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How to Break Up With Your Real Estate Agent

Nov 18, 2019 by Ruth Lyons
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If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re less than pleased with some aspect of your buying or selling experience.

And that’s okay. Believe it or not, the feeling is likely mutual and your agent probably senses the relationship strain as much as you do. 

You have a choice of who you want to work with. This isn’t a monopoly or a government service provider. The real estate industry is flooded with agents, each with their individual strengths and weaknesses. You should choose wisely.

By the same token, agents can choose their clients, and they don’t have time to work with lukewarm or difficult individuals. They may put up with you for a time, but they have to make a living. If you're tough to work with or not ready to move forward, they won’t want you as a client.

No matter the situation, sometimes you just need to bite the bullet. Here's how to break up with your real estate agent.

Is the problem your agent?

The agent’s job is to assist, advise, and advocate for you in the process of buying or selling a home. As a licensed professional, an agent has several requirements:

  • Be honest and abide by the intent of the law.
  • Disclose all material facts about properties -- for example, if you tell your agent the basement leaks when it rains, he or she is required to disclose that information to potential buyers.
  • Provide undivided loyalty and confidentiality to the client.
  • Not make decisions for the client, but to advise the client responsibly.
  • Provide full disclosure, reasonable care, and diligence, which means recommending experts when the principal's needs are outside the scope of the agent's expertise.
  • Safeguard money or property held on behalf of the principal.
If your agent is skirting any of these responsibilities, you should fire them. Other good reasons to break off the professional relationship include the following:
  • Being unprofessional or dishonest.
  • Not following through on commitments and missing an important contractual date.
  • Intentionally overpricing your home to get the listing, only to recommend dropping the price after it fails to sell.
  • Not being loyal or obedient to the law.
  • Lacking the knowledge and skill to represent you well.

Is the problem you?

The best part and the worst part of being an agent are the same: clients.

Many people don’t understand what services an agent is hired to provide or how that agent gets paid for their services. Every agent wishes their clients understood that they're 100% commission-based. Agents don’t get anything, or have a chance to recoup any expenses, until the buyer and seller sign at the closing table. That’s why they don’t have time to waste on clients who aren't serious or motivated to move forward.

Experienced agents will insist that you visit a mortgage lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage before they take you to look at houses. And they’ll spend time with you to help you narrow down the location and type of housing you’re looking for. As a client, you need to be ready to move forward financially and emotionally when the ideal property is identified.

Uncooperative clients with unrealistic expectations cost agents money and cause unnecessary frustration. If you fall into this category, your agent is most likely happy to end the relationship without any fanfare.

Early in my career, I was desperate enough to allow a client to run me ragged, spending weeks looking at all sorts of properties in all sorts of locations. When we finally found the perfect house one Saturday morning, I spent the afternoon talking to her lender, putting the offer together, and getting the offer documents to her. By Monday, she hadn't found the time to sign and the house went under contract with another buyer. I quickly learned that time spent with unprepared buyers is a sure way to incur expenses I’ll never recoup -- and miss opportunities to work with clients who will lead to the closed transaction I need to get paid.

So you’ve decided you want to break up with your agent

The reported reasons clients give for wanting to fire their agent fall into three main categories: 

  1. A home doesn’t sell fast enough because of inadequate or ineffective marketing.
  2. The agent lacks professionalism and the skills needed to negotiate effectively or explain legal documents.
  3. The client has negative feelings about the Realtor.

There are unprofessional agents who lack the knowledge and skill to represent clients well. Sadly, their actions tarnish consumer confidence in the real estate industry. If you’re under contract with one of these agents, you can and should end the relationship. But that may not feel easy to do.

First, understand that you most likely signed an agency agreement, which is a binding contract, with the agent’s broker. The contractual obligation is to work exclusively with the agent during the term of the agreement and to pay a specified commission amount at the time of settlement for any property purchased or sold, depending on if you're buying or selling.

In most states, the term of the agency representation agreement is whatever time frame both parties agree to when signing the document -- typically three, six, or 12 months. And there’s an exit clause that stipulates the time frame and reasons the contract can be terminated early if both parties agree. However, if there's no mutual agreement to terminate the contractual obligations before the contract’s expiration date, the client, being either buyer or seller, still owes the agent the agreed-upon commission.

Often, an agent is happy to release you from a buyer’s agreement and forgo commissions earned because there’s no reason to hold you captive if the relationship isn’t working. But it may be a little trickier as the seller when the real estate brokerage has spent money to list and advertise your property. It’s common practice, though, to not pursue a client to pay an earned commission if the client wants out of the contract for a legitimate reason.

You may be wondering if you can work with an agent without signing an agreement and skip the need to "break up" if it doesn’t work out. The answer is no, not legally. As a seller, a licensed real estate agent or broker doesn’t have legal authority to represent your interests without a signed agreement in place. The same is true as a buyer. Unless you sign an agency representation agreement, the real estate agent is required by law to represent the seller’s interest, not yours as the buyer.

So don’t be shy about signing an agreement with a real estate agent who has offered to represent you (after you've properly vetted them). The legal requirement of licensee representation is there to protect your best interests as a buyer or seller in what may be the biggest financial transaction of your life.

Buying or selling a house is stressful! Keep the end goal in mind to keep a level head -- owning a home is a financial milestone and studies show that owning a home can make you happier.

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