How to spot a bad real estate agent

filling out a mortgage loan application

What makes a bad real estate agent—and how to fire them or avoid hiring them altogether

Buying a home can be a long, difficult process, so you’ll want to make sure you have a great real estate agent. There are plenty of reasons a good agent just may not be right for you or your needs, but it’s a lot harder to spot a downright *bad* agent.  In this article, we’ll look at the things that make a bad real estate agent—the research you should do, the questions you should ask, and the factors to take into account. 

When it’s time to find an agent, you can start with agent match tools, like those found on Zillow, Ideal Agent, UpNest, and more, which allow you to enter basic information and get matched with agents in your area. You should also speak to a Flyhomes specialist who can personally find you an available Flyhomes agent in your area. You can also ask friends and family for referrals.

Referrals are a great way to find agents you know you can trust because they’re recommended by people you trust. In fact, despite all the marketing and networking real estate agents do, building a solid referral game and finding clients through word-of-mouth is one of the main ways an agent finds new clients.

If you’re out there on your own, though, and looking through agents without a referral, here are things to watch out for to know you have a potentially bad agent on your hands.  

Key takeaways:

  • We’ll look at the steps of finding an agent and what red flags to watch out for
  • We’ll show you how to sift through reviews and what to look for in those reviews
  • We’ll explain the differences between a bad agent and one that’s just not a good fit

 Not enough reviews

We know that not everyone writes a review and the bulk of reviews are by people who had either a uniquely terrible or amazing experience. For that reason, an agent’s reviews aren’t the only—or even best—way to gauge their skill. But if the number of reviews is noticeably really low, that could be a red flag that either the agent hasn’t worked with many clients or they aren’t providing the excellent experience that makes people want to write a review.

And remember, there are a lot of upset people on the internet so make sure you’re making your decision on trustworthy reviews and reviewers. Luckily, you can figure out what skills are the agent’s strengths and weaknesses and make sure you’re searching for one that fits all your needs. Zillow, for instance, breaks down their rating into four categories: local knowledge, process expertise, responsiveness, negotiation skills. If the agent has an overall high rating, but certain areas consistently get less than 5 stars, that’s a red flag that they’re not a full package agent.

There are a number of places to find agent reviews. Past clients can leave reviews for agents or brokerages on Google, yelp, the agent’s website, Zillow, and many other sites.

Below-average market data 

Once you’ve sifted through the reviews and decided on a few top candidates, it’s time to dig deeper into their transaction data. By comparing your agent’s recent transactions to other agents you can get a sense for the sale prices she is getting for her clients’ homes, how quickly her clients home sells, and how many transactions she completes on average. 

A good agent should have this data and be willing to share it with you. If your agent isn’t selling homes similar to yours for the amount that you know your home is worth, then that one isn’t the right one for you. Similarly, if they’re not completing transactions at a high pace, they may not have the hustle, experience, or dedication to make sure your home gets sold in a reasonable time period. The homes they represent may spend more time on the market or sell for less than they’re worth… Or both. 

Make sure your agent is either getting a high price for the homes they list, winning at least average offers for homes they’re buying, and closing transactions regularly and quickly. 

person pointing on the screen of a laptop
A real estate agent should have the most up-to-date information about your market as possible

Lack of experience

Recognize the difference between experience and time spent in the industry. This is related to the previous section on market data. That’s because an agent who has spent fewer years in the industry doesn’t necessarily have less experience, depending on the number and frequency of their transactions. 

A thirty-year veteran of the real estate industry may theoretically know a lot about real estate, but that’s not always the case since the market is always changing. A newer agent who has fewer years under her belt may actually have some more contemporary knowledge if she’s completed more recent transactions. 

In real estate, the most applicable experience is gained from an agent’s most recent transaction. So ask your agent when their last deal closed and what they learned from it. Just because your agent has been at it a while doesn’t mean that she knows what it takes, right now, to buy or sell your home. 

It’s a part-time job for them

This ties into the experience we discussed in the previous section. You’ll want to know if your agent is doing real estate part-time. A lot of agents do. That’s because an agent can, to a certain degree, set their own hours and choose when, and if, to take on clients so they can use the industry as a side-hustle or supplemental income. 

That’s OK. But they should still be dedicated to you and your real estate journey once you hire them. A part-time agent may not have the most up-to-date data on the market or most applicable experience. If you find that they do, make sure that they’re not going to pay attention to your transaction part-time. 

A part-time agent should be part-time only in that they take time off between clients. When they’re working with you, you should be certain they’re all in on your transaction. To determine whether or not you can trust your agent to show up for you, check their transaction volume. 

If an agent has 10 years of experience but only has 20 transactions, this is a red flag that this may not be a full-time job for them or they struggle to get and sell their listings.

Poor social media presence

Social media and overall web presence are no longer optional in the real estate industry. Whether the agent is leveraging Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or all three, they should have a strong social media presence. Especially listing agents. 

A listing agent will use their social accounts to market and publicize your listing. A lack of knowledge around social media may reveal your agent is behind the curve and unable to compete in the market. Social media is where agents trade data, learn about trends, and respond to current industry events. 

