6 Signs of a Crummy Real Estate Agent

How to tell if your real estate agent is giving you 100 percent—or just going through the motions.

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While a savvy real estate agent can certainly help you sell your home more efficiently, not all brokers are created equal. And in today's feeble real estate market, it's all the more important that an agent go the extra mile on behalf of home sellers. But how can a homeowner tell if an agent is doing everything he or she can to get the property sold or is simply going through the motions? To answer that question, U.S. News recently spoke with a handful of industry professionals and compiled a list of six distinct signs that may indicate that an agent is not 100 percent committed to the effort.

1. Out of pocket. Just as in a marriage, communication is a key component of the relationship between a homeowner and an agent. If the communication isn't there, the relationship won't work. So if your agent doesn't return your phone calls in a timely fashion or disappears without warning for weeks at a time, you should probably find someone else. Some real estate agents will block out a single window of time—say, between 4 and 5 p.m.—in which to return all of their phone calls for that day, says Jay Thompson of Thompson's Realty in Arizona. "I've never really understood that," Thompson says. "That's not necessarily good if your seller or buyer wants to talk to you at 8 o'clock in the morning—they end up waiting a whole day."

2. No advice. Let's face it; even homeowners who have been through several real estate transactions can benefit from a little advice from their agent. But if an agent doesn't offer any advice, it could be an indication that he or she is not fully engaged in the process. "We're not shy people," says Elizabeth Blakeslee of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Washington, D.C. "If an agent doesn't suggest fixing drippy faucets or reducing clutter—that sort of thing—then they are just going to put [the property] in the multiple listing [service] and throw up a sign and hope." Not exactly the pathway to value in today's sluggish market.

3. Insists on affiliates. Real estate agents who insist on clients' using a particular lender or affiliated company for the transaction should also trigger alarm bells. "That's a huge red flag because odds are they are probably getting a cut on a referral fee," says Joshua Dorkin, the founder and CEO of BiggerPockets.com, a website that specializes in real estate information and networking. "Frankly, you should be able to use whoever you want to use."

4. Part-time gig. Just because a real estate agent has a license doesn't mean it's his or her full-time job. And while some part-time agents are certainly capable, "when you put food on the table for your family selling real estate, you approach things differently," says Mike Sannes of Keller Williams-Big Bear Real Estate in Big Bear Lake, Calif. "If your real estate agent is actually a waiter, waitress, or [another profession], then you are probably not going to be happy with where their priorities are."

5. Keeps it in the family. A real estate agent who shows buyers only properties that are listed with his or her brokerage could be subordinating the client's best interests. Since selling agents earn a separate commission off a real estate transaction, agents who make listings just from their company available may be trying to steer that commission to the brokerage as well. "[If] I only showed you my listings or [the company's] listings, that's a huge red flag because there is a lot of the inventory that you are not considering," Sannes says. "By limiting [the inventory], you are not doing your job representing a buyer."

6. Behavior problems. Every real estate agent is licensed by the state in which he or she practices. State agencies, meanwhile, keep the records of all disciplinary actions taken against their agents. By getting in touch with the agency that oversees the real estate industry in your state, you can find out if there is a disciplinary action on your agent's record. (Contact information for state agencies is available through the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials.) "It's like when you hire a contractor, you go to the state contractor board," says Barbara Cook of Keller Williams Realty in San Diego County, Calif. It's also a good idea to check with the state agency simply to ensure that your agent is in fact licensed—as scam artists have been known to pose as real estate agents to perpetrate fraud.