What Happens When You Need to Fire Your Real Estate Agent

published Oct 13, 2022
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Here’s the thing about writing. Sometimes you write what you know and sometimes you write what you wish you’d known. I’m going to do the latter. 

Last year, my husband and I bought a house. But, for several weeks during that process, it looked like it might crumble in a pile of miscommunication and real estate negligence. 

We happened upon our real estate agent at an open house. She seemed nice enough, took us on quickly, and was patient as we looked at a dozen homes. She was kind and willing to show us any listing we sent her. She wasn’t going to make proactive moves for us but, as a Type-A oldest child, I don’t need hand holding. Anyway, she was early in her career, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Then we all got in over our heads.

From the day we made the offer, there were issues with the way the contract was structured — the person who “signed” the contract had been deceased for months (spoiler: that renders a contract void). The back-and-forth attempt to make it legally sound led to missing multiple deadlines, and I was concerned we were going to lose the house in a mess of crossed wires. No one seemed the least bit concerned that a handshake and an, “It’s fine! His kids have signed for him since he passed away last spring,” probably wouldn’t hold up in a court of real estate law.

Meanwhile, as this transpired, we were in another country begging our agent to contact the listing agent by phone. As we metaphorically banged our heads against a brick wall, the best we could get from her was, “I left a message with his assistant yesterday.”

It was clear we needed someone who could advocate for us — and our real estate agent wasn’t ready to be that person. We desperately called a family friend with another firm, asking what to do. She broke the news to us: At that point, if we switched real estate agents, all the work that had been done would likely be thrown out the window, and the house would go back on the market. We needed to accept that there was a good chance we wouldn’t get the house if we started over. So we pushed forward. And, after two stressful months, we finally closed. 

So, what would I do next time? 

I’d get out of that real estate relationship and move on to someone ready to go to bat for me. As Megan Micco, a broker associate explains, “Buying or selling a home is often the largest financial decision most people make in their lives, so it is critical you are represented by the most effective real estate agent you can find. If your current agent is unresponsive, lacks local market insight, or is overly deferential to you, you owe it to yourself to move on to someone who can better represent your interests.”

To be prepared in the future, I chatted with several agents and real estate professionals for more advice on how to do that respectfully and successfully. Here are their five tips.

Remember, It’s Just a Business Transaction

Buying a house is stressful, and the wrong real estate agent for the transaction can make it even worse, so don’t draw it out. They’re not your friend (unless they are) and you need to find the right fit for you. 

“At the end of the day, this is a business transaction. You hired them to help you buy or sell a home and, if they are not meeting your expectations, or you’re just not vibing with each other, the best thing to do is end it as soon as possible,” says Julian Schwertz, a real estate consultant with eXp Realty in Texas.

…And That Means It’s Not Personal

In my case, the agent was a perfectly nice person, but we needed someone with the experience to recognize glaring issues in the contract and the initiative to figure out the best path forward. It wasn’t personal, it just came down to the needs of our particular situation. 

Marcia Castro of Socas Castro Realty Group explains, “Let the agent know why you feel things aren’t working out — like, ‘I need an agent who can devote more time to me,’ ‘I prefer someone who is available to show me properties on the same day they come on the market,’ or ‘I feel I work best with an agent who can communicate with me by phone rather than by text,’ whatever the issue may be,” says Castro. She notes it’s also a good exercise in verbalizing what you do need in your next agent.

Realtor Rose Cabral suggests talking to your real estate agent as soon as you know there’s a problem. See if they’re open to changing and working with you. But, if that doesn’t work, it’s time to have “the talk.” She says, “Be upfront and honest with them. Just like a relationship, getting dumped is no fun so it’s best to be kind and sincere. Dumping them via text message is a bit harsh.” 

Micco adds one more important point. “Be respectful. Thank the agent for their time and effort. Everyone wants to feel acknowledged, and this situation is no different.”

Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

But What If There’s an Agreement?

Marie Bromberg, a licensed real estate salesperson with Compass in NYC, assures buyers that the dissolution usually doesn’t come as a surprise to an agent. “Most of the time, when the relationship reaches this stage, both parties know and the ending is somewhat mutual,” she says. 

But things may not be so smooth if there’s a buyer representation agreement in place. In this case, she warns it can become contentious. Bromberg recommends, “As with any contractual disagreement, I would consult an attorney and document everything.”

Additionally, Ron Wysocarski, broker and CEO of Wyse Home Team Realty, suggests checking that agreement for a cancellation clause that may work in your situation. “There should be some escape clauses where you will find ways to end the relationship with your agent without breaking the law,” says Wysocarski.

Yes, You May Need to Ask to Speak to Their Manager

Susanna Haynie, broker and owner of Colorado Springs Real Estate, offers advice if getting out easily doesn’t work. She suggests calling the agent’s employing broker — but also accepting that if the now-fired agent first showed you the house you’re buying, they can still insist on being paid the full commission. And, because of the buyer representation agreement, they likely have every right to it.

However, even if you’re under contract, Cabral says it may be possible to change agents within the same office, and that is something that a manager or leader at the office could facilitate. 

Prevent It From Happening Again

Micco suggests taking your failed real estate relationship as a lesson learned and using the experience to find the right one later. “Read agent reviews, check references, and ask friends and family for referrals,” she says.

You can also interview your finalists so you understand whether they’re a fit for you. Just because they were right for your neighbor doesn’t mean they’ll relate to your personal situation (and buying a home is so personal!). Cabral explains, “Ask questions to get a sense of who they are. Ask things like, their availability, how long they’ve been an agent, their favorite type of client to work with, and what they like most about their job. By doing your homework beforehand you may avoid having to fire them in the first place.”