What to expect from a real estate agent?
May 20, 2019 8:44 PM   Subscribe

We’ve been working with an experienced real estate agent as we look for a new house. We haven’t been thrilled with her so far and we’re trying to figure out if our expectations are off or if she’s just not a great agent. Is it her or us?

We expected our agent to help advise us on different neighborhoods, what’s realistic at different price points, the strategy of finding a house that fits our guidelines in our budget, and to give us her feedback on various houses that we see are for sale. We expect her to be on our side and help find a house that is the best fit for us and our family.

Instead we feel that she is being a little salesy and saying only positive things about every house in an effort to just make a sale. She doesn’t give much direction on the process or timeline of finding a house for us, or advice on finding the best house for our budget. She can’t seem to adjust the search parameters in her MLS search so we do our own searches on realtor.com, and then when we find a house that looks interesting she essentially responds: “It looks great, let’s go see it today!”. Today she suggested we make an offer on a house that we’re not even sure that we can afford – probably because she just wants to close a sale.

My wife is surprised at how little actual guidance she gives us. She is responsive via email/text and takes us to see houses. She just doesn't provide additional information or suggestions. Our search is messy (looking at many different area, changing our minds a lot) and we thought she would help us refine criteria. We just don't know if we should be getting more from her.

Are we expecting too much to think that an agent will be unbiased about houses and help coach us on the entire process?
posted by rglass to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is she a buyer's agent? The sort of service you are asking for is more common from buyer's agents.
posted by jamaro at 8:52 PM on May 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your experience is the same as mine, and I fired the first one and got a second one. The first was actively trying to convince us to buy houses we couldn't afford, buy the first thing we saw, and overlook expensive problems. Then got pissy with us when we wanted to keep looking. The second was much better, she merely did nothing but show us houses we found on the internet and do the paperwork.

"Do the paperwork" isn't a small thing, but I'd think for the sizable check her cut of the sale turned out to be I'd get more help than that.* Plus, I'd think best strategy for an agent would be to get as many satisfied customer friend referrals as possible. But there's a conflict of interest built into the model. They need you to buy a house to get paid, so essentially they're selling you houses. Don't ever believe the "100% on your side" bit.

*plus, the paperwork isn't that hard if you're into researching all about the process. I caught her in a couple of (unintentional) errors, and knew that exclusive agent agreement "requirement" was bunk before she brought it up.
posted by ctmf at 9:18 PM on May 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Fire her and get a buyer's agent. A good one will rather you buy no house unless it is the right house, and deal, for you.
posted by vrakatar at 9:33 PM on May 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

You should absolutely move on and work with a different agent. It's totally possible you will find one you like. What you won't find, though, is one whose interests are truly aligned with yours. EVERYONE else in this process (sellers, their agents, your agent, the bank) has the same best case scenario: you spend as much money as possible as fast as possible. That is completely fucked and apparently also an inviolable cornerstone of "how it works."
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:36 PM on May 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

Real estate agents run a vast gamut in personality and expertise.

Personally, I think "coaching" is a little out of the realm of what they are typically expected to do, but it's totally reasonable to expect your agent to be a bit of an expert in home prices, roof types, electrical panels, adjusting MLS searches, etc., and to give you an educated impression of each place you see, including what's undesirable about each place. I would not want an agent who just took me to houses and said "let's buy this one!" each time.

I'd quit seeing houses with this agent and go find a new one. Here is a good AskMe with some questions you can ask potential new agents.. Remember, they make somewhere around 2-3% of the sale, which is a lot of money, and their expertise can be WORTH that, but it's a lot of money and you should be happy with the person you work with.

Good luck finding a place!
posted by hungrytiger at 9:42 PM on May 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Fire her, you can do better ... "She can’t seem to adjust the search parameters in her MLS search so we do our own searches on realtor.com" ... any halfway decent buyer's agent can get this right!

