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An elderly homeowner is suing real estate brokerage Compass after she says a Compass agent convinced her to sell her home as a pocket listing which cost her at least $275,000.
In an Oct. 14 complaint, plaintiff Marian LaRatta alleges that she hired real estate agent Cory L. Cooper to sell her home, 236 24th Ave. in San Mateo, California, in March 2020. LaRatta, a widow, was 87 years old at the time and had lived in the home for 50 years. Cooper worked at Dwell Realtors at the time, but switched to Compass in October 2020 and remains a Compass agent.
Cooper allegedly told LaRatta that “because the Property was old and in poor condition that listing the Property on MLS would be a mistake” and instead allegedly pressured her to sell to a real estate investor that Cooper knew, Gregory Driker.
“COOPER engaged in extremely aggressive and improper sales tactics to overcome PLAINTIFF’s will and get her to quickly sell the Property without receiving a competing bid,” the complaint said.
“COOPER knew that PLAINTIFF had limited financial resources and was in desperate need to sell the Property because it was too large for her to maintain. He told PLAINTIFF that the transaction needed to be completed as quickly as possible or the only buyer would go away.
“COOPER falsely told PLAINTIFF that he could get her a better offer if the Property was not listed on MLS. COOPER scared PLAINTIFF into believing that she would receive less if the Property was listed on MLS, even though she believed getting multiple offers was what should occur.”
The lawsuit highlights the pitfalls real estate agents and brokerages can face when they don’t submit a listing to their multiple listing service to market a home to virtually all of a market’s buyer agents, and by extension, their buyers. While it is ostensibly a seller’s decision whether to list a home on an MLS, agents and brokers generally acknowledge that they have influence over this decision.
Deciding to sell a home off-MLS as a “pocket listing” is controversial in the industry because it limits a listing’s exposure to potential buyers and may also have fair housing implications if buyers outside of a particular agent’s sphere are not exposed to the listing.
In November 2019, the National Association of Realtors overwhelmingly passed the Clear Cooperation Policy, which is designed to combat pocket listings and requires listing brokers to submit a listing to the MLS within one business day of marketing a property to the public. The policy is currently the subject of multiple antitrust lawsuits and is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
According to LaRatta’s complaint on March 13, 2020, LaRatta agreed to sell to Driker, but four days later the state issued stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic and agents began using a coronavirus addendum that allowed parties to cancel their contracts, according to the complaint. So on March 23, 2020, LaRatta allegedly told Cooper to cancel the contract with Driker and signed the addendum, but Driker allegedly never signed. Despite this, Cooper allegedly told LaRatta that the contract was canceled.
A year later, LaRatta decided to put the property on the market again and contacted Cooper who was now working at Compass.
“COOPER, again, falsely told PLAINTIFF that he could get her a better offer if the Property was not listed on MLS,” the complaint said. “COOPER scared PLAINTIFF into believing that she would receive less if the Property was listed on MLS, and he again engaged in the same ruthless pressure tactics to get PLAINTIFF to agree to sell the Property quickly without being listed on MLS.
“COOPER, again, falsely told PLAINTIFF that he would get the best price for the Property. Instead of getting competing bids, COOPER again contacted Mr. Driker.”
Driker’s attorney then allegedly reached out to LaRatta to demand that she sell the house to Driker, per the contract from March 2020. According to the complaint, LaRatta then contacted Cooper to ask whether he had canceled the contract, and Cooper allegedly “responded that it was not his problem, and he couldn’t give PLAINTIFF advice.”
The complaint alleges financial elder abuse and breach of fiduciary duty against Cooper, Dwell Realtors and Compass. In regards to the first claim, the complaint alleges LaRatta’s financial damages add up to at least $275,000, which LaRatta based on Driker selling the home within a few months for $2.3 million in the same condition as when LaRatta sold the property to Driker.
In regards to the second claim, LaRatta’s attorney wrote that the defendants owed her a fiduciary duty to always act in her best interest and breached that duty “by not listing the Property on MLS and try to get multiple bids on the Property to obtain the best sale price” in addition to failing to have Driker sign the cancellation addendum.
“[T]he breach of fiduciary duty committed by COOPER was committed and/or authorized/ratified by DWELL and/or COMPASS, and thereby acted despicably, fraudulently, and is liable under [California laws] for exemplary and punitive damages,” the complaint said.
Compass declined to comment for this story. Cooper did not respond to a request for comment.