I've specialized in buyer agency for over ten years, and have been on both sides of this story. Anyone who has been in the business for any length of time has lost clients to another Realtor and picked up clients from others. It can be a little unnerving to be on either side of this equation, but it's something we all come up against and deal with.
There are a few different issues with your situation. One is which agent will receive the cooperating compensation from the listing agent. Another issue is what, if any, obligation do you have to pay the original or the new agent.
Procuring cause is a complex issue, and not something that can be easily determined. There is no one event or action that automatically says one agent brought the buyer to the table and, therefore, gets the fee. It has several components, one of which is that the chain of events that points to one agent or the other must be unbroken. That chain can be broken---by either the consumer or the professional---overtly with a written declaration or through abandonment. That is, you or the Realtor can state in writing that the relationship is over, or it can be assumed it's over if one of you stops communicating with the other over some period of time.
If you had no written agreement in place, it will be simpler to move on to a new agent. I'm not familiar with your state's laws, but you can probably terminate any implied agreement with your original Realtor by sending him or her a letter or an email stating you wish to end your relationship. If you did have a written agreement in place, you can still send the letter to terminate, but it probably won't be clearly ended unless s/he sends you a letter to confirm it.
(BTW, if you were working with an agent who doesn't use a written agreement, that's a sign you were probably working with someone inexperienced. You want to work with a professional who has it together enough to do business in a way that guarantees they will be compensated for the work they do. Listing agents don't spend their time and money marketing property without a signed agreement. And if an agent can't protect their own ability to get paid, what makes you think they'll protect any of your interests?)
If there is no easy way to terminate your relationship with the original agent, I would recommend sitting down with your new agent and telling them everything there is to know about your situation. S/he will then lay your options out in front of you and let you choose what works best for you.
One possible solution---if it's appropriate---is for your new agent to offer a referral fee to the original agent to buy them out of any express or implied agreement you may have with them. Again, I'm not in your area, so I don't know what's generally done in these situations, but I do know that the offer of a referral fee can heal a lot of wounds.
If you don't already have a new agent in mind, I would recommend choosing a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) who works in your area. CRS's comprise only about 3.5 percent of all Realtors, but we account for approximately 25 percent of all the residential real estate business in the U.S. The CRS designation is the most difficult residential designation to attain, and since you have to have a proven track record in order to earn it, there are no newbies with a CRS. If you would like, I would be very happy to put you in touch with a first-rate CRS in your area.
And whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck!
Bill Kuhlman, CRS, GRI, ABR, CBR, ASR, C-CREC, SRES, RECS
Kuhlman Residential Real Estate
2007â€“2008 President of the Board of Directors for
781 444-1399 (phone) (fax) 781 343-4077
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Oh, by the way, Iâ€™m never too busy for your referrals.