12 Clear Signs of a Bad Real Estate Agent and What You Can Do About It

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You call your real estate agent and the phone rings and rings…and rings.

Your home has been sitting on the market way longer than you think it should, and you haven’t even seen your agent post about it on their social media.

They show up late and unprepared when it’s time for the open house.

These are just a few of the telltale signs of a bad real estate agent. We’re here to break down the rest of the signs that your agent isn’t working for you and help you decide what to do about it.

If you’ve started talking with (or have already signed with) an agent and think you’ve made the wrong choice, it might be time to move in a different direction.

We get that it’s never convenient to fire someone and start over, especially if they’ve already put in the work of listing your home and maybe even done a few showings, but this is likely one of the biggest financial transactions you’ll make in your life.

That means that you should be partnered with a professional who gets the job done and who you feel comfortable working with. Not one that fits into any of the categories below!

To make sure we covered everything, we talked with Monica Campbell, a top real estate agent in Los Angeles, California, who sells properties 59% faster than the average agent in her area, and Jessica Boswell, a top agent in Bristol, Connecticut, who closed on 90 deals last year alone. Both shared their insights and tips to help you spot a bad real estate agent.

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How to spot a bad real estate agent: Look out for these signs

If you spot any of these red flags, they could indicate that an agent will deliver sub-par service or is simply not the right fit:

A HomeLight infographic about signs of a bad real estate agent.

1. Drops the ball on communication

In the fast-moving world of real estate, quick and clear communication is key. A delayed response can sometimes mean the difference between landing or losing a deal. If you find yourself waiting hours or days for your agent to return calls, texts, or emails — or if your questions and concerns are met with silence — that’s a surefire sign that it’s time to move on.

Boswell believes that an agent’s responsiveness can set them apart from other agents and says, “I strive to get back to my clients within the hour. If I’m not sleeping or with a client, I answer my phone.”

The same goes for the agent who does get back to you but has a communication style that doesn’t mesh well with yours. If you feel like they’re rushed, irritated, or not forthcoming during your conversations — or if the chemistry just isn’t there — it’s likely not a good fit.

As the seller, you need to know exactly what’s going on, good or bad. Your agent must be okay with delivering uncomfortable news.
  • Monica Campbell
    Monica Campbell Real Estate Agent
    Monica Campbell
    Monica Campbell Real Estate Agent at eXp Realty
    • star
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    • Years of Experience 22
    • Transactions 620
    • Average Price Point $496k
    • Single Family Homes 541

Another communication caveat is if the agent tends to sugar-coat situations and only tells you what he or she thinks you want to hear. “As the seller, you need to know exactly what’s going on, good or bad,” says Campbell. “Your agent must be okay with delivering uncomfortable news.”

Also, consider whether the agent adheres to your preferred communication channels. Campbell always asks her clients how they want to receive their information and updates, whether it’s via phone, text, or email.

Boswell makes sure to communicate with people in the way that they are used to, which is often generationally dependent. She says that “an older individual might be used to speaking over the phone and may not be comfortable texting or emailing. A lot of younger people find phone calls to be intrusive and almost insulting, so a text is best.”

If your agent continually reaches out through a channel that you’re not comfortable or familiar with, or ignores your requests for a different method of communication, it’s time to find someone who will honor your requests.

2. Does real estate as a side gig

Everyone has to start somewhere, and some agents might dip their toe into the real estate waters while still juggling another job or other responsibilities. But as a seller, working with a part-time agent who is spread too thin can lead to disappointment on several levels.

Campbell advises against working with someone who isn’t fully committed to real estate. “A part-time agent will most likely lack the time, experience, and patience to provide the full service that clients deserve,” she says.

In the current market, where properties have been selling on average in about 19 days, someone working as a part-time real estate agent while juggling another job and regular life responsibilities simply won’t be able to move fast enough to keep up with showings and contract negotiations, leaving you at a costly disadvantage.

Boswell cautions against using “an agent that is doing this part-time and hasn’t really immersed themselves in the work. Maybe they’re doing this as a hobby, so they’re not constantly learning and evolving and establishing relationships with other agents.”

3. Has their own agenda — and gets pushy about it

Your agent should be just as fired up to sell your house as you are. That is how they make their money, after all. However, a listing agent’s role is to guide you through the process of selling, not to push you through it. If you ever feel that your agent is trying to strong-arm you into making a decision motivated by their potential commission rather than your goals and needs, that’s a huge red flag.

“With a bad agent, you might feel like they are putting their self-interest before yours,” notes Campbell.

4. Unfamiliar with the market

This often goes hand-in-hand with part-time or inexperienced agents. If your agent isn’t up to speed on the local comps (comparable home sales) and fails to provide reliable and accurate data, you’ll need to look for someone who has more knowledge of the market in your area.

