Friday, April 11, 2008 | A jury sided Thursday with Carlsbad real estate broker Mike Little in a closely watched lawsuit that pitted a local couple against the agent that helped them buy a home. The couple, Vern and Marty Ummel, claimed that Little neglected to mention recent sales in their neighborhood, leading them to overpay by about $150,000 for their home in July 2005.
The case attracted national attention as it posed a hot question: What are the responsibilities of a real estate agent? The real estate camp was concerned that if the plaintiffs won Thursday, it would catalyze and focus a growing urge around the country to find someone to blame — and to hold financially responsible — when houses aren’t worth as much as their buyers once paid. Those who sided with the Ummels worried their case would be chalked up to rich people problems, a matter of a measly $150,000 in the scope of a million-dollar tract home near a golf course in North County.
With an enthusiastic and unanimous response, the jury found that Little had executed a reasonable standard of care when he showed his clients, Vern and Marty Ummel, more than 80 homes in a house hunt that began in May 2005, ultimately leaving them to their decision to pay $1.2 million for their house two months later.
In arguments delivered Thursday morning to conclude the jury trial that began last week, attorney David Bright said his client, Little, was being unfairly blamed for the Ummels’ house dropping in value.
“The Ummels want to own the most desirable house and pay for the least desirable house and have Mr. Little make up the difference,” he told the jury.
At a time when housing market trouble has rocked the global economy, the individual roles of people involved in the basic housing transaction have come under fire. A soaring market this decade hid a multitude of mistakes, a plethora of cut corners and fudged appraisals, because buyers could sell for a profit, nearly no matter what.