metal and never show up to closing, leaving you with a stripped and unsold home.

(For non-Hoosiers reading this, in Indiana it's common practice that the purchaser does not take possession/move into the house immediately after closing. A grace period is given the seller to completely vacate, usually anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month or more.)
posted by Thorzdad at 5:38 AM on September 20, 2012

What if they found something during that illegal entrance and bring it up at closing? This could be huge. I would ask a lawyer on what to do.
posted by majortom1981 at 6:35 AM on September 20, 2012

How long have they been working on stuff? You should have your friend swing by and take a look. If they have done some good work that has improved the value of your house significantly, maybe you want to scuttle the sale and risk a chance to re-sell at a higher price.

But if it was me, I'd just contact the agent's boss and get his fee reduced. He'll still want to close the sale to get 3% less fee (or whatever) instead of you pulling the sale and everyone gets zero.
posted by mikepop at 7:14 AM on September 20, 2012

(For non-Hoosiers reading this, in Indiana it's common practice that the purchaser does not take possession/move into the house immediately after closing. A grace period is given the seller to completely vacate, usually anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month or more.)

I've purchased a home in Indiana, and several of my friends have bought/sold houses in Indiana, and never heard of this. The Seller was not completely out of the house at closing, and paid a penalty (he was out by the next day, he just was slow packing). There was absolutely no indication of a "grace period" of any kind.

This works both ways, of course. You can't get into the house before closing without the explicit permission of the people who own the house.
posted by endless_forms at 7:36 AM on September 20, 2012

You should definitely ask your lawyer for closing. This is not legal advice, and I don't know anything about Indiana law -- I'm just pissed on your behalf -- but I'd generally be worried about avoiding liability (rather than recovering damages or something -- I assume you still want to sell). I would hope you could insist prior to the closing that they sign a document that specifically acknowledges what they did, represents that they haven't been doing anything illegal or dangerous, waives all liability for any claims by them relating to the property from the moment your agent let them in and gives you full indemnity for all losses, expenses, etc. relating to any claims by anyone regarding the property as well as the buyers' activities on it from that moment too. Plus whatever else I'm not thinking of but an Indiana real estate lawyer would.

Agreed with everyone that your agent and agent's boss should be getting an earful and they should be scared that you'll just pull the whole sale or worse. A discount on the commission sounds like the least they could do.
posted by odin53 at 7:42 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

We bought a house in Indiana, we asked to be able to go in early and start doing things as we had a very close timeline between house sales moving in and family arriving from overseas and the like. There was a contract we had to sign as did the owners at the time to make it legal.

We could only do improvements and nothing majorly structural, and if it fell through they got to keep the improvements, (we built shelves in the garage and basement for all our crap) we didn't change locks and we did move some larger pieces of furniture in. Our seller was a professional flipper and actually suggested we do this when she found out about our tight timeline.

If you haven't signed any sort of contract in regard this then I'd be pissed off, and in our case it was a tiny one page deal so you might have signed it signing all the other paperwork without realizing and if your agent is as much of a dick as you say he might of slid it past you without bringing it to your attention.
posted by wwax at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2012

Your agent works for his 2.5%, not for you. He probably decided "Sure, I'll let the potential buyer do whatever because it means a more likely sale." The new owners probably thought your agent got your approval. Yell at your agent, not the people who are buying your home.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:12 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just as a heads up, if you do file a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General's Office, do not necessarily expect to see the issue immediately brought to hearing or resolved. This is literally what I do, but in another state, so there may be some procedural differences.

I would presume in their process, there is a short investigative point where they will likely ask for information from your realtor and possibly, you, as well on what happened. Then, there's also the chance that the realtor will have the opportunity to settle, basically, agree to a disciplinary measure against their license if there appears to be solid enough grounds for discipline. This removes the hearing and the possibility of harsher discipline, as well associated legal costs, for the licensee.

If they demand a hearing, then scheduling may automatically mean a wait of anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Then there may be an additional disciplinary hearing, which will also take time to schedule, and the opportunity to appeal each of the decisions from those hearings.

Sometimes it can take a while to go through this process, particularly if the licensee has the opportunity to negotiate back and forth on the terms of settlement. It can be worth it, however, if you feel the behavior was egregious enough to warrant some kind of official action be taken. I am not familiar with how Indiana's real estate commission records, but I do see that they publish the discipline received and why it was given in their newsletter. It also looks like they have a database which might also tell consumers if there's any existing discipline in effect.

So, if you feel strongly enough about it, it certainly is an option. As for your role, they might want your testimony if it goes to hearing. An affidavit may or may not be good enough, but our hearings do allow a telephone testimony without much of a problem, if they want a readily available witness.

Not your lawyer, not legal advice.
posted by Atreides at 9:32 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

In a similar situation my friend got the advice of their lawyer to proceed with the sale but the cheque for the agent's commission was held in trust by the lawyer while the agent and lawyer negotiated a settlement. I believe they ended up not paying anything to the agent at all (which was tens of thousands of dollars) and the agent paid their lawyer's fees. It was a nice bonus for them!
posted by saucysault at 9:47 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

> Agents often get paid at the closing table. Once paid, why would the agent bother to deal with you, especially since the agent has already proven him/herself sketchy. Raise holy he'll with your agent and your agent's boss NOW. Negotiate a discount on the agent's commission BEFORE checks are cut tomorrow at the closing table.

This this this this. The agent did not do the thing you are paying him/her to do. If you wait until after closing to complain, I fear you're going to get a whole lot of "ohh, no harm no foul, you can't prove something dire would have happened because hey, nothing dire happened." Something dire did happen, you were were exposed to an enormous amount of risk involving a lot of money. That's not nothing. (Isn't the entire insurance industry based on the idea that risk is a something?)

If the agent had let the prospective owners for something like taking measurements or photos, fine. Maybe even to clean up, though that really shouldn't be done without your consent, but ok, you could let that slide. Maybe someone could quibble about what "do work on the house" means and what is reasonable. But the agent is still responsible for access to that house.

On your agent's watch, he/she lost control over access to the house. Maybe (perhaps even likely) the prospective owners didn't ask the agent and just took it upon themselves to change the locks. It doesn't matter, it's still the agent's fault. That's why agents don't let people come and go as they please in a house that they don't own.

It doesn't matter that you had moved out and that you were planning to sell the house to these people, either. I'm planning to sell a lot of things that I'm not using right now, but I wouldn't let an interested buyer lock them away from me until they'd paid me.
posted by desuetude at 9:49 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

(I agree with damn dirty ape, though, don't yell at the new owners, go after the agent. )
posted by desuetude at 9:51 AM on September 20, 2012

Call your agent's broker in charge. (That is his or her job to oversee that agent and this is serious.) AT THE VERY LEAST THOSE TENANTS OWE YOU RENT. The fact this was not negotiated with you is a great big fat honking red flag.

This is the kind of thing that can get the agent in a great deal of hot water. You are owed money. As a matter of fact, if you can't get in touch with the broker in charge immediately I'd be tempted to call your local real estate board. Whatever you do, do something!

(My husband was an agent and also a broker. He was totally horrified to hear your scenario.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:08 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

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