What to do when you have to deal with a deficient real estate agent

Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

If you’ve been in real estate sales for long, at some point you’ve had to deal with a deficient real estate agent. They might be incompetent, or unethical, or dishonest, or just plain lazy.

Some of them are just - I don't know - unintelligent and lacking ambition might cover it. These are the ones who want to suck up your time gossiping, complaining, or just visiting.

But whatever they are, they make your job more difficult. If you're relatively new to the business, you may have been lucky so far, but one of these days you'll meet up with one of them. Be prepared!

If they fall under the category of time-wasters you have to shut them down so you can get back to work, even if it feels rude. They're annoying, but harmless unless you give them your time.

The others can actually interfere with your success, so you need to guard against them.

What can you do when faced with a deficient real estate agent?

In most cases, they will be on the other side of a transaction, so you can’t fire them and walk  deficient real estate agents will make you mad if you allow itaway. Pulling your hair and steaming won't help.

What you’ll need to do instead is take steps to protect yourself and your clients.

First, what kinds of dodgy things do deficient real estate agents do?

As listing agents, they:

  • Fail to present offers and respond in a timely manner.
  • Delay presenting offers from you while they wait for an offer from their own buyers.
  • Fail to respond to counter-offers in a timely manner.
  • Lie to buyers or buyers agents about material facts.
  • Encourage homeowners to hide defects that should be disclosed.
  • Violate Fair Housing or ADA laws – they are unwilling to present offers from certain people.
  • Fail to provide net sheets or explain the costs of buyer requested concessions, so sellers can understand their financial bottom line.
  • Fail to help sellers understand various clauses and contingencies in the offers they receive.
  • Fail to offer guidance in negotiating.
  • Lie to sellers.

One of the worst (or perhaps THE worst) is lying to sellers. This happened to me, and I would never have known if it weren't for the fact that the seller and I were acquaintances.  A few months after "he" had written "rejected" across an offer I'd submitted, I happened to be talking with him in his store. He said "Marte, why did you re-submit that offer when you knew my sisters would never go for an owner carry contract?"

You could have knocked me over with a feather, because the truth was - I hadn't. I had submitted a new offer for all cash at closing.

The seller's "friend" - a definitely deficient real estate agent - had not shown him the offer. He just told him it was the same as our original offer, so the seller authorized him to reject it. That agent had his own buyers, who had offered less. He wasn't about to let the property go to mine, so he lied to the seller.

Looking back, I should have insisted on seeing the seller's actual signature - and should have compared it to his other signatures in my file. It just didn't occur to me that the other agent would be THAT dishonest.

As buyer agents, they:

  • Fail to keep showing appointments, or show up late without notice.
  • Fail to turn off lights and lock doors upon leaving a house.
  • Fail to control buyers’ children while in the house / on the grounds.
  • Fail to keep an eye on adults.
  • Fail to fill out forms properly.
  • Fail to respond to counter-offers in a timely manner.
  • Violate Fair Housing or ADA laws – they are unwilling to show listings to certain people.
  • Fail to inform buyers of known defects.
  • Discourage buyers from having inspections done.
  • Fail to keep clients informed during the time from agreement to closing.
  • Refuse to accompany buyers to inspections.
  • Fail to help buyers understand the full financial picture, such as funds needed to close.
  • Fail to provide guidance during negotiations.

Here are 11 steps to take to protect yourself and your clients

  1. If you are a listing agent, warn sellers ahead of time that agents may fail to show up, or will show up late. Remind them that they might not lock doors – or even shut them! Remind them that children could be running loose – so breakables need to be up and out of the way.

  2. Remind them that people do snoop and some people are thieves. Put valuables, deficient real estate agents might let their clients snoopprescription drugs, and documents revealing their names, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, etc.  in a locked cabinet or drawer.

  3. Document everything. Note dates, times, who said what, etc. Include correspondence with clients, because… sometimes you’ll get misplaced blame. You never know ahead of time when it will be important for you to have documented a call with your clients or with another agent. So make it a habit - every day, with every call.

  4. Write disclaimers about anything in question. Get signatures on those disclaimers.

  5. Save all emails and text messages from the deficient real estate agent.

  6. When you can’t get that agent to answer the phone or return a call, send a text and an email and save them both!

  7. Follow important phone calls with a recap via email. Ask the other agent to reply and verify that you “understood everything correctly.” If no answer, repeat. Do the same, by the way, with your clients - just to make absolutely certain there are no misunderstandings.

  8. Send incomplete forms back to the agent in question or write an addendum addressing and clarifying the missing details and asking for verifying signatures.

  9. If you are the listing agent, make sure that buyers have properly signed all disclosure forms. If you are the buyers agent, make sure you and your clients are given all necessary disclosure forms and that they have been signed by the sellers.

  10. If the situation is getting worse and all else has failed, inform your broker, then go over the agent's head to his or her broker.