A person talking on the phone about signs of a bad real estate agent
Source: (Fab_ Fotos / Unsplash)

5. Runs late or is a no-show for appointments

Selling a home involves a string of scheduled events, and missing just one can slow down or derail the progress toward a sale. If your agent is consistently late or misses showings, open houses, inspections, appraisals, or other events, that’s a key indicator of unreliability.

6. Not a great negotiator

Your agent should know their way around a contract as well as what to ask for during negotiations. They should have experience in knowing when to give a little and when to play hardball. (This goes hand-in-hand with knowing what you want as the seller).

When offers start rolling in for one of Boswell’s properties, she collects and organizes the offers before showing them to her client.  “I really vet the offers before I bring them to the sellers so that they’re not feeling overwhelmed.” She also does the legwork for each offer — screens the lenders, makes sure the buyer has pre-approval, and investigates the buyer’s agent to make sure everything is in order.

If you’ve received offers on your home but haven’t been able to settle on a sale price, your agent could be dropping the ball during negotiations.

7. Lacks marketing skills

In this day and age, having an online presence is a necessity in real estate. So while an agent doesn’t need to be live-tweeting their entire day, they do need to have a solid, professional website and show that they’re out there marketing their properties.

You can look at other homes that the agent is selling to see how they’re getting the listing out there. If their website is unprofessional or they don’t have a social media presence, they may not have the skills to properly and successfully market your property.

8. Tells lies or half-truths

Boswell lists honesty as the number one thing to look for in a real estate agent. If you have reason to believe that your agent has provided misleading information, misrepresented you or a buyer, outright lied, or urged you to conceal information in a contract, he or she is not someone you want working on your behalf.

In addition, an agent who is an active member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is bound by the Realtor Code of Ethics. If you believe a Realtor® has been dishonest or violated the code, you can file a complaint with your local Realtor® association.

9. Is overeager to please

A good agent should be transparent and forthright, offering their professional guidance on the best course of action, even if it’s not what you were expecting or hoping to hear. “If a seller wants to discount what the data says and list their home at $200,000 over market price, there will always be an agent who agrees to do it,” Campbell notes. “There are a lot of order-takers in the industry, but it’s not just about taking orders — it’s about being honest and ethical.”

You want an agent that’s on your team, but you don’t want a yes-(wo)man who agrees to things that ultimately aren’t in your best interest.

10. Acts as a messenger rather than guiding you through the process

While it’s true that real estate transactions involve a lot of back-and-forth communications, a good agent is more than just a messenger. If your agent merely passes along information — conveying what the buyer wants and asking for your approval, without providing much in the way of guidance — that’s a sign that they’re not advocating for your best interests (or that they lack the knowledge or experience to do so).

11. Doesn’t ask you any questions

You will probably have a lot of questions for your agent throughout the process, but the agent should also understand the business well enough to know the right questions to ask you. This way, they’ll know exactly what you need and be able to help you give accurate information, on the seller’s disclosure for instance. If they aren’t asking you questions and seem like a passive part of the process, you may need to reach out to someone who’s more proactive.

12. You’re hearing crickets, or worse, nothing at all

Perhaps the most obvious telltale sign of an ineffective real estate agent is if your home has been listed for a while and hasn’t sold. Or worse, there hasn’t been any interest or showings.  If this is the case, it might be that your agent isn’t doing enough to get your home in front of the right buyers.

A contract that will release you from a bad real estate agent.
Source: (Myriam Jessier / Unsplash)

What to do if you find yourself under contract with a bad agent

If you’ve already signed a listing agreement with an agent and now realize that it’s not a good fit, or they’re simply just a bad agent, we’re here to help you figure out what to do next. The listing agreement you signed is a legally binding contract that gives the agent exclusive rights to sell the property for a certain period of time, so at this point, there are a few things you can do.

Request a written release from the agreement. An email will suffice. Include your reason for wanting to end the relationship, whether it’s due to poor communication, disappointing results, or another failure to meet expectations. When drafting agreements for her clients, Campbell always includes a clause that gives the seller the right to cancel at any time. If there is a cancellation clause in the agreement, there shouldn’t be any issue. If there is not an “out” in the agreement, the agent might still be willing to release you, perhaps with a small fee.

Request that your home be removed from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). If there is no cancellation clause and the agent will not agree to release you from the agreement, you can request that they withdraw your home from the MLS system and discontinue marketing the property. If this strategy fits your selling timeline, simply wait for the listing agreement to expire, typically between two to six months, before signing with a new agent.

Ask for a different agent within the same firm. Another option is to request that the brokerage assigns a different agent to your property, as contracts are typically between the seller and the brokerage rather than with an individual agent.

