Don’t Brush Off These 9 Telltale Signs of a Bad Real Estate Agent

Did you choose your real estate agent based on a friend-of-a-friend’s referral, a quick Google search, or even a flyer in a mailbox? Is your gut telling you it isn’t the right fit, but you’re not sure if it’s worth the hassle to cut ties?

We get that it’s inconvenient to go back to square one of the Realtor hiring process. And you’ll (temporarily) feel like a jerk firing an agent who’s already done some legwork for you.

But keep this in mind: In all likelihood, you’ll never sell anything as expensive as a house. As the quarterback of your home sale, your Realtor has the potential to save you time, fetch you more money, and protect your sanity. Alternatively, this person could leave you hanging with another unanswered voicemail and the sinking feeling that you were never their priority.

If you’ve started talking with (or have already signed with) someone and think you’ve made the wrong choice, look for these signs of a bad real estate agent so you know when it’s time to move in a different direction.

A woman waiting on a phone call from a bad real estate agent.
Source: (Dan Burton / Unsplash)

How to spot a bad 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:

1. Dropping 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 solicit silence — that’s a surefire sign that it’s time to move on.

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 he or she is rushed, irritated, or not forthcoming during your conversations — or if the chemistry just isn’t there — it’s likely not a good fit.

Another communication caveat is if the agent tends to sugar-coat situations and only tell 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 Monica Campbell, a top real estate agent in Los Angeles, California. “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.

2. Real estate is only 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.

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.

3. Pushy with an agenda

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. Unfamiliarity 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 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.

5. Late or no-show 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. Shaky negotiations

For some agents, everything might seem fine until an offer comes in. 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. Lies and half-truths

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, anyone who becomes a Realtor 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.

8. Over-eager 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.”

9. ‘The buyer wants to know…’

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).

A person researching a bad real estate agent on the computer.
Source: (Myriam Jessier / 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?

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, you’re inclined to call your Mom or your best friend in town or your favorite coworker and find out who sold their home.

Here’s why that’s not always the best method for finding an agent: The right agent for someone else won’t always 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. Which brings us to the next point…

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 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.

Dig into days on market.

An agent’s average days on market reflects how long it typically takes for their listings to attract an offer. Days on market tracks the time between when a house is listed and when it goes under contact 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.

Look for clarity in the initial consultation.

If an agent kicks off the process with a consultation where they lay out a road map of expectations, you’re generally in great hands. 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.

Overwhelmed by the thought of finding a great agent?

With over 2 million active real estate agents in the U.S., and likely thousands in your market alone vying for your business, the idea of sifting through a boatload of criteria and online reviews can be overwhelming. You probably don’t have hours to spend surfing the web in search of that perfect agent.

HomeLight 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. 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.

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

Even though you know how to spot the signs of a bad real estate agent now, many sellers don’t realize that when they sign a listing agreement with an agent, it’s a legally binding contract that gives the agent exclusive rights to sell the property for a certain period of time, typically from two to six months. What happens if you didn’t see any of the warning signs, and now you find yourself stuck in a contract with an agent who isn’t delivering?

When drafting agreements for her clients, Campbell always includes a clause that gives the seller the right to cancel at any time. To protect yourself, make sure the clause is added before signing anything, and always request a copy of the contract to review and keep.

If you’ve decided that you no longer want to work with your agent, you have a few options:

  • 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. 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.
  • 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 system and then wait for the contract to expire before signing with a new agent.
  • 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.

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. 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.

Header Image Source: (Ekaterina Bolovtsova / Pexels)