Signs You Need to Break Up
With Your Real Estate Agent
Jill Krasny | MAIN STREET
It’s unfortunate when buyers and sellers get saddled with a self-involved agent who comes off as too busy to care, too arrogant to listen or too eager to coerce you into purchasing a home that you’re just not that into. Much like a quarterback competing in the season of a lifetime, buyers and sellers depend on their real estate agents to carry them to the playoffs, helping them reap the investment they’re after, or put their hard-earned cash toward the starter home of their dreams. In today’s depressed market, it isn’t enough for an agent to be well-qualified—he or she has to be a creative problem-solver and resourceful to boot.
Buyers and sellers are spending real dollars on this investment, and anything that falls through the cracks—including the all-important loan—can cost them dearly. If your agent seems disorganized, unprofessional or just makes you queasy, read on. Here are eight ways to tell if it’s time to put your house hunt on hold and shop for a new realtor instead.
Your Agent Is Unresponsive
While you shouldn’t expect your agent to be on call 24/7, he or she should respond to your voicemail and texts in a timely fashion, says Jennifer Allan, a former realtor in the Denver area and author of Sell with Soul. Especially at the beginning, “when this is all new, you want to be in touch every single day to make sure the home seller has seen the listing and approved it,” Allan says. “If you get something wrong, the seller could be held liable, and you want to be in touch to find out if there’s anything the seller needs to tweak.” Having an ongoing conversation with your agent, Allan adds, could mean the difference between selling within the ideal time frame of five to seven months, or leaving it to languish on the market. Another sign you might have a dud of an agent on your hands is when he or she signs up for business, then immediately goes on vacation, says Ilyce Glink, a former realtor and author of Buy, Close, Move in!: How to Navigate the New World of Real Estate—Safely and Profitably—and End Up with the Home of Your Dreams. “Everyone deserves time off,” she says, “but an extended vacation, or not sharing vacation plans with the client and how they plan to stay on top of your listing while they’re away is just out of line.”
Your Agent Doesn’t Listen
The very first meeting with your agent should feel like a counseling session. You should feel confident your agent is along for the ride and has your best interests at heart. You’ll know your agent’s on the right track, says Allan, when he or she asks these thoughtful questions: What’s your time frame to buy or sell? Tell me about your dream house/the house you’re selling. What improvements have you made to your home? What are your expectations for me? And how often should we be in touch? Have you worked with a realtor before? What was the experience like? What kind of neighborhoods are you interested in? The relationship “really is a conversation,” Allan stresses. “Selling real estate isn’t a sales job, it’s much more of a management, customer-service job. You want someone with the heart of an adviser,” not someone who acts like a used car salesman. With this in mind, dump any agent who wants to know how motivated you are (insulting) or who trots out the “dog and pony show.” Discussing work processes and the market are important, but patiently assessing your wants and needs will help your agent determine whether you’re on the same page and can work well together.
Your Agent Is Inexperienced
Finding a full-time agent is a must in today’s battered market, our experts insist. “That’s huge,” says Allan, adding that she would never hire someone who was working a different day job. “You want it to be their career.” Ensure your agent is up to snuff by making sure he or she has at least two years’ experience and by doing your homework, says Glink. Here’s what she recommends:Ask to look at the agents’ resume. Are the brokers he or she has worked for reputable? Get in touch with the last five or 10 people your agent sold property for and ask how it went. Would they hire this agent again? Google the realtor’s name with the word “complaint” next to it. Bad reviews should send up red flags. Check the agent’s state license. Is it active? Verify that he or she’s a member of the National Association of Realtors. You want someone who’s well-educated, up to date on current issues and who has a solid idea of professional conduct and ethics. Check for additional training, like the Accredited Business Representative certification, or that the agent graduated from the Real Estate Institute (GRI). Search Engine Optimization training, E-listings and other fancy add-ons might sound nice to have, but are typically money-making schemes that won’t aid in your search. On top of all this, don’t be tempted to hire the mega-star “top producer” realtor, says Allan. “A lot of times they’re just machines snapping up every listing they can get and overpricing them so they don’t sell.”
