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Remember Vern and Marty Ummel, the Carlsbad couple we profiled last year? They were picketing Re/Max offices around San Diego County to protest the practices of their agent, Mike Little, who they said defrauded them by not disclosing a lower-priced, comparable listing down the street from the home they bought in 2005.

Vern and Marty Ummel picket Re/Max offices last February.

Their case against their agent heads to trial next Monday. And their story’s getting some national attention — check it out in today’s New York Times. Reporter David Streitfeld (one of my favorites in the country on this beat, recently of the LA Times) told the Ummels’ story and put it in this context:

Real estate lawyers and brokers say the case … is likely to be the first of many in which regretful or resentful buyers seek redress from the agents who found them a home and arranged its purchase. …

That makes this the first housing collapse in which large numbers of buyers had a real estate professional explicitly looking after their interests. The Ummel case poses the question: In a relationship built on trust, where promises are rarely written down and where — as in this case — there is no signed contract, what are the exact obligations of these representatives in guiding their clients through a sizzling market?

It certainly seems to be a hot topic — the story has soared to the top of the Times‘ most popular stories log. I’ll check in with the progress of the trial next week and keep you posted.

KELLY BENNETT

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