7 Signs of a BAD Real Estate Agent

by | BiggerPockets.com

So, you’re thinking of hiring a real estate agent. It’s a great idea—in theory!

Working with an agent should be an efficient way to find deals and put property under contract, allowing you to direct more of your time and energy to other aspects of your business.

The trouble is, many real estate agents aren’t so great and unfortunately even fewer are good at working with investors—you’re not the traditional customer.

Choosing the wrong agent hurts. It can be a waste of time and money, not to mention frustrating.

Luckily, it’s possible to spot the signs of those who are subpar and spare yourself the stress of working with them. Just be on the lookout for these seven characteristics of a BAD agent.

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Learn to Recognize the Warning Signs

Protect yourself, your time and your money—don’t work with a bad real estate agent! Beware of these seven red flags. They’ll help you quickly identify agents to avoid.

Remember: the less time you spend working with the wrong people, the more time you can spend looking for the right ones!

Have you had any bad experiences working with a real estate agent? Were there warning signs? 

Share your thoughts in a comment below. 

About Author

David Greene

David Greene is a former police officer with over nine years of experience investing in real estate that includes single family, multifamily, and house flipping. David has bought, rehabbed, and managed over 35 single family rental properties, owns shares in three large apartment complexes, and flips houses. He also owns notes and shares in note funds. A nationally recognized authority on real estate, David has been featured on CNN, Forbes, and HGTV. Now the co-host of the BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast, David has a passion for teaching and helping others grow wealth through real estate. In 2016, David started the "David Greene Team" and became the CEO of the top producing Keller Williams East County team as well as the top producing real estate agent. The author of Long Distance Real Estate Investing and Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat, David has won several awards including second place for real estate book of the year awarded by the National Association of Real Estate Editors (Long Distance Real Estate Investing).

15 Comments

  1. Ruth Lyons

    Thanks for posting David. Good information. On the flip side, here are tips to finding a great real estate agent:

    The 80/20 rule applies to agents: 80% of agents have some level of competency and want to do a good job, but only 20% are great. They have expertise, hustle, and tenacity. These traits will save you time, make the transaction nearly seamless and get you a much better deal than you could have negotiated by yourself. Here are 10 core characteristics of a truly great real estate agent.

    1. A great real estate agent uses excellent communication skills.

    Your agent should be a skilled listener and have excellent verbal and written communication skills. Great agents are able to succinctly and clearly articulate the big picture. And they understand and communicate the smaller details well.

    2. A great real estate agent puts integrity and honesty above all else.

    If someone is dishonest or bends the rules to fit their needs, they’re not worth doing business with. Period. There are a lot of moving parts in a real estate transaction, and not many decisions are black or white. Being honest and exercising high integrity matter most.

    3. A great real estate agent puts the interest of their clients first and represents them assertively and tirelessly.

    A great agent understands that job #1 is to represent you well. He/she probes to understand the best outcome for you and puts your needs and desires above his or her own. If it’s not a great time to sell your home because the local market is in a dip, a great agent will have a frank and honest discussion with you. They won’t push for the sale just to try to collect a commission.

    4. A great real estate agent is a hands-on problem solver.

    Real estate transactions are complicated, and no transaction is the same. Every single property and situation is unique. Each has a different seller and buyer. There are no cookie-cutter deals. A great agent is an adept problem solver. He takes the lead in anticipating issues, suggesting workable solutions and following through until the end.

    5. A great real estate agent has the support of a great broker.

    And a great broker is one who cares about serving clients well and trusts that the money will follow when the business is focused around that goal. A great broker is an agent’s safety net, a seasoned resource to ask questions, a trusted strategy consultant and a motivator who sets a high standard, making sure the best interests of the client stay the focus.

    6. A great real estate agent has “grit” and follows through.

    In her New York Times bestseller, Grit, Angela Duckworth describes “grit” as a combination of passion and perseverance that’s a hallmark of high achievers in every domain. A great real estate agent has lots of grit. Determination and optimistic passion matter as much if not more than talent and intelligence.

    7. A great real estate agent is a good researcher and analyst.

    Every agent has a lot of tools at their fingertips. The MLS (Multiple Listing Service) is a goldmine of great information. It can pinpoint the best price and marketing strategy for each property. However, the information needs to be mined and skillfully sifted through. A great agent knows how to dig deep and analyze all the available data to ensure a complete understanding of all pertinent information. And then the agent makes excellent recommendations to buyers and sellers.

