Flashback: The Ineffective Realtor (or what to do when your agent sucks)

This post from 2013 has been getting lots of hits lately.  Must be a lot of unhappy home sellers out there!

You are a home seller and you’ve become entangled with an ineffective real estate agent or broker.  The relationship started out well enough and you had high hopes that it would result in a successful transaction but now things are . . . off track.  What should you do?  Without giving legal advice  (I’m not an attorney, and truth is:  what you legally can do varies from State to State) I’d like to explore this for a few paragraphs.

First, let’s get clear on what constitutes poor performance on the part of a listing agent and office.  The logical answer would be:  no activity, no offers.  It would be logical, but it wouldn’t necessarily be correct.  You have to dig a little deeper.  Why is there no activity?  Why are there no offers?  Here’s a great truth:  agents and brokers don’t just pull showings and offers out of their hats.  They have to have a marketable product and the product attracts potential buyers.  Agents and brokers orchestrate exposure for their listings and those that are marketable are shown and eventually sell.  So, the real question is:  did your agent advise you about the marketability of your home?

What does that mean?  Marketability?  Here’s a short list:

  • Is it located in an area into which people are interested in  buying?
  • Does it look inviting from the street?
  • Does it show well on the inside?
  • Is it properly priced?
  • Is it fully and easily available to be shown on a continuous basis?

I can see you nodding ‘yes’ as you read each of those bullets, but stop for a moment.  Think back to the Listing Consultation.  Do you remember the price range your agent/broker recommended?  Did you price within that range?  Or did you insist on a few thousand more?  If so, that’s probably the problem:  price.  If you overpriced against the recommendations of your agent, don’t blame the agent when the house isn’t shown.  If you want to blame your agent for something, blame them for taking an overpriced listing!

And what about that availability thing?  Do you have a lockbox on your property? And is the house available to be shown with or without an appointment?  Those are the homes that are shown the most (assuming they are priced properly) because they are easy to show.  I realize there are often very good reasons why some homes may not have a lockbox, may require an appointment 24 hours in advance, but those good reasons don’t negate the fact that each time you add a showing restriction . . . you restrict the number of showings you will get.

Usually, when listed sellers complain about their agents/brokers, a little digging reveals that the seller didn’t take the agent’s advice about pricing, marketing, staging or showing availability, and that’s why activity is slow.  If there is an agent problem here, it is that the agent didn’t go back again and again to make the point that the price needed adjusting or the house needed to be staged or the showing restriction lifted.

But if you did follow the recommendations of your agent at time of listing and you are still not being shown, before you blow a gasket, find out how long it takes to sell a home like yours in your general vicinity today.  Is it 60 days?  or 160?  Do listed homes in your area have anniversaries before they sell?  Really:  if your market is sloooowww and you need to sell fast, don’t blame your agent; reduce your price.

I know:  I’m putting a lot of this back on the sellers’ shoulders.  I’m making it sound as if the only problem with any listing is the seller, not the agent.  And that’s not really true.  Agents screw up too.  How?

Not exposing the property.  This is rare today.  Any listing put into the MLS is almost always automatically syndicated out to dozens of Internet real estate portals and that’s the best possible exposure.  But, in addition, is your agent making it easy to get information on the property?  Is s/he keeping the flyer box filled?  Is there a QR code on or near the sign?  Is there a recorded information number?  How about a virtual tour? Does somebody answer the phone when the number on the sign is called?

Not following up with regular market updates.  Real estate markets shift.  Sometimes rapidly.  Two months ago, here in my San Diego market, homes were selling in days with multiple offers.  Buyers were paying more than asking prices and waiving appraisal contingencies.  Since then, two things have happened:  interest rates have risen a full percent and potential sellers, intrigued by the feverish activity, have jumped to put their homes on the market.  End result?  Today things are a lot slower.  Your agent should be talking to you once a month or so about changes in your marketplace and how they affect your listing.

Not communicating.  As an agent (a long time ago), I hated to call my listed sellers when there was really nothing to report.  If I’d done everything I could, If the property was properly priced and the marketing was working but we still had no activity – that’s when it was so hard to pick up the phone and make the call.  But that’s the most important time for an agent to call.  You, the seller, have to know that your agent is on the job and concerned about your home selling project.  If you’re not being talked to at least once a week . . . well, that’s a problem.

Not knowing their business.  There’s no substitute for experience and in real estate it is measured in numbers of closed transactions.  Each one adds to an agent’s knowledge of how to make transactions work.  If your agent does not have that depth of experience s/he may not be equipped to handle the inevitable problems that arise during a transaction.  Interestingly, it’s not the new agent you need to be cautious about:  they are usually closely supervised by a savvy broker.  It’s the average agent who’s been in the business for several years and bumps along at 6 – 10 deals a year.  That’s enough production that their brokers assume they know what they’re doing, but their knowledge base can’t compare with agents doing, say, 20 transactions a year.

Charging a stupid percentage based commission.  And that’s exactly what they are:  stupid. They make no sense at all.  A broker charging 5% or 6% or 10% is operating in the real estate dark ages and charging you way more than you need to spend to sell your house.  Find a broker who charges a reasonable flat fee and who allows for the possibility that you may find the buyer yourself (and charges less in that event).  How do you find that modern broker?  Go HERE.

That’s an incomplete list.  I am sure there are other ways in which agents let sellers down.  But what do you do if you are on the receiving end of this kind of poor service?

First:  when you list, get an agreement in writing that enables you to cancel your listing if you are unhappy.  Be fair.  Allow your broker a reasonable time after notification of your dissatisfaction to remedy the situation:  a few days.  And don’t think this kind of agreement enables you to ax your broker and negotiate directly with a buyer or to whimsically flip to a different broker with a shinier business card.

Second:  call your agent and set up a meeting to talk about the problem.  Give them a reasonable time – again, a few days – to fix it.

Third: call your BROKER (the person for whom the agent works) and set up a meeting to discuss the problem.  Your agent is representing the broker and if s/he is not performing in a way that will have you crowing about the great service you received, the broker is going to want to know about it.

Finally:  seek legal advice. That means an attorney who specializes in real estate.  When you list your home for sale with a real estate broker, you sign a listing agreement – which is a legally binding contract. Often they cannot be unilaterally cancelled.  If you were to ‘fire’ your broker and then sell your house through another broker, you might be liable for two commissions!  A good local real estate attorney can advise you and may be able to get you out of a bad situation.

But make that attorney option the last resort.  Talk, talk, talk to your agent and broker first.  The real estate business is built on the referrals of happy clients and an unhappy client can do big damage to a company’s reputation.  Most brokers would rather do whatever it takes to make you happy than have you become a fountain of negative talk in the neighborhood.

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