If your home is already under contract with a buyer, parting ways with an agent becomes trickier. If you are in breach of an existing sales contract, you could potentially be on the hook for commission fees. In which case, unless things are really bad, and you don’t think you’re going to get what you want out of the deal, you may want to just proceed with the transaction and get a better agent next time you sell.

A person researching online about signs of a bad real estate agent.
Source: (Simon Hattinga Verschure / Unsplash)

How to avoid partnering with a ‘bad’ agent

Now that you know how to spot an ineffective or incompetent agent, how can you avoid signing a contract with one in the first place? Or how do you move on to a better agent after a bad one?

Get a recommendation from a trusted referral.

As a homeowner, you’ve probably asked friends and family for referrals before you hire a handyman, a gutter cleaner, a deck stainer, or a house cleaner. So when it’s time to hire a Realtor®, call your mom, your best friend in town, or your favorite coworker and find out who sold their home.

But this strategy comes with a caveat: The right agent for someone else won’t necessarily be the right agent for you. This is a highly personal choice and you’ll benefit from partnering with an agent who’s tailored to your specific needs.

Check the agent’s experience in your area and price point.

One agent might have no problem selling a $150,000 home, for example, but might be out of their element when it comes to marketing a million-dollar property. At each pricing threshold, different skills and experience levels come into play. The same goes for geographical area: An agent might be adept at selling farms and rural homes but could come up short when listing urban properties.

Rule out any agents who don’t have a presence online.

In our digital age, competent agents will have an online profile with their statistics, closings, reviews, and other data. “If an agent isn’t tech-savvy and has no online presence, it’s best to look for someone else,” says Campbell.

Another way to see how their online presence stacks up is to stalk their social media. Are they using it to market the homes they’ve listed, or is it just pictures of their cat from three years ago? This can help you evaluate how proactive they will be in marketing your home.

Dig into days on market.

Days on market tracks the time between when a house is listed and when it goes under contract with a buyer (the time from contract to close is not included). Most sellers would prefer a faster sale, so if an agent’s days on market is lower than the average for the area, that’s a good sign of their performance.

Conduct an interview (remember: the agent is working for you)

When you hire an agent, it’s easy to think that they’re in charge. After all, they are the expert when it comes to selling homes. But you are the expert on your home and what you need. So while you definitely don’t have to be overbearing or “bossy,” you do need to interview an agent, keeping in mind that even though it’s a team effort, they are working for you.

In the initial consultation, the agent should lay out a road map of expectations and their plan for selling your home. On the flip side, if the consultation doesn’t leave you feeling confident in the agent’s skills and commitment, he or she is probably not right for you. And if an agent fails to request a consultation altogether, that’s another red flag. You should consider interviewing at least three agents to get a feel for who will work best for you.

Here are a few questions to ask the agent during the initial consultation:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How well do you know the area?
  • What’s your marketing plan for properties like mine?
  • How do you handle prep work and staging for open houses and showings?
  • What’s the biggest challenge you think we’ll face?

For more tips on how to interview an agent, you can check out this article!

A person who might be a real estate agent.
Source: (Daria Pimkina / Unsplash)

There’s no such thing as ‘one-size-fits-all’ agents

Selecting a real estate agent is a highly personal decision. Someone who is an ideal fit for one homeowner may completely miss the mark for someone else. This hire should be tailored to your neighborhood, property, price point, and priorities — as well as your personality and communication preferences.

Boswell sums it up nicely: “You can be a great agent and just not be the right personality fit with somebody. [But] a bad agent doesn’t possess the proper training. They don’t have the experience. They don’t have the relationships. You’ve got to be doing this job full-time to really, really know what’s going on at all times.”

Don’t ignore these signs of a bad real estate agent and settle for someone mediocre. Dig into their historical performance so you can see if they can back up their promises. If your gut tells you that it’s not the right fit, do some more research before you sign any paperwork.

Need help finding a great agent? Try Agent Match

According to the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO), there are over 3 million active real estate licensees in the U.S. as of 2020. With so many agents vying for your business, it can be hard to find a great one, and you probably don’t have hours to spend surfing the web, sifting through mountains of criteria and online reviews in search of that perfect agent.

Luckily, HomeLight’s Agent Match tool can help you narrow down your search by matching you with three top agents in your area who specialize in your neighborhood, property type, and price point. Agent Match analyzes over 27 million transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is best for you. These agents also have a track record of being responsive to clients, earning great recommendations after the deal wraps, and knowing the ins and outs of the area at a granular level.

Simply input your address, tell us a bit about your priorities and preferences, and you’ll have a few options sent your way in minutes. Our internal home consultants are here to listen to your needs and hand-match you with the best local agent if that’s what it takes.

You’d be surprised what a difference working with a stellar agent can make. Our data shows that the top 5% of real estate agents across the U.S. sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average agent. And you’ll get a trustworthy agent who will provide everything you need to sell your home.

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