You're most likely handling the most substantial financial transaction of your life when you buy or sell a home, so it's of utmost importance that your real estate agent is honest with you. Unfortunately, some dishonest people may become real estate agents, thinking that the profession will provide a fast track to easy money, and it's not difficult to obtain a real estate license in some states.
However, most agents are more trustworthy than they're given credit for. They survive on repeat business, so they want and need happy clients. The Realtor Code of Ethics prohibits unethical behavior on top of that, but occasionally, a few dishonest agents can slip through.
- If an agent doesn't mention their years of experience or how long they've been licensed, it's a red flag.
- Look for an agent's active listings to find out how active they actually are.
- Agent commissions are always negotiable.
- Confirm that prospective agents are licensed in your state and whether that license is in good standing.
When and How Do Agents Lie?
When real estate agents lie, it's most likely to be about themselves. They may misrepresent their experience or their credentials on their websites or blogs. Some spend inordinate amounts of time posting online to obtain maximum search engine exposure. Others pay for commercial rights and buy ads to rank above search results in Google and Yahoo.
So you might wonder—and rightly so—whether you can trust an agent's website.
You can find about anything you need to know about a real estate agent's honesty with a little detective work. You can assess whether agents are embellishing or giving you a false picture of their abilities, strengths, and backgrounds.
Real Estate Experience
When looking at a website, the agent likely either has very little experience—less than five years—or no experience at all if you can't easily spot a reference to the number of years they've been licensed.
The agent might toss in other numbers, such as how long they've lived in the state or the number of years they were employed somewhere else. But only one thing counts: solid real estate experience.
An agent should be able to anticipate problems and prevent them from manifesting. An experienced agent has learned how to handle just about any type of potential difficulty without running elsewhere for advice. Look for and confirm this critical number—years of experience.
Real Estate Listings
Many agent websites feature the agent's active listings, so check for a link to "my listings" to determine if that agent has any.
Only a select few, such as exclusive buyer broker agents, refuse to take any listings at all. Listings are the backbone of experienced real estate agents' livelihoods. So it's a safe guess that the agent has no listings if you can't find a link.
Here's something else to watch out for: Some agents who don't have listings will advertise those of another agent at their own company. Read through the listings carefully to see if they belong to that agent. Call the office number and ask for the name of the listing agent if you can't tell.
Real Estate Specialty
Agents generally advertise their specialty, whether it's a certain neighborhood, a type of property, or specific types of buyers they often represent. But one sale does not a specialist make. Agents sometimes have difficulty drawing the line between what they aspire to become and what they are right now.
An agent might claim to be a specialist at selling homes in a trendy neighborhood when they haven't sold a single property there. Agents might try to market themselves as exclusive home specialists by showcasing only high-end homes on their websites, but they've never sold a home in that price range. Others may advertise that they're FHA specialists, but they've yet to close an FHA transaction.
Agents can be sued for pretending to be neighborhood specialists, but that doesn't stop some from trying to mislead you. Ask to see a copy of closed sales printed from MLS if you want to be on the safe side.
This is one that rolls right off many agents' tongues, although it might not appear on their websites. They'll say that their commissions are not negotiable. Don't believe it.
Commissions are not carved in stone, and agents frequently tweak them to secure a listing. So feel free to negotiate and try to get the best deal for yourself.
The seller usually pays the agents' commissions, but some associated costs can trickle down to the buyer.
Buyers Are Lined Up for Your Property
Your agent probably is working with several people who are looking to buy a home—or someone with their agency is. But think about it: Are all of those buyers really looking to purchase the exact type of property you happen to be offering for sale?
You might want to be skeptical even if you're told that there's just one perfect buyer waiting in the wings for your property. It's usually not true. The agent wants you to sign the listing agreement, and that buyer will probably have wandered off to greener pastures by the time you do.
Finding the right buyer requires effort and marketing. They're not lined up with financing in hand, so don't sign anything based on this promise alone.
Look Up the Agent's License
A good place to begin vetting an agent is the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials. If your search results show "no data," click on the name to at least get the license number. Sometimes this site doesn't provide accurate dates, but the license numbers are correct.
Now go to your state's licensing division armed with that license number. Do a Google search for the name of your state and "real estate licensing division." Look for license verification, and enter the license number. This will tell you when the license was originally issued.
Some state real estate licensing divisions will disclose whether complaints have been filed against an agent or whether a license has been temporarily suspended.
You can always run a Google search on the agent's name and city to find out whether they have a good reputation.
The Agent's Production Record
You can ask your agent to print out their production record from MLS, or you can ask another real estate agent to do it. You might discover that the agent you're considering has been falsely leading you to believe that they're a top producer when, in fact, they only sell two homes a year.
A successful real estate agent generally sells a minimum of one home a month, or 12 homes a year.
You might also ask for references. Some agents list testimonials on their websites, but they withhold the clients' names. It's possible that person isn't actually a client if they're not comfortable having their name published. So, ask for client phone numbers and call for first-hand confirmation.