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Legal-Ease: Helping others with real estate sales

Our still-stalled economy and our self-help culture often lead people to take real estate sales into their own hands. With the proliferation of Facebook and other social media such as Zillow, the question often becomes, “Why can’t I sell my house myself and avoid paying someone else a commission?”

There is nothing unlawful about owners selling their own real estate by themselves. However, if an owner offers finder fees, referral fees or other money to any unlicensed person to help the owner, the owner and the other person will be acting unlawfully. In Ohio, only certain licensed professionals can accept fees to help other people buy or sell real estate.
Those who are authorized by law to help people buy or sell real estate are usually called real estate agents. However, in Ohio, real estate agents are more technically called either “real estate brokers” or “real estate salespersons.” Real estate brokers have several years of experience and have been licensed by our state government as having the experience and knowledge to help others sell real estate ethically and honestly.

Real estate salespersons are similar to real estate brokers, except that real estate salespersons do not have the same amount of experience. Each real estate salesperson is required to work with at least one real estate broker until that real estate salesperson has the required experience. Tthink of it as an apprenticeship.

Attorneys are also allowed to help other people buy and sell real estate, within the scope of the attorneys’ work.

Many real estate agents are commonly called “Realtors.” However, only real estate agents who voluntarily join a certain national trade association for real estate agents are permitted to refer to themselves as “Realtors.”

Therefore, the law requires a license for someone to help sell real estate but does not require a license for someone to help sell a car, a couch or antiques. This is because real estate is unique and essentially irreplaceable. There is no piece of real estate that is the same as another. People’s real estate is often their biggest tangible asset and sometimes their livelihood if they work from home or farm. As a result, the law provides these significant safeguards to ensure that no one is misled before they buy or sell real estate.

Real estate agents understandably and necessarily charge a fee for their services. That fee is often a percentage of the price paid for the property being bought or sold. In northwest Ohio, that percentage for residential (house) transactions typically varies from 6 percent to 10 percent. That percentage can be negotiated to a certain extent, but some minimum percentage is necessary for real estate agents to have the resources to be able to effectively market the real estate that they have been hired to buy/sell.

In addition to the legal reasons for hiring a real estate agent, statistics show that houses sold through a real estate agent typically sell sooner and for more money than houses sold by owner alone.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

(Culled from

December 8, 2014

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