It sounds like you would benefit from narrowing your criteria and areas you are interested in, then find a buyer's agent who is an expert in that location/neighborhood. Doing that has worked well for me 5 times now, I find that the more clear I am about what I want, the better service I get because the agent can identify specifically what I am looking for.
posted by zdravo at 9:54 PM on May 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

You are having the exact experience I have had with the five or so agents I’ve worked with while house hunting twice. What I ended up doing was completely giving up on any of them finding a house or giving me decent advice, did the the leg work of finding a place I wanted myself, and then when negotiating needed to happen not taking any of their advice at all because it was never in my best interest. I depended on them to handle the paperwork and let me know when to sign things. It’s been two frustrating experiences, although I am extremely pleased with the homes I’ve bought.

Seriously learn how to look up everything you can on your own, like easement rights, floodplain maps, local taxes, any nearby HAZWOPER sites if you’re in the US. My experienced realtors never know how to do any of this before hand and one told me no one else worries about things like potential flooding...

Although after reading this thread I’m suddenly interested in finding a buyers agent next time!
posted by lepus at 10:11 PM on May 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interesting, my experience was exactly the same as yours. (Regrets, I have a few...) And it was a friend! I’ve taken the view that it was on me to do the research, SO’s a teensy pissed at the agent.

We’re in a crazy hot market though, no one even bothers with inspections anymore (to the point that inspectors are not finding work. You just hope a lawyer will catch major issues in a status certificate). This is not what anyone does outside a bubble, obviously - thing is, here, deals get made within hours with no shortage of competing buyers, and if you find a place that hits most of the right buttons, it’s hard to say no for FOMO, you don’t want to end up with nothing or having to compromise too hard on location before prices go up even more (in addition to whatever personal time constraints might exist). So I think a lot of realtors in this context are used to just helping people see things and then sign things. Are you in a market like this, by any chance?
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:46 PM on May 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Your expectations are reasonable, just not easily obtainable. I moved across the country and needed an agent who knew the area to which I was moving, could prescreen seeing houses, could advise as to things like "great house, but too busy of a street for little kids". I found just such an agent you seek. She came from a referral. I bought a house, sold the house, bought a different house and sold the house with her as my agent every time.

I refer people to her all the time. She is close to retirement now, but for a good decade, she was the #1 agent in the area. Finding a good broker is hit or miss if you cold call an agency. You get the broker of the day answering the phone. Like any professional, a referral is gold (depending on who is doing the referring).

Keep asking for referrals from people who live where you are moving to already. Go to a newcomers meeting or a PTA meeting at the local elementary school and ask those who recently moved if they liked their agent.
posted by AugustWest at 12:50 AM on May 21, 2019 [11 favorites]

That's how all the agents I talked to were, so I did without. I did my own research and searches, and contacted the seller's agents to see houses. (I was young and not very picky though, so saw fewer than ten houses before choosing one and buying it... this would be more tedious in other situations.)
posted by metasarah at 3:59 AM on May 21, 2019

Another way to tackle this. I worked with a small realtor group. I had a main agent but she also had a partner and assistants if I needed additional support at a time when she might be tied up. About 50% of the time, the assistants would open up houses for me. I explored like 10 houses over a weekend for over a year. The assistants were great because they were knowledgeable about homes and neighborhoods, and were in training. They would be younger so very real about their opinions. They were selling, but not really. The houses I liked, I would then walk through and talk with our main agent. The assistants were there to mull with me beforehand.... and I’m a big on mulling!
posted by inevitability at 6:09 AM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Real estate agents definitely run a gamut from good to less-good; it's totally ok to stop working with this one and shop around.

Mu agent was amazing- she did things like bring an outrageously large flashlight to peer at chimney brickwork and roof shingles from across the street during evening visits, pointing out expensive damage and giving cost-to-fix estimates, and she bluntly told me when a house was overpriced or a bad investment.

