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July 29, 2008


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It seems that you've fallen into the trap of doing business with friends. Ending this business relationship would be akin to telling your agent that you don't like her anymore, and that can be tough. You want an agent that needs your business, that will negotiate the best deal for you, that will find you a house to buy and get yours sold. The person for that job needs to be aggressive and maybe even somewhat pushy - not necessarily someone you would invite to your daughter's birthday party.

Don't forget, you're shopping for a house, not a real estate agent. There is nothing wrong with dropping an agent or working with multiple agents to meet that end.

>> And yet, I feel we owe her something since she's put so much time and effort into showing us all the homes.

Her time and and effort haven't gotten you any results though. Working hard is nice, but you're not (potentially) paying her to work hard, you're paying her for results.

I say if you haven't signed an exclusivity contract with her, then contact other real estate agents. If you can avoid a contract entirely, then let the various agents send you listings, and buy from whoever finds you the house you want.

She's also not listening to you -- and you're effectively her boss for this job. I'm starting house shopping right now too, and two of the three real estate agents that I've contacted (through their websites) haven't listened to my request to have e-mail only contact until we find a couple of houses we want to look at. You can bet that as we get closer to January, when we want to move, that I am going to be move comfortable with an agent who actually reads and honors my messages.

Those negatives of not being your advocate and not being aggressive or knowledgeable FAR, FAR outweigh the positives of being nice, cheerful and available. I think you already know the answer to this one, FMF.

I can understand not knowing everything about R/E, but it sounds like every difficult question you ask her she's hunting for an answer.

This is a tough one. Regardless of whether you think she is doing her job, she has spent alot of time working for you. In hindsight, it really would have been better if you could have noticed these flaws early on instead of letting this situation drag on for so long. At the same time, if she isn't getting the job done, then you are wasting both of your times.

I like the idea of giving her one more chance, but I think you need to talk to her and let her know the situation. If she doesn't know something is wrong, then don't expect anything to change. Let her know that if you don't find something this season, then you are going to go another direction. I think it would even be helpful to let her know your reasons for looking elsewhere. It might motivate her to work harder for you and possibly self-reflect on those flaws.

I think the most important thing is to talk to her about it. If you don't think that is appropriate, then switch agents now. No sense in both of you wasting another season where you won't get the house you want for the price you want and she won't get a commission.

I'm not sure why this is an either/or situation where she either 1)gets nothing or 2) you stay with her maybe to your own downfall in finding a house at a good deal. If you think someone else could do better, go with someone else. If you think you owe her something, write her a check (taking into account her time and how good a job you think she was doing). I know nobody ever does this, but I've got to admit that if she spent a lot of time working for me, I'd feel a little guilty not cutting her loose earlier if I really thought she was doing a poor job. The stringing along penalty would be the check I'd write her.

Reminds me of forced retirement situations where a company feels they owe something to a long-time employee but a good business plan doesn't allow for their position to remain. The solution is neither to fire them in 2 weeks with nothing or to keep them on, but to offer them a nice retirement package which reduces losses to both in the long run.

Your sentence here is of primary relevance, even if the other stuff was not present:

She's not on the same page we're on. We've told her time and again what we're looking for and it's simply not sinking in.

Cut her loose. She cannot do anything other than be what the conventional National Association of Realtors wants a realtor to be, which is of course, bad for you. Remember that the Realtors, collectively, are a cartel designed first and foremost to protect their profits, and secondarily to help you buy a home. Being a realtor does not require a lot of time, skill or investment, only a willingness to follow the system of the MLS information cartel.

We went FSBO after a home we saw on Craigslist. Both the seller and our family got a better deal than if we used a realtor. Think about that I again- we spent less, the buyer profited more. We even negotiated a full upgrade of the HVAC system with a cleaning/validation by a certified industrial hygienist!

We used a lawyer for the transaction and the purchase contract. The lawyer did a great job, and charged us based on her hourly time and preparation of documents- no fees tied tot he value of the house.

We see the seller from time to time, and we remain on good terms, both enjoying our new homes.

