Is it legal to talk to a competitor’s client?

by Timothy Inklebarger

Closeup Of Judges Gavel, Legal Code, Scales Of Justice On The Rough Wooden Background. Law Concept

Contacting another Realtor’s client — is it legal? Does it run afoul of Massachusetts Association of Realtors bylaws?

It’s a question that Catherine Taylor, associate council with the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, hears regularly as the lawyer responsible for managing the association’s legal hotline.

Taylor stays busy with the hotline, which receives hundreds of calls a month.

In a recent interview with Taylor, she said the hotline received 458 calls last month alone. “It’s a great benefit we offer our members,” she said, noting that the hotline handles everything from license law to best practices for business to contract disputes.

Although Taylor said it’s more common that an agent contacts another Realtor’s client inadvertently, MAR recently put out a guideline for members who find themselves in a situation where they have spoken to or might speak to someone else’s client.
The association noted in its guide, which was posted on the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors website, that there are some expectations to the rule. Realtors are in safe water under the following scenarios:

  • General announcements, canvasses, or mailings to prospects describing available services and terms of availability.
  • Offering to provide, or entering into a contract to provide, a different type of real estate service unrelated to the type of service currently being provided.
  • Offering the same type of service for property not subject to other brokers’ exclusive agreements.
  • To inquire as to the terms of the existing exclusive agreement if the other agent refuses to disclose the expiration date and/or the nature of the existing agreement.
  • The contact was initiated by the individual, the REALTOR® may discuss the terms of a future agreement or may enter into an agreement that becomes effective upon the expiration of the existing agreement.

Outside of running afoul of the association bylaws, agents could open themselves up to lawsuits for intentionally poaching clients. MAR notes that members could be sued if:

  • There was a valid contractual relationship or a valid business expectancy.
  • There must be knowledge of the relationship or expectancy.
  • There must be intentional interference with the relationship or expectancy.
  • There must be damages.

Taylor encouraged Realtors to try to resolve issues between the two parties if it appears one agent is trying to poach. “I think it’s really important to emphasize that we recommend reaching out to the broker and see if you can resolve the situation,” she said.
The MAR legal hotline is available at 800-370-5342 and legalhotline@marealtor.com.

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