The moment I knew she was amazing: I had been debating partnering with a friend to purchase, an agreement which would have doubled my budget and hence her commission. After she showed a house to me with the friend and the friend's spouse, she called me and privately said, "that person's spouse has too much sway over their thinking which means you'll be outvoted in every decision; I think you'll regret the partnership." On reflection, she was absolutely right and I ended up buying alone with a much smaller budget, so she only got half the commission. She wasn't salesy at all and I really appreciated it!

I found that agent through a strong recco from friends, and of course have continued to recommend her to others. She consistently gets glowing recommendations, which is how she compensates for being less salesy and helping clients pick the RIGHT house, not just the most expensive house. I chose her after going on drives with about 10 different agents, all of whom I found salesy and slimy. So I'd say shop around and be picky! Great agents who will act in your best interest are out there!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:43 AM on May 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

In terms of giving advice on neighborhoods, real estate agents are prohibited from doing so by the Fair Housing Act. They are also specifically prohibited from discouraging the purchase or rental of a dwelling, so that may be why she seems overly positive about some houses.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 6:59 AM on May 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm about to close. My agent didn't ever try to sell me anything, and in fact was highly critical of most houses we looked at (I had told him I welcomed such criticism: I know just fine what I like, I'm depending on him to tell me what to watch out for). Not a word about charming breakfast nooks or how to host parties. Everything was about location, type and quality of construction, age and condition, relative value for price, etc. We spent a lot of time in basements, which we both knew was important.

nthing: move on, find an agent that is a better fit for you. When shopping for you next agent, I'd suggest to ask around for anyone who has construction experience, or long-term experience in that area. I was pleasantly surprised to find a realtor I actually like as a person, who wasn't at all slimy or sales-y. I think you probably can to, but they can be harder to find.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2019

Also: Today she suggested we make an offer on a house that we’re not even sure that we can afford
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:22 AM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm working with a buyer's agent and it's been difficult. She showed me houses way outside my price range, I found the house I eventually bought, she's late for every meeting, she completely borked the negotiations after inspection, etc.

In hindsight my mistake was not asking her for references before working with her. Now I know better--get references from clients.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:34 AM on May 21, 2019

I had a great buyers agent for my first house. She specialized in first time home buyers. Even so I think we ended up finding the house ourselves. I’d say look for someone who advertises for first time buyers.
posted by cabingirl at 9:24 AM on May 21, 2019

Yeah, I'm just going to chime in here that what you're looking for is the platonic ideal of buyer's agent and alas, most of them are . . not this. The system is borked: the agent, buyer or seller, gets paid more the more you spend so there's a huge incentive for them to try to get as much money out of you as possible. Yes, that's ethically wrong and they're not supposed to operate like that, but many many of them do. I think you have to accept that you're going to have to do a LOT of the work yourself and still end up paying them a ridiculous amount of money for meeting you at empty houses every weekend. Still, I would switch, just be aware that the system is not good and you'll have to do a lot of your own research.

I just bought a house in December and honestly I wish I had switched agents and been way more assertive. It would have been awkward and I would have felt rude, particularly since this is a really small town, but I suspect it would have saved me a lot of money. I love my house, but I think I got took: 5 months in, I think I should have paid about 10 - 15K less than I did. If I'd had better agents (they were a married couple acting as a team), agents who said things like, "These appliances are really old!" and "The roof is going to need to be replaced soon! I'll get back to the seller and tell her no way!" instead of things like "Well, as you know, there's just nothing out there in your price range. You can't be too picky." I might have been able to save that money - and I'd have it now for new appliances and a roofer. 20/20 hindsight: don't be like me. You want an agent who is going to be a pit bull on your behalf, not someone who figures that they'll get as much out of you as they can and then move on.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:17 PM on May 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to say that this has been my experience as well. I think the internet has contributed to the de-skilling of this profession; 20 years ago in the same town it was a very different situation.

Fortunately, there are many of them. Keep at it until you find someone who you feel can be your advocate.
posted by macinchik at 10:33 PM on June 6, 2019

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