The homebuying process can be long and complicated, and the last thing you need is a bad real estate agent guiding you through it. A bad agent can cause you to lose out on your dream home, botch negotiations, or even talk you into buying a home you can't afford and don't want. A home purchase is too big a deal to have any of this happen — and it doesn't have to if you recognize the signs of a bad agent.
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The warning signs of a bad real estate agent are fairly easy to spot, so you should be able to avoid finding yourself stuck in a contract with someone who isn't getting the job done or isn't working in your best interests. All it takes is a thorough interview and a little background research before you sign.
Trying to hire a real estate agent for your home search? Here are 10 warning signs that you haven't locked in a great one — and what to do if you want to switch.
1. Poor Communication Skills
It's the job of a good buyer's agent to keep you informed of new listings — especially in a hot market in which listings disappear quickly. Lack of communication is probably the number-one red flag for which to look out. A bad real estate agent will be AWOL at the time you most need to be in touch, and that can result in unnecessary glitches in negotiations and lost opportunities.
A good real estate agent will get back to you within 24 to 48 hours, and a great agent has a backup staff to address your concerns immediately when the agent isn't available. A bad agent doesn't communicate in your preferred method, whether that's by text or emails, doesn't get back to you in a timely fashion, and communicates in an informal, unprofessional style that opens the door to crossed wires and mistakes.
2. Stretched Too Thin
The average real estate agent closes 12 deals a year, which works out to about one a month. An agent who closes significantly more deals than that may simply be industrious, but it's also a sign of someone who takes on too many clients in an effort to make money and doesn't put the needs of the clients first. If you work with that agent, you may find yourself at the bottom of the priorities list and unable to get the attention you deserve, or you may discover that paperwork is done hastily and incorrectly. A busy schedule doesn't necessarily make a real estate agent bad, so it's more of an orange flag than a red one, but it's still a flag.
3. Lacks Experience
In general, you want your real estate agent to have at least two years of experience — because it takes that long to get familiar with home prices, comps, and market trends, and to become proficient with the paperwork. Everyone has to start somewhere, though, so if you click with an agent, intuition may direct you to put compatibility above experience as long as the agent can supply you with at least two stellar references.
However, beware of someone who dabbles in real estate part time because when push comes to shove, whatever other responsibilities that agent has may take precedence over your needs. Besides lacking experience, part-timers often — but not always — lack support staff and networks, so if you find one that seems to be on the same page as you, be sure to ask about that.
4. Too Pushy (or Not Pushy Enough)
Real estate is a competitive business, and you want an agent who is going to be aggressive in representing your interests, or you may find yourself on the short end of every negotiation. What you don't want, however, is an agent who aggressively pursues an agenda when it comes to your priorities. You could end up being persuaded to purchase a house you can't afford or that doesn't meet your needs. A pushy agent usually isn't a good listener — and you'll be able to spot that during the interview.
On the flip side, an agent who isn't pushy enough will appear lackadaisical and disorganized during your interview and will likely have a below-average closing rate. This is someone who probably doesn't show up for appointments on time, and you may find yourself waiting at open houses, private showings, and signings.
5. Lacks Knowledge of Technology
A good portion of real estate business happens online, and new tools are constantly being developed to make shopping easier and more informative. You can get a good idea of a real estate agent's knowledge of technology by checking out their web presence. A good agent has a website complete with testimonials and a detailed profile and is active on social media, which is an important networking tool. Plenty of people are tech challenged, though, so if you come across an agent who relies mostly on the telephone and print media and has a poorly managed website or none at all, you could miss out on the best deals by working with that person.
7. Ethically Challenged
Real estate agents are bound by a code of ethics, but some agents choose to ignore ethics in the interest of a quick sale. An unethical agent may give you misleading information about a property, neglect to fill out necessary paperwork or conduct electronic transactions on your behalf without your knowledge. If you're already working with such an agent, you can file a complaint with your local REALTOR® association, and it may be grounds for dismissal of the retainer. Continuing to work with an unethical real estate agent can potentially put you in legal jeopardy, so it's important to act quickly.
8. Exhibits Unprofessional Behavior
You want to make a good impression at showings, so you dress appropriately and show up on time, and you should expect the same from your agent. Though everyone has off days, an agent who routinely shows up late wearing sweatpants is just counterproductive — and it points to potential issues that could come further down the line (like lack of attention to detail when it comes to all the paperwork).
Usually, you can suss out the potential for such behavior when you interview the agent. Is the office neat and tidy, or is it cluttered with paper and disorganized? Does the agent treat you with respect or with inappropriate informality? Are communications clear and timely? If not, heed the red flag and find another agent.
9. No Professional Network
You're going to need input from several professionals during the homebuying process, including someone to do the home inspection, someone to prepare the title, and someone to arrange a loan. The best real estate agent has a solid network of trusted professionals, but a not-so-great one may end up having to cold call people at the last minute. This can cause delays in a busy market. Having a solid network gives you the advantage of priority scheduling that you don't necessarily have when you're not a regular client.
It's important to query an agent about their network during the interview and ask for names and contact information so you can make direct connections. If the agent can't provide that information, it's a red flag that indicates that the agent isn't well-established in the community.
10. Doesn't Take a Leadership Role
Watch out for a real estate agent who is willing to accommodate your every wish no matter how outrageous. A good agent has the experience to guide you in making reasonable decisions that will help you make a successful offer and close the deal — and who also isn't afraid to tell you things you don't want to hear. A bad real estate agent, on the other hand, might let you make lowball offers or demand expensive repairs that sellers can interpret as a lack of good faith and could discourage them from working with you.
Your real estate agent is supposed to act as a messenger between you and the seller's agent, but a bad agent takes that role to an extreme and fails to take on the role of an adviser. This is a point you should cover during the interview, asking such questions as, "What's a fair price for what I'm looking for in this neighborhood?" and "How long do you think it will take to find it?" Beware of overly positive answers because if what the agent says sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How to Find a Good Real Estate Agent
Searching for a real estate agent is like searching for a doctor or a lawyer: The best way to find a good one is to get a recommendation from a trusted friend. However, if you're moving to a new location where you don't know anyone, you can't rely on your friends. Alternatives include:
- Major brokerage firms: Well-established brokers have a reputation to protect, so they won't set you up with a bad real estate agent who's going to earn them a negative review.
- Online neighborhood chat forums, such as Nextdoor: Open an account in your prospective neighborhood and post an introduction, explaining that you're a homebuyer looking for a good agent. You'll probably get several recommendations.
- Open houses: Visit one or more open houses in the neighborhood and chat with the people there as well as with the listing agent showing the property. You're bound to get leads.
- Online referral services: Using these services can be a bit like buying insurance online, but if you're moving far away and need to search remotely, they can be valuable resources. Use these services only if you're serious about finding an agent because once you enter your information, they will follow up — sometimes aggressively — even if you change your mind.
When Can You Fire a Real Estate Agent?
You may not realize the agent is a dud until after you've signed and you find that your home search is going nowhere. Most contracts grant exclusivity to the agent for a specified period (six months is typical), and that prevents you from simply dropping a bad agent and getting a new one, but if the agent is affiliated with a brokerage firm, you may be able to persuade the broker to let you off the hook to avoid getting bad reviews. This is a good argument for hiring an affiliated real estate agent rather than one who works independently.