  11. Resign yourself to the fact that you’ll have to do some of that agent’s work – or it won’t get done. Seasoned agents know that there’s work to be done between agreement and closing – and know that some agents will leave it all for someone else to do. Don’t complain, just do it and be grateful that you can keep the transaction moving forward for your own client’s sake – and for your bank account’s sake as well.

What you must not do

  • Bad mouth or engage in gossip about that agent.

  • Contact the other agent’s clients directly. Just don’t do it. If you’ve tried communicating with the agent and tried contacting the broker – all with no results – call the legal hotline for advice. At this point you may need to call on your local ethics committee or even the state real estate commission. You may also need to call your own attorney. But don't call their clients.

Regarding #4 - Writing disclaimers.

Here's a for-instance: The listing agent says there's a 10 year warranty on the roof. They can't present a document to prove that. Tell your clients, in writing, that although this is what the agent said, you have no proof of that and you recommend not relying on hearsay. It would be better to have a professional roofer inspect the roof. Have your clients sign the disclaimer, stating that you've informed them.

Whatever their reasons, there are deficient real estate agents who will make your job difficult at times.

That's a fact that can't be helped. What CAN be helped is your reaction to them. Don't let them get you down. Keep your eyes on the job you're doing for your clients, and how you are helping them.

And when you look around, notice all the other GOOD agents who are working hard for their own clients. Good agents do outnumber the bad ones - but we don't notice because they have their heads down, doing their work.

By the way...

I'm sure you noticed that in my lists of the things deficient real estate agents do, some of those things only harm their own clients. These are the things that give real estate agents a bad name.

That means... if you do the opposite, you should mention it in your marketing materials, including your real estate bio.

For instance, you might say: "I always take time to fully explain the purchase and sale agreement and what each clause means to my buyer or seller. I also make sure that my clients know how different decisions will affect their financial bottom line."


"When accompanying buyers to their home inspections, I assist them in asking the right questions, so they'll understand how to maintain their new home."


"Waiting for closing can be nerve-wracking. That's why I make sure to keep my clients fully informed of each step. They always know what's happening next and when it should take place."



This post first appeared at: When you have to deal with a deficient real estate agent... - Copy By Marte

Comments (18)

Bob "RealMan" Timm
Ward County Notary Services - Minot, ND
Owner of Ward Co Notary Services retired RE Broker

WOW! That is some story Marte Cliff . I sure hope that Realtor is no longer licensed.

Nov 11, 2023 07:11 PM
Marte Cliff

Bob "RealMan" Timm - Unfortunately, he is still licensed. And, since that is who he is, I'm sure he's still lying. 

Nov 11, 2023 07:33 PM
Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS
Fathom Realty Washington LLC - Tacoma, WA
South Puget Sound Washington Agent/Broker!

I never want to be one of those agents, after 25 years I have strived not to be. I expect none of them care Marte 😐

Nov 11, 2023 07:12 PM
Marte Cliff

Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS - Why there are people like that is beyond me. How do they look in the mirror?

I understand that some are lazy, and some are not smart enough to do the job. But to be a deliberate cheat is something else again. 

Nov 11, 2023 07:35 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Marte Cliff  wow all I can say is indeed we run into one of these types of agents. I have been in the business for 29+ years and my formula is always responding, always passing on the offers to my clients as they come in.... when I have to deal with weaker agents, what little bit of hair I have I could pull it out.....I could write a book not a comment on those types but why bother you said it so well....Endre

Nov 11, 2023 08:21 PM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Endre Barath, Jr. Writing the book might be fun. I used to tell my Mom stories about agents - and some clients - who were bad enough or funny enough to mention. She always wanted me to write about them, and I did start. 

But... somewhere along the line that computer file got lost. 

Too bad, because some of them were entertaining - like the man who would call, state his name, and then spell it. EVERY TIME he called. The even funnier part was that his names were not hard to spell or understand. It was something along the lines of John Smith. 

Write the book - my guess is it would sell well! 

Nov 11, 2023 09:13 PM
Kat Palmiotti
eXp Commercial, Referral Divison - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Wow, what a story! As you point out, most agents are fine, but there are those that aren't. And for those, your 11 steps are important to keep in mind.

Nov 12, 2023 02:59 AM
Marte Cliff

Kat Palmiotti - It's important to protect yourself and your clients from the likes of them. 

Nov 12, 2023 07:54 AM
Bill Salvatore - East Valley
Arizona Elite Properties - Chandler, AZ
Realtor - 602-999-0952 / em: golfArizona@cox.net

Document ever. Thanks for sharing and enjoy your week!

Bill Salvatore, Realtor- Arizona Elite Properties

Nov 12, 2023 04:55 AM
Marte Cliff

Bill Salvatore - East Valley - It isn't always fun to document everything, but it is important, even when dealing with honest agents. People can misunderstand or mis-remember.