If you are unconvinced by reading my post, swing over to your local bookstore, pick up Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational book, and read the chapter on Realtors.

I'm going through the same process with a financial advisor/company, so I'm going to give you the advice that I should be giving myself...

You have to do what's best for you, not what's best for them. If you feel like you're not getting the best help from your agent (especially on the negotiating side) you might want to tell her you're going another route.

Anywho, I wouldn't let the fact that she's not showing you a lot of listings bother you so much. This is my personal opinion however, but I find searching for houses online quite fun. When I was buying my condo (first time home buyer speaking) I frequently was on I found many of the potential condos before my realtor even showed them to me. It was beneficial in the end, because he had more information than was available on, but I did enjoy doing the searches on my own and seeing what was out there.

I'm sure there are other sites I could have searched besides; even checking local listings or driving around as well.

In the end however, you are the one going to be making the decison, buying and living in a new house, not your realtor. It's your investment, your home. Do what's best for you.

I bet you she wants to be let go. You are the worst kind of cliants. People who take way too long and do not make it worth her while. Why should she work hard for you when you are not really even sure you want to move. If you were more motivated, she probably would be too. Look at the difference from the beginning of the search to now. I think that real eastate agents have a very hard job, especially in this market. Let her go, but don't choose someone else unless you are serious this time.

Dump her.

Continuing to work with her is not a good use of your time or of hers. You owe her nothing. Commissioned salespeople (such as most real estate agents) get paid on a sale, not for their time or effort. No sale = no pay.


She probably wants to be let go because FMF is actually taking the time to do the research and wants a good deal. It's not an easy sell with a high commission. Car dealers, for instance, hate me because I do a lot of research and I won't settle for paying several thousand dollars above invoice. But if they stick with me, they will still get a commission.

I applaud FMF for working hard to get a house that serves them. After all, they are the one's going to be living in it.


I'd say dump her. Get an aggressive real estate agent. It will serve YOU better.

Emily --

1. We ARE serious. If we found the right place at the right price, we would buy it. (As you can see from above, we even put a bid on the place.)

2. We were upfront about our intentions from the start. We told her what we were looking for and that we wouldn't buy until we found it -- and we weren't going to be "sold" into something we didn't want. She took the job with full knowledge of this.

Do you have a contract with her? In the end you are the employer and if the agent is not working in your best interest, you have every right to let her go. That being said it would be hard to let her go after she has spent a lot of time showing you houses.

I would say that its time to cut your losses and move on to an agent that has talents better suited to your needs. No point wasting more time just because you've already spent so much time with her, that's the "sunk cost fallacy"!

I understand your feelings that she is owed something for the time she has spent with you, and I would submit that an honest and tactful conversation about why you're changing agents would be an appropriate form of compensation. She will undoubtedly come across more clients like you in the future, and you being honest with her about what she could have done differently will allow her to keep that future business. And maybe buy her a nice bottle of wine or some movie tickets to show your appreciation for her pleasant attitude and to show no hard feelings! Then find an agent who's a go-getter!!!

If you don't have a contract, it's time to move on.

Real Estate agents are NOT in the game to represent/protect YOUR interests. They are in business to complete transactions with the minimum necessary effort. The big advantage they have is MLS (information).

On the Sell side, you want the most aggressive, most successful agent in your market. You do not want merely "one of the better performers in the office." Of course, you still need to prepare the house, and price it correctly. We sold our last house after Labor Day (declining season), after the peak of the market. We sold it in 14 days, for 2.5% more than our asking price. We interviewed the local realtor (she lived 1 block over in our neighborhood), and the top performer in the area (who primarily dealt with higher-market homes). The local agent had some suggestions on preparation, and a passive marketing plan. The cracker-jack had some suggestions, and a proactive, timeline-based plan based on weeks on market. He rarely had a listing sit more than 30 days.

On the Buy side, remember that even a Buyer's agent does NOT represent your interests. They are merely a (sometimes nice to know) tool for obtaining your objectives. In my experience, Buyer's agents ARE interested in finding a house that you are WILLING TO OWN -- they ARE NOT engaged in finding you the RIGHT house at the RIGHT price.

