Friday, July 6, 2012

Does a real estate brokerage firm's due diligence reports entitle them to a commission when they are not the procuring cause?

A brokerage commission is generally due when a real estate broker procures a ready, willing and able purchaser for a transaction. Nonetheless, it is often the case that real estate brokerages work very hard to procure a purchaser just to have their work-product utilized by a competitor to procure the purchaser and earn the commission. This is the situation that the NYS Court of Appeals recently faced when deciding Malone v. Ralph Rieder, which can be read here.

The issue presented to the Court was if the procuring brokerage was unjustly enriched at the expense of the due diligence brokerage and hence, did the procuring brokerage owe the due diligence brokerage a portion of their commissions? 

The Court answered the question with a striking NO. The rationale says the Court is that there was no business relationship or connection between the 2 brokerage companies. Therefore, the relationship between the 2 brokerage companies was too attenuated to justify the claim and the case was dismissed. 

The lesson here is that one needn't be concerned about the acts of unknown parties and one can protect oneself by acting as a good-faith purchaser for value. To illustrate, here, the defendant purchased the due diligence reports from the seller and therefore was an innocent party and consequently not liable for unjust enrichment to the due diligence brokerage.

Real estate brokers should take comfort in the Court's decision because they needn't probe the underlying relationships between the businesses with whom they contract and other entities tangentially involved but with whom they have no direct connection.

The Court did state however that the claims against the first procured purchaser who did not proceed with the transaction and the seller remain pending - so this remains as the best route for the due diligence brokerage to obtain recourse for its loss.