At this point, it’s pretty easy to tell who has put effort into their social media feed and who hasn’t. The same is true of websites. Not every website needs to be complicated and flashy, but if it’s clear that an agent hasn’t put any effort into their website it could be a sign that they won’t put effort into getting you the best deal. Look for spelling errors, broken links, or a poor layout. 

They’re out of touch… literally

An agent needs to be available to you when you need them. This doesn’t mean 24/7, but to a certain degree, agents should work around the clock. Real estate moves quickly. While you may be going to showings or securing financing, your agent needs to be available to answer questions and organize meetings, signings, and open houses. Especially when it’s time to make an offer, your agent should be able to press go right away. 

If, throughout the process, you find yourself waiting more than a day after contacting your agent or your calls often go to voicemail or your emails remain unread, your agent is a liability. Express your expectation that they should be available early and clearly. If they seem unsure or don’t hold up their end of the bargain, you’ve got yourself a bad agent. 

man and woman near table
Real estate agents should be excellent negotiators so both parties in the transaction are satisfied with the terms of the purchase

They’re pushy and don’t listen to you

Yes, real estate agents are sales people but they shouldn’t be pushing something on you you’re not comfortable with—whether it’s a home that’s outside your budget or a decision you’ve made about your listing. 

It can get tricky since agents often work for commission, but at the end of the day, this is your home we’re talking about and an agent should be working for you—not themselves. Besides, if an agent is forcing you to make offers outside your budget or showing you homes you’re not interested in, they’ll never close the sale anyway. 

A good agent respects the boundaries you set for them and works to build an experience for you within those boundaries. But if your agent is repeatedly ignoring your feedback just to try to enhance their commission, it’s time to cut ties. 

They don’t have negotiation skills

Buying and selling a home is a negotiation. There is almost always a difference between what the seller wants to get and what the buyer wants to pay. There’s always a compromise and an agent should be able to find it in a way that is both professional and mutually beneficial to both parties. 

They shouldn’t get pushy, impatient, or temperamental. That could spell the end of the negotiation, regardless of the offer. 

If a seller won’t budge on the price, there may be wiggle room for a home inspection or for the sellers to pay for some additional closing costs. Or, vice versa, if a seller has chosen an offer from a buyer they like but who can’t pay what they hoped to get, a listing agent should be able to advocate for other concessions like waived contingencies to sweeten the deal. 

If your agent isn’t prepared to make these adjustments, your agent isn’t prepared to buy or sell your home for the best terms possible. 

They are a no-show

Open houses, showings, some document signings, and meetings are best with your agent present. And if your agent misses one that you expected her to be at, you might miss an important deadline and find yourself disqualified for the home or in breach of contract. 

If your agent is often late or can’t make these important events at all, they may be either too busy to give you the attention you need or not ready to represent you, period. 

How to fire your agent

Once you’ve done your due diligence by finding, researching, and meeting with an agent, it’s time to hire one and get to work. But make sure you’re choosing the right agent because a lot of these relationships are contractual—you are officially hiring your agent. While many of these partnerships are successful, sometimes things don’t work out. How do you get out of a relationship with a bad real estate agent? If you’re under contract, make sure you take the right legal steps to protect yourself. 

  1. Document your experience

If you’re under contract, you’ll need to state your case and provide proof that your agent didn’t meet their end of the contract. 

  1. State your intentions in a written document

You can email your agent to cut off the relationship. State clearly why you’re ending your partnership—no need to be harsh, but don’t leave the door open either. 

  1. Request to be removed from the MLS

If you fire your agent but leave your home listed, things could get really messy. Make sure that your home comes off the market before starting your search for a new agent. 

The bottom line

Do your research and be on the lookout for red flags. While there are a lot of really great agents out there, the reality is that there are some bad ones as well, and you don’t want to be stuck with someone who won’t return your calls and doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Luckily, being on the lookout for red flags at each stage in the process can ensure you choose an agent that will make your home buying or selling process go smoothly.

FAQs

What should I not tell my real estate agent?

You shouldn’t talk to your agent about your personal finances, for instance your income, your net worth, etc. All they need to know is your budget and your mortgage approval amount as a buyer or your desired selling price as a seller.

How can I trust my agent?

If you’ve done your research, looked through reviews, and interviewed the agent, chances are you can trust your agent. However, if you start to see signs of dishonesty, pushiness, or lack of communication once you’ve hired them, it may be time to fire them and move on.

Can I trust the selling agent as a buyer?

The short answer is yes. If your agent is a Realtor®—meaning a member of the National Association of Realtors®—they are bound by the NAR’s Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice that ensures they are acting in their client’s best interest. If an agent isn’t a member, they aren’t bound to a specific code, but are likely trustworthy, especially if they have good referrals and glowing reviews.

Stephanie Mickelson is a freelance writer based in Northwest Wisconsin who specializes in real estate, building materials, and design. When she’s not writing, she can be found juggling kids and coffee.

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