On the Buy side, I have NEVER found an agent that protects MY interests to my expectations, and 100% of them subtly (or not-so) push to "get the deal done" rather than "get the best deal we can get." Consequently, I find myself managing my communications with them far more than I would expect from their job title.

If you've signed a contract with your agent, you're almost certainly best to let it expire before talking to another agent. It is common (universal?) that Buyer's Agent contracts include clauses that ultimately hold YOU responsible for paying their commission, no matter who you work with to purchase a house.

My recommendation: If there's a contract, let it expire, then let her go. If, at that time, you feel that she might actually hear you, then explain your reasons. Otherwise, just move on. It is her chosen profession, and you wouldn't be the first client that has left.

Are you kidding me?! You say that your agent has shown you over 40 homes, readily admit that you shopped around off and on for over 2 years...yet you cannot understand why your agent is NOT actively searching for you. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

You sound like a nightmare client to me. After looking at numerous homes and asking to bid only the amount that you deem the house is worth, although this happens to be several thousands of dollars less than what the Sellers are after, and proudly claiming you can walk away at any time because you are so smart to not be emotionally attached to ANY house...I can't believe this poor woman still takes your phone calls and remains polite. If the market hadn't turned, my hunch is that you would have been dropped by many agents out there a long time ago.

If your agent had been more aggressive as you say, she would have asked you to up your offer instead of trying to cram through a deal that no Seller will be willing to take, unless they have no other option. Wake up...the problem isn't with your agent. She has been loyal to you all these years and this is how you chose to repay her? Wow.

I can't believe all these comments are supporting your behavior. Shocked!

RJ --

So what's your alternative? Buy a home she recommends at any price she recommends?

We clearly stated upfront what our intentions were, what we were looking for, the price we were looking for, and so on. And she signed on knowing those things. So how exactly are we nightmare clients?

On the other hand, she hasn't done one bit of proactive work and when we did bid on a house (a number she gave us the comparative info on to set a bid) and a fair bid at that (in her opinion), she simply rolled over and let the seller's agent bully her -- she did nothing to try and make the deal work. Her response: oh well, I guess they just don't want to sell.

Bottom line: She's very nice, but really fairly clueless. Shame on us for not doing our due diligence up front.

Sounds like you have already made up your mind and are just looking for people to affirm your decision. You asked if it was fair to dump her and in my opinion it isn't. If all you are looking for is people who agree with you...then why bother asking? Seems like you are just discounting any dissenting opinions.

IMHO, sounds like you have been a less than ideal client. I made no mention of buying any home whatever price it was listed at. From what you have said in previous posts, you are in no rush to buy. You are looking for a steal. Just because the Sellers aren't desperate enough to accept any price you ask, doesn't mean that your agent isn't aggressive enough.

Seriously, consider your role in what has happened and don't be so quick to blame others...or so defensive.

By the way, I regularly read your blog and find that you have some sound advice to offer. In this instance, I don't happen to agree with you.

My grandmother is going through the same thing, trying to sell a beautiful home on a lake in Michigan. The former owner of the home, who passed away in December, hired a realtor who was a great guy about helping him sell some of his stuff, etc. (the owner was downsizing). My grandmother feels like she owes the guy the business from the sale because of this. However, over a year has passed and I recently found (after some searching) the listing online--it has a brief description, ONE really poor picture of the front (not showing the back, the gardens, or any of the interior), and does not do justice at all to the home. No one that came across that listing would even put it on their radar. Even in Michigan, where the market is tough, this house should have sold by now. If I could afford it and if it didn't have so many painful memories for my grieving family, I would have bought it. She's finally convinced that she needs to switch realtors. It can be hard to make that decision sometimes, but you need to do what's best for your bottom line in the end with this sort of thing.

