The Top Lies Told By Real Estate Agents

Signs of Unethical Realtor Behavior

Smiling female realtor talking on a cellphone in empty house
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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 agent is honest with you. Unfortunately, the real estate industry is saddled with a poor reputation because not all agents are honest.

Part of the problem is that vast numbers of unscrupulous people go into real estate thinking that the profession will provide them with a fast track to easy money. And it's not difficult to obtain a real estate license in many states. Professional standards and educational requirements are at a minimum in some jurisdictions.

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 a few dishonest agents can still slip through.

When and How Do Agents Lie?

Agents mostly lie about themselves. They might 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—if you can trust an agent's website.

You can find out just about anything you need to know about a real estate agent's honesty with a little detective work. You can assess whether agents are puffing or giving you a false picture of their abilities, strengths, and background. Be alert for certain issues when you're looking at an agent's website or blog.

Real Estate Experience

The agent either has very little experience—less than five years—or no experience at all if you can't easily spot a reference on their website to the number of years they've been licensed.

The agent might toss in some 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.

Real Estate Listings

Most agent websites feature the agent's active listings, so check for a link to "my listings" to determine if that agent even 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 actually belong to that agent. Call the office number and ask for the name of the listing agent if you can't tell.

Some agents misrepresent all their company listings on their site as their own when, in fact, they're not.

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, in fact, 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. Still others will 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.

Nonnegotiable Commissions

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 in order to entice a listing. So feel free to negotiate and try to get the best deal for yourself.

It's usually the seller who 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 this one. 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 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 the result of your search shows "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. Think about it: Maybe 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.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.