A real estate agent was awarded zero commission after she made an error similar to the one in the Shakespearean play ‘Merchant of Venice”. The real estate agent, Lim Chee Mei, mistakenly left eight words out of a statement of claim in a $1.3 million property sale and had argued for a sum which she felt was rightfully her, “no more, no less”.
Lim, who is an agent from real estate firm Edmund Tie & Company (SEA), represented the buyer who purchased the 1.3 million property. After co-brokering the deal with the seller’s property agent, Lim was due to receive either $13,385 or $6,225, whichever is higher.
Following a spat, the seller’s agent Fong Kok Hung refused to give Lim and her company a slice of the commission. At this point, Lim’s company tried to sue Fong’s company, Savills Residential, for $13,385 only to find out that their lawyers left out the words “or such sum as the court deems fit” in the statement of claim. This made Lim’s claim an all-or-nothing legal battle.
Original documents produced by Savills’ real estate agent showed that he had agreed in writing to pay her a fee of $6,255 plus goods and services tax. The line – or 50 per cent of the commission payable by the seller to him, whichever is higher – (which would have entitled Lim and her company to the $13,385 commission) was struck out in Fong’s original document.
This line was present in Lim’s copy of the document but was deemed potentially unreliable since she had written the line in.
The state court threw out Lim’s company’s lawsuit and ruled that Lim would receive nothing since she argued for the higher sum, “no more, no less”. Essentially, the judge would have granted Lim something she had not asked for if he ruled in her favour, since Lim supposedly wanted all or nothing.
Arguing that a “grave injustice” had been committed, Lim’s company applied to the High Court for permission to appeal the case.
Earlier this month, Lim’s lawyer Tan Bar Tien argued at the High Court hearing that Lim should at least receive the $6,225 sum. He also pleaded for “such further relief as the court deems fit” but since the original suit was for $13,385, the judge found that it would be of no help to grant separate relief as a means to facilitate any main orders.
Fong’s lawyer Kenny Khoo further argued that the other real estate agent had doomed herself since the trial was based on an “all or nothing” premise.
Calling this a “straightforward” case where procedure was not followed, Justice Choo Han Teck dismissed the application for an appeal and agreed with the trial judge’s ruling. Reminding lawyers of the importance of following legal procedure, Justice Choo ordered Edmund Tie & Company (SEA) to pay $1,500 in costs and added, “this case is a tragicomedy of minor proportions”.
The judges’ decision in this case is reminiscent of the play ‘Merchant of Venice”, where the judge ruled that the antagonist wanted justice, and it’s justice he’ll get—to the letter of the law.
“So get ready to cut off the flesh. Don’t shed any blood, or cut less or more than exactly a pound of flesh. If you take more or less than exactly a pound, even if it’s just the tiniest fraction of an ounce—if the scale changes by even so much as a hair, you die, and all your property will be confiscated.”
It is time to change the rule on listing agent not sharing the commission with the buyer property agent. If this practice is to be continued, property buyer agents will become more scarce and it will be untrained property buyers walking straight into the arms of well trained Seller agents. The odds will be hugely against the property buyers. It is therefore still advisable to get a mortgage broker to help in your home loan as well as a buyer property agent to assist you to buy.