(P.S. Anyone that would be interested in a great ranch in east Michigan on a beautiful lake, with two kitchens(one recently updated!), plus the ability to easily add a second storey . . . contact me. ;)

RJ --

I guess I don't get what I've done wrong:

1. I told her what we wanted to do.
2. We did that.
3. And now it's wrong somehow?

My question was whether it was right to dump her based on the time she's put in -- not whether or not we'd acted honestly (which we have).

Seriously, what's your solution? Stick with her? Is that what you're saying?

Katie --

If you could move the home to the west side of the state, maybe I'd be interested. ;-)

You do not owe her anything. Showing people a lot of houses is why Realtors make a high commission rate. This is the nature of their business.

If you are unhappy with her then here is what I'd do myself: First, I'd tell her you're thinking of changing Realtors. Then see how she reacts. If she doesn't seem upset and is OK with it then its a mutual feeling. However, If she scrambles and tries to keep you then tell her you want her to be much more proactive in finding a house and more aggressive in negotiations. Layout what she needs to do to satisfy you and give her specifics so she has a goal to hit. Then give her maybe a month and see if she improves drastically to your satisfaction. After a month if she's doing everything you want then fine, if not then switch realtors. Thats my tact, but IMO it would be fair enough for you to just dump her outright if you wanted too. But it sounds to me that you're unhappy with her but not so unhappy you feel OK dumping her outright.


"Bottom line: She's very nice, but really fairly clueless."

Seems like you've answered your own question here. A clueless agent is not worth your time no matter how nice she is. Nice alone won't get the deal done. Move on and find an agent that better matches your needs. I'm sure this lady has plenty of other clients to keep her busy (or not?)

Maybe RJ is suggesting that you have told her your expectations of her before she was fired so that she could "work on your behalf" more effectively. Just guessing. Had your realtor known she wasn't meeting your expectations, perhaps she would have then referred you to a realtor with more experience and been more honest about her capabilities. My guess.

Mari --

She's not fired yet. That's what this discussion is about.

I absolutely think its fair. I went through three agents before finding one that was knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. I knew the financing program I wanted and the type of house i was looking for (primarliy HUD). The first agent was my parent's abuot 20 years ago, super nice lady but wouldn't listen to my limits and continually tried to show me houses way above my comfortable range. The second one "specialized" in HUD houses, but pretty much nothing else. The third was by chance, but a real jerk. He acted like a 24 YO woman searching for a house was a waste of his time. Finally, a girl from work recommended her mother-in-law. I figured it couldn't hurt (and had become a pro at dumping agents) and lo and behold she was able to help me find reasonable properties and never once suggested a home outside of my comfortable range. I think its like any other service, I am not willing to pay an extravagent amount to someone who didn't work for it.

I feel like some people throw realtors in the same category as waiters. A waiter's job is to serve you something that you ordered off a menu. You knew exactly what you want, and they brought it to you. Perhaps they even checked up on you from time to time.

A realtor, who makes a hefty commission on the eventual sale of a home, should have a responsibility to listen to what your needs are, and try and find a home that suits those needs. Since he told her up front he was going to be patient until he found the home that was right for him and at the right price, I don't see anything wrong with looking at as many houses until that need is met.

Just because he hasn't found it yet, that just means, if he chooses to keep her on as a realtor, her job is not finished.

I like Jim's approach but I'd be worried, since you're giving her an option to stay on, she might get offended or not want to put in a lot of effort...unless you were somehow able to offer constructive criticism and she was responsive to it.

The key question seems to be the obligation you feel. I would argue that you should not feel obliged:
(1) The existence of a contract creates a fair exchange of goods. It is clear what you owe and what you are owed. "Obligations" are for situations where good faith is involved, not contractual situations.
(2) You probably take much more time and effort than the average client of a realtor. Maybe you are not doing her a favor by keeping her.

If you don't have an obligation, it seems pretty clear you think you could be better served elsewhere, so that's really the question it boils down to. And if you have an obligation to stay, then no other question matters.

I don't think FMF did anything wrong. It is true that some clients are harder to deal with, and some are easier to work with. The easier ones tend to be the more gullible ones. Every transaction has a winner and a loser. Either the agent is a loser, or you're a loser. Which do you prefer that it be?