Your Agent Is Unprofessional
Acting disorganized or canceling and showing up late to appointments is unprofessional and sends the wrong message to everyone involved, says Glink. “If, as an agent, you’ve broken the professional trust, when you approach the seller with advice or feedback about something they’re doing to impede showings or offers, the seller’s going to be too mad at his agent to listen,” warns Allan. Another tip-off it’s time to ditch your agent is when you find yourself working a little too closely with the agent’s assistant, instead of the agent his or herself, says Glink. “The agent should lay out clearly for the seller what the expectations should be,” she says. Otherwise, “it’s just not good business behavior.”
Your Agent Makes You Uncomfortable
If your agent’s latest pitch has you squirming uncomfortably in your seat, move on. “Any buyer [or seller] who is working with an agent should feel very comfortable with that agent,” says Dorcas Helfant, a realtor and former president of the National Association of Realtors. “A good agent will prepare you for the process and pay attention to details.” So while some might prefer to work with someone more brusque and confrontational, poor social skills across the board are a turn-off to buyers and sellers, which could cost you the sale or a showing. Watch out for these tell-tale signs: You’re lingering too long at showings, or viewing homes you don’t even like. “A good agent should take that as a sign to make a quick, gracious exit,” notes Helfant. Your agent doesn’t suggest that you try something different when things aren’t working. “The agent has to observe you and take a chance,” Helfant says, even if that means “looking at something you [initially] didn’t want.” Your agent tries to talk you out of what you do want, making critical comments that you ought to aim lower. She makes you feel bad for spending less, or pushes you to make an offer before you’re ready. She puts down your home before showings.
Your Agent Makes a Bad Impression
With most buyers going online to shop for homes, making a great first impression is crucial in these challenging times. A good agent, says Jennifer Chiongbian, a Manhattan-based realtor, will help the seller hire a professional stager, and/or an interior decorator for showings, while creating an appealing, well-written and honest Web listing. Over promising is a bad sign, says Allan. “People will come look and be disappointed, and then they won’t buy.” Another thing to watch out for with listings are photos, warns Allan. Anything out of season or smacking of the realtor’s own handiwork (read: not shot by a professional photographer), is a tip-off you need to give your agent the boot.
Your Agent Doesn’t Do the Homework
Tight-fisted lenders have paved a rocky road for anxious home buyers in the post-recession, which is why it’s so important for buyers to have a financial ally in their agent. When you’re preparing to sell your home, says Glink, if your agent fails to do a Comparative Market Analysis—a process in which the agent tours your home, looks at homes similar to yours that have sold in the past three to six months, then suggests an asking price—kiss him or her goodbye. “He needs to get a realistic, solid picture of value in your neighborhood,” she says, so you know what your home is truly worth. Also, says Helfant, agents should be creative problem-solvers who are willing to help their clients figure out if their financials are lacking. If your credit’s in the dump, an agent should refer you to a credit counselor, or tell you what you can do to improve your chances of getting a loan. If you’re simply not ready to shop for a home, a good agent will wait things out and stay in touch by emailing you updates to show your business still matters. “You either qualify or you don’t, and sometimes life changes,” Helfant says. “A good agent bounces with that change.”
Your Agent Is Shady
Flip-flopping on broker fees or disclosing personal issues are significant signs of trouble. Have zero tolerance for this kind of fraudulent behavior, say our experts, not only because it puts your home at risk, but because it puts your reputation on the line as well. Among other shady moves, Dorcas advises sellers and buyers to watch out for poorly written contracts—which cost time and energy to be rewritten—a lack of professional due diligence, like not recommending a home inspection be made by a reputable inspector, or failing to suggest that the buyer purchase home insurance on a resale home, and making outrageous claims they cannot back up. Lying about bids or withholding information about a crack in the foundation, for example, are patently unethical behaviors and signs you need to have a serious one-on-one with your broker in order to deal with the problem.