7 Reasons to Fire a Real Estate Agent—And How to Do It

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If you're searching for a new home, you can't afford to work with a subpar real estate agent because there's too much at stake. You're about to enter into the largest financial commitment you're ever likely to make, and you could very well live in the home you purchase for the rest of your life. You want professional help in finding your home, and you deserve an agent who will represent you competently.

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If you acted with due diligence, you interviewed your agent and researched references, but sometimes, problems don't become apparent until after you start working together. You might run into personal incompatibilities or realize that your agent misrepresented his or her level of competence and enthusiasm. A real estate agent isn't an employee, and you can't just sit behind your desk and yell, "You're fired!" However, there are ways to break up, and here are seven reasons you should.

1. Your Agent Doesn't Communicate Well

Lack of communication is one of the main reasons for dissatisfaction with a real estate agent. In a slow market, a subpar agent might leave you in the lurch for weeks on end when you should be getting weekly updates at a bare minimum, and in a hot market, you could miss out on the home of your dreams because your agent failed to tell you about it. Failure to keep you up to speed on what's going on is a breach of fiduciary duty on the part of the agent and is definitely a reason to say sayonara and search for a different person to represent you.

Poor communication isn't limited to failure on the agent's part to stay in touch; it also includes miscommunication and crossed wires. For example, a busy agent might pass you off to office staff who aren't familiar with your file and fail to notify you about an important showing or signing, and a sensitive negotiation may fall through.

2. Your Agent Doesn't Advocate for You

You were clear that you weren't interested in a two-bedroom house, but the agent keeps arranging showings for two-bedroom homes. To consider another scenario, the buyer's agent acting on your behalf keeps steering you to properties for which the agent or the brokerage firm is the listing agent, and the properties have none of the qualities for which you're looking.

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Many states are fine with an agent earning double commission by acting as both the buyer's agent and seller's agent as long as that fact is fully disclosed, but it shouldn't take precedence over your needs. While the agent is playing this game of double dip, you're missing out on other opportunities. Keep in mind that it may be the brokerage firm doing the double dipping by assigning one of its agents to the buyer and one to the seller, and because that creates conflicts of interest that can work against parties in the real estate transaction, some states don't allow it.

3. You Chose the Wrong Specialist

In large metropolitan areas, real estate agents often specialize in certain types of properties, such as commercial buildings, new construction or luxury residences, and are unfamiliar with other parts of the market. If you're interested in a property that isn't within the agent's area of expertise, you are underrepresented and not getting the full picture of what's available. On the other hand, you might be interested in a property in a highly specialized niche market, such as eco-friendly homes, waterfront homes or one in a particular neighborhood, and you're wondering why your home search has stalled. It could be because you chose an agent who has little to no experience or contacts in these markets.

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4. You and Your Agent Don't Get Along

It happens: After a period of working together, you discover that you are just incompatible, and it would be better for both of you if you part ways. When you first met, you may have been impressed by the agent's aggressive style, thinking it would help you get the upper hand in negotiations, but then you find the agent turning that aggression on you. On the flip side, perhaps you liked the laid-back approach, which comported well with your own joie de vivre until months went by with little to no progress in your home search. If you find yourself getting into frequent arguments or quarreling with your agent, you're in a bad relationship, and since people aren't likely to change their colors, it's healthier for both of you to move on.

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5. Your Agent Lacks a Professional Network

When you need a mortgage broker, home inspector or contractor, a good agent will have a network of trusted professionals to call, saving you both the hassle of having to make new connections on the spur of the moment. An unprofessional agent doesn't have such a network. Even worse, an unprofessional agent may have a network of less than reliable people who charge more than they should for substandard services. You should check out the agent's network before signing the contract, but if it becomes apparent only after you've started working together, you're wise to dump this agent and look for another one.

6. Your Real Estate Agent Is Unethical

To get a license, every real estate agent must follow the Realtor code of ethics, which is a document published by the National Association of Realtors®. Some common violations of this code include:

  • Operating as both a buyer's agent and seller's agent on a transaction without disclosing it.

  • Convincing a buyer to overpay for a home when the buyer's agent is also the listing agent.

  • Commingling the buyer's money, such as earnest money, with the agent's money.

  • Fudging important documents, such as the seller's disclosure, to avoid delays in the purchase process.

Some unethical behavior is also illegal, so you should get rid of the agent as soon as you spot it because you could also get in trouble. Unlike other reasons for firing an agent, this one constitutes clear grounds for termination as long as you report the behavior to your local Realtor®'s association. You should also notify the brokerage firm unless it's the broker who is displaying the unethical behavior.

7. Your Agent Is Technologically Challenged

A substandard agent isn't up to date on the latest tools for searching for a home. You may have an agent who relies almost exclusively on MLS listings and isn't active on social media or doesn't have a website. When you find your search stretching into months in a market in which you should have found something in a matter of weeks, it probably isn't worth your while to wait for the agent to get a clue about 21st century approaches to buying a house and the hassles of moving.

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Read Your Contract

If you aren't working with the right real estate agent, you may not be able to simply dump that person and find another one, especially if you're trying to sell your house. When you hire a listing agent, you typically have to sign an exclusive right to sell contract which entitles the agent to a commission no matter whether the agent found the purchaser, another agent did or you found the buyer yourself.

These contracts typically contain an early termination clause that entitles the agent to a commission even if you terminate the contract before the listing period expires, which is usually three to six months. This clause guarantees the listing agent a return for sinking resources and time into the sale of your home, so it isn't an unreasonable one.

If you're a homebuyer, you're less likely to have an early termination clause in your contract, but it's important to check because the contract is often glossed over when all the papers are signed at the beginning of the homebuying process. If you signed a contract with an early termination clause, you have to honor it as written. It might entitle the agent to a commission if you buy a house during the contract period without the agent's help, or it may specify a cancellation fee. This is a good reason to bring papers home and read them carefully or go over them with your lawyer before signing anything.

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Tread Lightly When Firing Your Agent

When it comes to severing your relationship with a real estate agent with whom you're under contract, the best approach is to tread lightly and avoid drama. If the agent is part of a brokerage firm, ask the broker to let you out of the contract, and in an effort to preserve the firm's reputation, the broker may agree. You could also ask to be assigned to a different agent within the firm, which is something your real estate contract may allow. When working with an unaffiliated agent, you can ask the agent directly to terminate the contract, but upon refusal, your best bet may be to simply wait out the contract period before looking for a new agent.

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In the case of a buyer's agent with whom you don't have a contract or who has not included an early termination clause in the contract you did sign, you can simply walk away, but do it respectfully because the agent has probably invested significant time and resources on your behalf and is going to get nothing in return.

Be sure to have an upfront conversation with the real estate agent explaining your position before you start looking for a new agent. Be honest and you may be surprised to find that the agent is just as happy as you are to terminate the relationship and may even be willing to recommend other agents.

Beware of Hidden Fees

Some contracts specify an early termination fee, and others designate what's called a protection period. This is a time period during which the listing agent is owed a commission if the house sells to someone who was shown the house while the contract was active. The protection period guarantees the agent compensation in case the seller fires the agent and then, in an effort to avoid paying commission, works "under the table" to close the transaction without the agent. If you enter into a contract with another agent and sell the house during the protection period, you could end up paying double commission. An ethical agent will warn you about this before you sign a new contract, but just in case you happen across an unethical one, it's good to know about it beforehand.

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Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.