Personally, I think real estate agents should be paid by the hour, rather than by commission. I'm not sure that it takes any more work to sell a $300K house than it does to sell a $150K house. And yet the agent will be paid twice as much for the $300K house.

If agents were paid hourly, the home buyer (you) could choose how much work he wanted to do. So if you wanted to do all the work and locate houses, and just have the agent do some of the negotiating and paperwork, that would be cheaper for you. But if you wanted a full-service agent that would do all the work for you, you could, but you would just have to pay for it. Also, there would be more of a sense if the agent is working for you or not. You could just fire him/her if you didn't get what you wanted. And yet, you would not be having this quandary over what to do about all the work he/she has already done for you.

Finally, there would be an appropriate conflict between time spent and the final price paid. That's how our economy works: a cost/demand curve. If you as a buyer wanted to make sure to save an extra $10K off the price of a hosue, but at the cost of an additional 100 hours of work, you as the buyer would pay for it, rather than the agent. You would then decide if it was worth it or not. Likewise, if you were selling a house, and wanted the best price possible, at the cost of extra effort in trying to sell it, you would pay for that, rather than the agent.

For all these points, as well as others, I believe that agents should be paid hourly, rather than on commission.

If you don't like her then get rid of her. You have choice with real estate agents, and the good ones are worth having. We found a really good one when I sold my house and it makes all the difference. She's been in the business for 28 years, through plenty of buyer's markets and plenty of seller's markets. She knows the area and the neighborhoods and the prices and just about anything you could ask. She's proactive and tells you what you need to know before you even ask. She has a network of contacts to refer you to for any problems you need fixed - inspector, electrician, landscaping, mortgage, you name it. She does very detailed comps and know the specifics of each house she is comparing yours to - not just based on square feet and the neighborhood average. If she's selling your house she sends you a weekly update listing web site hits, showings, and feedback from the showings. To me, she's the standard to measure other realtors against. These types are out there and if you find one, you'll be glad you did. Because then when you go to a negotiation you'll have something you didn't have with your old realtor - absolute confidence that your realtor has got your back and is going to bat for you with all her competence and experience. I'd say the way to find one is to interview a few people and have them do some comps for you. The one who shows up having done their homework and is willing and able to answer your questions is the one to hire. A good realtor looks at an interview as a chance to show her stuff, and you'll see the difference if you interview a few.

Another way to find one is to look at your own neighborhood. In our neighborhood there are a fair number of homes for sale, and some sat on the market for over a year. Then one of them switched to a new realtor and she sold it within 3 weeks. The another switched their listing to her and bang, it was sold. Then another. She sold 3 houses in about 2 months. I'd definitely want to interview her. The guys who let the listing sit there for a year are on my "do not hire list".

"This process kept repeating itself for months, throughout the summer. Then, after taking the winter off, we picked up the process again this spring and have been looking since."

Based on this comment I will agree with what RJ is saying. You have used too much of your agent's time. In total you have been looking for a year, right? You always spent months of her time last year and then took the winter off (why?)have spent spring and summer this year. Agents get paid when houses are sold. They can not realistically spend that much time proactively searching for a home for you and also showing homes to you.

One would also have to ask the question, "why is it taking you so long to find a home especially in a very down market?" This would indicate that your criteria is unrealistic. That one house you didn't get sold for more than 20% off the original list price. You offered 36% off the listing price. Agent's don't want to spend countless hours making offers that don't have a chance of going through just because you want a steal. If that's what you want to do (and that's perfectly okay) then you should do it on your own without an agent.

That being said, you should have realized before your agent spent this much time that you didn't have the right agent. Now you should stay with her. An agent that James referrs to would have suited you better.

Todd --

Have you ever shopped for a home in Michigan in the winter? I'm guessing not -- very few people do. Most house hunters take the winter off because the weather is simply too bad to deal with. Throw in a few holidays and it's a mess. Even the sellers don't want to put them homes up for sale until March.