    8. A great real estate agent is a great negotiator.

    That is one of their biggest jobs, after all. A great negotiator does his homework. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of each side. He makes sure he understands all the players and all the plays — negotiations are not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants exercise. A great agent studies the parties, the options, and the possible scenarios. He then moves forward boldly and confidently to represent your interests better than you can possibly represent yourself.

    9. A great real estate agent is a specialist.

    Nobody can be good at everything, and it’s nearly impossible to be great at more than a few things. Great agents specialize and become better and better at their specialty. Real estate is a huge industry, and there are many paths an agent can take. Some agents specialize in foreclosure and short sales. Some decide to work with first-time homebuyers. And some focus on working with sellers and love doing listings. You get the idea.

    If an agent you’re interviewing says he’s great at all types of deals and works with all kinds of clients, run for the hills. What he really means is he’s desperate and is mediocre at a lot of things. A great agent has a niche and has worked diligently to acquire the knowledge, skills, and hustle to be one of the best in that niche.

    10. A great real estate agent has a vetted network of recommended professionals.

    These professionals facilitate and expedite successful transactions. There are a lot of professionals involved in a real estate deal — appraisers, title companies, inspectors, lenders and other real estate agents and brokers — and a weak link can derail the entire process.

    A good agent will provide you with a list of recommended professionals. A great agent has personally worked with the professionals he recommends. For example, he knows that his lenders not only offer a vast array of mortgage products, but are adept at and committed to uncovering and presenting client-centered solutions.

    A great agent also has recommended tradespeople who pick up the phone when he/she calls and work well with stressed-out homeowners. Contractors, handymen, junk removers and property managers are a few of the tradespeople which buyers, sellers and real estate investors often need to find. And your agent should know which ones are competent and competitively priced.

    So how do you choose a great agent?

    Interview several agents before you decide whom to work with. Ask lots of questions. Ask them to tell you about what went wrong and what went well in their most recent transactions. Tell them enough about your situation to be able to assess if they’re focused and are really listening to you. Ask for the names and phone numbers of their last three clients. Then call those clients to get real-life customer perspectives.

    A great agent and a mediocre agent cost pretty much the same. But the payoff for choosing a great agent could be huge. A great negotiator will make a compelling case that ensures your offer gets accepted over another buyer’s offer.

    The best listing agent will tell you from experience precisely what repairs to make to get the highest selling price in your market. A great agent will shorten the days it takes your home to sell because he has thoroughly analyzed your market and advised you to set the ideal asking price.

    Great agents are great at opening doors too, whether you’re into real estate to buy your first house or as an investor. In case you’re thinking about investing in commercial real estate passively, a good agent can help you find the right properties for that (or you can use online services like Fundrise).

    You deserve to seek out the best representation you can find. It’s worth doing some due diligence to find an agent who fits into the 20% of the rule.

    • Katie Rogers

      This is a great list, but needs a few caveats, especially regarding buyer’s agents:

      1) Very few agents actually put your interests first, especially if you are a buyer because fundamentally all agents work for their broker. The broker’s interest is far more aligned with the seller than with the buyer. Many agents narrowly define the buyer’s interest as getting to closing in order to justify to themselves that they fulfilled their fiduciary duty to attend to the buyer’s interests. They don’t care if the buyer is paying too much, and they certainly won’t take the initiative to negotiate a fair deal if the buyer does not have enough of their own expertise to run comps.

      2) Buyer’s agents will present the buyer with the three comps that support the agent’s interest, not the buyer’s interest. If the buyer takes the trouble to check the comps for the fixer they are trying to buy, they may find that 2 of the 3 comps are actually remodels which naturally sold for a higher price or positively purchased by an overseas buyer who paid too much. Buyer’s agents will tell the buyer that the fair price is the average of the 3 comps, but if if two of the comps are over-priced, naturally the average will be higher than it should be. Buyer’s usually discover they paid too much AFTER closing.

      3) Buyer’s agents tend to be very poor negotiators. Maybe you are trying to negotiate on terms, or do some sort of creative, but mutually beneficial deal. You can explain it to your agent until you are blue in the face, but they won’r follow through. The seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent consult with each other to determine the price that will net the both of them the highest possible commission. They also care nothing that you will be paying interest and property tax on their commissions. They seem unwilling to organize the deal so that the commission does not become part of the loan. In their experience, closing costs including commissions are bundled into the loan because the buyer simply does not have the wherewithal to do otherwise.

      4) Nearly every agent will recommend tradespeople, but you use their tradespeople at your peril. Also do not let the agent make the appointment for you. For example, if your agent recommends a certain home inspector AND makes the appointment, you will likely pay an extra $50 over the cost if you had made the appointment yourself. It seems so easy to assent when they ask if they can call on your behalf, but you will pay.

