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Polaroid Split In Half With A Real Estate Agent On One Side Holding A Small House And Key And A Couple On The Other Side
Jose Velez / Money

Your real estate agent can’t make more housing supply appear out of thin air or double the value of your home overnight. But they should make you feel supported and well represented in a crazy market. If not, it may be time to cut ties.

This is not a decision to make lightly, but if you do you certainly have no shortage of options. As of October, the National Association of Realtors, the real estate’s largest trade group, had 1,564,547 members — a 7% jump from the end of 2020. And many more real estate agents aren’t NAR members.

With all the competition, real estate agents are fighting tooth and nail for clients. “It’s a dog-eat-dog industry,” says Jason Gelios, an agent with Community Choice Realty in Southeast Michigan. Considering that you have plenty of agents to choose from, there’s no reason to stay with your agent if you’re not happy with their service.

Here are five signs it could be time to part ways with your agent, along with advice on how to execute a breakup.

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5 reasons to consider hiring a new real estate agent

1. Bad communication

In Gelios’s experience, poor communication is the most common reason buyers and sellers fire their agents. In today’s fast-moving market — the average home sold in just 17 days in September, NAR reports — real-time communication is more important than ever, says Ari Harkov, an associate broker at Manhattan real estate firm Brown Harris Stevens.

“How quickly and clearly your agent delivers information matters,” Harkov says. “We live in an industry where everyone wants you to respond yesterday.”

A reasonable response time will depend on the circumstances. Most brokerages tell agents to respond to potential new clients within 24 hours, if not sooner. Once you’ve decided to work together, radio silence for more than a couple days can be a deal breaker.

“If it’s taking several days for your agent to respond to your emails, phone calls or text messages, that’s a valid reason to dump them,” says Kirsten Jordan, an associate broker at real estate firm Douglas Elliman in New York City.

A good agent will also tell you when they are going to be out of pocket for more than a day or two. If your listing agent is unavailable for an extended period, you might want to ask them to designate a colleague to handle inbound calls and showings in their absence.

2. Lackluster negotiating skills

The best real estate agents are ace negotiators. House hunters know this: In a recent NAR survey, eight out of 10 home buyers said they considered negotiation skills to be “very important” when choosing an agent.

Perhaps you’ve lost faith in your agent’s negotiating abilities. Maybe a deal fell through because your agent did a poor job of haggling with a home seller or buyer. Or maybe you’re working with an agent who is just starting out and hasn’t had a chance to cut their teeth on the negotiation side of the business. The bottom line is if you don’t trust in your agent’s ability to negotiate on your behalf, it’s time to find a new agent.

There is a caveat, though. “We’re in a really strong seller’s market, which means you probably can’t negotiate 20% off a home’s list price,” says Harkov. “You should understand what cards you’re holding when assessing your agent’s negotiating skills.”

3. Tardiness

Does your agent show up late to appointments? Or, worse yet, miss appointments altogether? A reliable agent respects your time.

“I recently started working with a buyer whose previous agent was an hour late to their first showing,” Gelios says. As he puts it: “Tardiness is a lack of professionalism.”

4. Inadequate marketing

“A lot of agents fall short when marketing a home,” Jordan laments. But for sellers, a lack of exposure for their listing can be detrimental.

Your agent should be doing everything possible to market your property. This includes taking professional listing photos, posting for-sale signage, holding open houses, plugging your property into your local multiple listing service, creating email marketing campaigns, and promoting your home on social media. (Only half of real estate agents use social media to market listings, a new NAR survey found.)

A 3-D tour can also make your listing more appealing to buyers, especially in the pandemic era, where house hunters have grown more accustomed to viewing homes virtually. In fact, one recent survey found that nearly seven out of 10 buyers said they're so confident in 3-D tours that they would purchase a property sight unseen.

5. A personality clash

Some people just don’t mesh. “Buying or selling a home is a very intimate transaction,” Harkov says. “You should be working with an agent who you like and trust.”

Gelios agrees. “I know agents who are very aggressive, and an aggressive personality isn’t compatible with a lot of buyers and sellers,” he says. “Your personality and your agent’s personality should be in sync.”

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How to cut ties with your agent

Generally, it’s easier for homebuyers to switch agents than it is for sellers.

When hiring an agent, most sellers sign an exclusive right-to-sell agreement, a legally binding contract that gives the agent the exclusive right to sell the home for a specific amount of time and compensation. Many agents ask for six-month exclusives, Jordan says, but the length of listing agreements can vary.

Some exclusive right-to-sell agreements contain “exit” clauses that allow sellers to terminate the contract early, but most agreements don’t. Consequently, “sellers usually wait until their listing agreement has expired before they change agents,” Jordan explains.

Buyers usually have more flexibility. Unless they’ve signed an exclusive representation agreement with an agent, they can change agents at any time. And in many cases, buyers who’ve signed a representation agreement can terminate it before it expires without penalty, says Gelios.

Gelios suggests ending the relationship respectfully. “The old, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ often works well,” he says. (Say: “I really appreciate all of the effort you’ve put in, but I’ve decided to go in a different direction.”)

If your agent refuses to let you terminate your representation agreement early, Gelios recommends escalating the matter to their broker (a.k.a. boss). “Most of the time, the broker will force the agent to let the buyer go,” he says.

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