Point taken. I live in Texas although I am originally from Minnesota and can relate.

Agents for buyers aren't really going to bust their tail to negotiate too hard for you. What does fighting hard for a lower price for you get them? Less chance of a commission for them, and a smaller commission if they're successful!

I'd be patient. We're nowhere near the bottom yet. Don't you have the cash to buy from a distressed seller? Aren't some houses in MI not getting any bids even as low as $5,000? Are you tracking number of houses on the market? Number of rentals? Are they going up? Bank foreclosures? How many don't get any bids?

See how bad it is before you pay retail when you can buy for pennies on the dollar.

Mbhunter --

Not a lot of foreclosures yet -- at least ones with the features we're looking for. Yes, Michigan is among the tops in foreclosures, but most of them are in the Detroit area -- the other side of the state.

Wow, what a great bit of feedback from everyone. As a Realtor, it is common place, in TX as least, to sign a 6mo. exclusive contract to represent a buyer. Now, the Realtor has 6mo to get you into a home or loose out on the $4/gal gas, and wasted time. Communication is often the #1 thing that people don't do. Weather it's the Realtor or the buyer/seller. Both have something to loose if poor communication continues. I don't want to fault anyone with the blame to why the homes she is sending you are not what you are looking for, but would like to give an example of current buyers. They are looking in a small area of rural TX, and want 5 acres and 2600sqft "nice" home for $125k. We have discussed in person, email, phone how this does not exist, and they continue to use to SEND US homes that are $175k and UP! It may be a buyers market, but even foreclosures are not going for much less than 10% below tax value. They have finally seen the light and will continue to save until they can have what they want. So, yes we are out a buyer, but we are out a buyer after only 1 day worth of looking at what $120k buys, and they did not go to another Realtor. (p.s. Big Time Realtors often have many assistances, who do the majority of the work, so its like shopping at Wal-Mart or small local shop, there is good and bad to be said of both.)

FMF -- I think before you fire her, you should talk to her. Share the same concerns with her that you did with us (especially about the one house getting away and her not being aggressive enough), and tell her you're thinking maybe you aren't as well suited as you thought. It will give her a chance to say she agrees (maybe as others have stated, she wants out of the relationship too but is too passive to say it?), or a chance to say she wants to do better. If she says she wants to make an effort, give her another month or so to prove it. If she doesn't improve, you can fire her guilt-free and still have several months of fall to look with a different agent.

Just a quick follow up from my comment on 7/29 at 12:51. My grandmother dumped her realtor. He was a jerk about it, telling her how he had put so much work into the listing during the 1.5 YEARS that he had control of it. Two weeks later after changing to a new real estate agent, she had two offers--one of them for full price, in cash.

I just fired 4 agents before finding one that was able to find us a suitable home. I had one that never showed me a single a house, would refuse to show me certain houses, and I was the one finding all of the houses to look at.

I was quick to fire them though, I'd fire them after 2 weeks if I wasn't getting adequate responses :)

I just fired our buyer's agent, and he wrote me a scathing email calling me inconsiderate and not appreciative of his effort. We never signed a buyers broker contract, so we were under no legal obligation to him. But he has been showing us houses for 3 months. FMF, we felt the same as you in a lot of ways. Our agent was nice, but he was a "used car salesman nice." He would send us a list of properties based on our criteria. We would go on the MLS website and find several we were interested in that he left off. He would show them to us anyway, but he didn't really have an explanation of why he didn't include them in the first place. After a while, it seemed like his lists included very nice houses outside of our price range and very crappy houses lower than our price range. I think he was trying to convince us we needed to spend more in order to get a decent home. Anyway, I have no proof of that; all I know is that this is one of the biggest decisions of my life and I'm not working with someone I don't feel 100% comfortable with. Any agent that doesn't understand that needs to suck it up and get over it. IT'S BUSINESS. And that's the nature of working in field based on commission. Looks like you posted this a while ago, so you've probably worked out your problem now. But if you don't mind, post a response to this message and let me know how everything worked out for you. Thanks!

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