      5) It does not really do much good to interview agents, but you should anyway. You will find they have been interviewed so many times that they know just what to say so that the buyer hears what they want to hear. Chatting them up while they show you a few houses and listening to their observations about the houses is much more effective for getting a good read of the agent.

      6) Very few agents are willing to do any homework. They will not go to the recorder’s office to research the public documents on the house. They won’t go to public works to check on any permits that may have been taken out. They know very little about the history of the house, the situation of the seller, and if they do they won’t tell you. For example, the garage floors of a development in my community were poured without rebar, and the lower parts of the exterior walls are all missing the weather-stripping, but the agent will not tell the buyer or take the initiative to negotiate the price down because of the near inevitability of the future expense when the buyer has to jack out and replace the garage floor, or have weatherstripping put in along with the new paint job that will be required.

      Good luck finding a buyer’s agent who fits the 20% rule.

  2. Tom Phelan

    I would look the Realtor® straight in the eye and ask; “So how many investment properties do you own?”

    If the answer is, “Uh, … or “Gosh” or “None yet” I would dump the prospective Realtor® like a poor cousin at an expensive restaurant.

    I would also ask the Realtor® if he/she can do an analysis of a property to determine ROE, ROI, C/C, DIR, IRR etc.
    Most Realtors®’ eyes will glaze over.

    I would also ask the Realtor® if he/she is familiar with “1031 Exchanging” and using an “IRA” and or Individual 401(k) to buy real estate.

    As an Investor matures and improves his/her properties you’ll want someone who is well versed in both “1031 Exchanging” and using an “IRA” to buy real estate.

    Most Realtors® are not as evidenced that there are 45,000,000 IRAs in America collectively worth Six Trillion and incredibly only 3% – 4% of the Six Trillion is invested in … “Real Estate” the very product a Realtor® represents but seems comfortable not buying as an investment, typically opting to trust a Financial Analyst and pay him/her a fee.

  3. Jonathan Bowen

    #3. A Bad Agent Doesn’t Do Much Business

    This is such a terrible take…

    I haven’t helped people buy or sell much real estate in the past few years. Why? I got sober in March of 2015 after almost 30 years of abusing alcohol. I was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in January of 2017. My two-month-old son died in April of 2017.

    I helped people buy and sell over $100,000,000 worth of real estate before that. Does this make me an agent who “doesn’t do much business? Lulz…

    I would agree that it would be important to understand the reasons behind an agent’s lack of sales but to make a blanket statement like that is absurd.

    I feel that I’m the perfect combination of compassion and experience today and, because of that, buyers and sellers would be lucky to work with me…

  4. Craig Anderson

    Listen to your gut, as to if intuition says that a prospective agent looks at you as a potential wind-fall, but does’t truly care about you. Also don’t sign an agreement to engage an agent, the 1st5 day you meet her or him. And give your self a few days to decide if you want said potential agent to represent you. (This 2nd idea is best applied when the real estate market is in your favor, & agents are hungry for new properties to represent.) Use both sides of your brain, in making decisions; the logical part & the intuitive part. And remember what the Roman writer, Juvenal wrote,”Look ’round the habitable world, & see how few know their own good, & how fewer pursue.”

  5. Daren D Wagner

    Great post. We literally took exactly what David Greene said to do in his book, Long Distance Real Estate Investing, to find 2 of our DYNAMITE agents. Both of which never reach out to us with consumer deals, they do understand our goals and provide both on and off market deals that meet your goals. Best of all, they are willing to video potential places for us BEFORE we put an offer in as well as providing dozens of pictures so that we can get a feel as though we have personally visited the property, even though we live over 2,000 miles away.

    Once you find a great agent, even if you dont close on your first few deals, if they have been working hard for you I highly recommend feeding them every once and a while. Every 6 months we send thank you notes and a gift card to our agents. The agents who close a deal for us get double the agents who dont. Either way they both know we care about and respect their time and it only takes 15 minutes for us to do. The response from our agents since we started doing this was amazing!

  6. Matt NA

    Good post, and comments. In my 30 plus years of investing I’ve seen many types of agents; some very good ones along with some that have their values in the wrong place, or just have poor judgement and lack of skills. If you are an investor looking to purchase property out of state then choosing one that has good judgement is key. I made the mistake of picking an agent in an upcoming Idaho ski town that proved to be the worst; making every mistake an agent could make and not foreseeing things she should have. This one (my) mistake in choosing the wrong agent for a multi property deal caused me to lose a large percentage of my retirement.

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