Nov 12, 2023 07:54 AM
Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573
Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker

Well thought out and worthwhile read blog post Marte Cliff . You did a bang up job outlining the agent habits to watch out for in our daily travels listing / selling. Keep your hands inside the ride at all time. But watch your tongue from engaging into idle harmful time consuming chatter. You are correct that often have to do another agent's job for the good of the industry and to "git er dunnnn".

Nov 12, 2023 05:16 AM
Marte Cliff

Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573 - I love your addition here! Watching your tongue is especially important. 

Nov 12, 2023 07:56 AM
Wayne Martin
Wayne M Martin - Chicago, IL
Real Estate Broker - Retired

Good morning Marte. Must say during my real estate career have met many who should not be in the business. Great list of do's and don'ts. Sometimes you just have to do the work of the other agent to make the transaction work. That said, you can add that agent to the list of those who you will not work with. Enjoy your day.

Nov 12, 2023 06:09 AM
Marte Cliff

Wayne Martin - Unfortunately, it's not always possible to avoid those no-good agents. If they bring an offer and your client wants to accept it, you're stuck. Likewise if you have a client who demands to see one of their listings - and wants it. 

Nov 12, 2023 07:57 AM
Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

What a great post, Marte! Having been in this business for over 30 years, I know how to "protect" myself and my clients. But I'm certain there are many newer agents who simply get stuck when faced with some of these situations.

Nov 12, 2023 07:42 AM
Marte Cliff

Nina Hollander, Broker - I agree. New agents can be blindsided by some of their sneakier tactics. And some ARE sneaky! 

Nov 12, 2023 07:59 AM
Mark Don McInnes, Sandpoint-Idaho
Sandpoint Realty LLC - Sandpoint, ID
North Idaho Real Estate - 208-255.6227

This post should act as a Lite House to agents nearing the 'coast of difficult agents'.  As always, well written.  m

Nov 12, 2023 07:47 AM
Marte Cliff

Thank you Mark Don McInnes, Sandpoint-Idaho. It's too bad more of  those difficult agents don't drop out when times get tough, but some of them do tend to hang on. 

Nov 12, 2023 08:00 AM
Mark Don McInnes, Sandpoint-Idaho
Sandpoint Realty LLC - Sandpoint, ID
North Idaho Real Estate - 208-255.6227

Marte, it has been very surprising the last couple years in the # of agents 'not' leaving.  I believe there are more turbulent waters ahead and will be interesting to see the 'agent' results.  m

Nov 12, 2023 08:28 AM
Marte Cliff

Mark Don McInnes, Sandpoint-Idaho - are those agents making any money, or just treading water? I've known quite a few who kept their licenses so they could hang around the office and socialize - and if they sold something once in a while that was gravy. 
I worked with one who alternated between reading romance novels and crocheting at her desk. Her husband had a good job, so she was just playing.
I do believe you're right about turbulent waters ahead - so we'll see what happens. 

Nov 12, 2023 10:47 AM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good morning Marte,

Wow that was quite a story....hard to believe agents can be so unethical! They need to be reported and called out. That way they will either get out or stay in with some improved skills. There are going to be many new stories surfacing in our market place so will be interesting to see what happens.

Nov 12, 2023 10:13 AM
Marte Cliff

Yes, Dorie Dillard Austin TX - I should have turned him in. I didn't know the truth until after his customers had closed on the purchase, so it wouldn't have changed anything, but I could have made life uncomfortable for him. 

Nov 12, 2023 10:49 AM
Carol Williams
Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals. - Wenatchee, WA
Retired Agent / Broker / Prop. Mgr, Wenatchee, WA

Wow... just Wow! Is it too lake to file a grievance against that agent. Someone like that should have their license revoked. It won't help you but it might save someone else in the future.

Excellent post, Marte.

Nov 12, 2023 10:17 AM
Marte Cliff

Carol Williams - Yes, it's many years too late. 
And you're right, I should have acted at the time. I didn't because I knew that turning him in would involve days of traveling to Sandpoint, filling out countless forms, etc. And I just didn't have time when I was busy trying to earn a living.

I really think that's why so many agents get away with dirty deeds. 

Nov 12, 2023 10:52 AM
Charles Ross - eXp Realty LLC
eXp Realty LLC Salina Group - Salina, KS
Love To Help People

Marte Cliff, your article on dealing with deficient real estate agents is a crucial read for anyone in the industry. 🏢 Your detailed strategies for managing these difficult situations while maintaining ethical standards are invaluable. Your emphasis on documentation, clear communication, and proactive measures is a roadmap for preserving the integrity of the real estate profession. Excellent work in highlighting these vital practices! 💼 #EthicalRealEstate #EffectiveStrategies 🛠️

Nov 18, 2023 05:11 AM
Marte Cliff

Thank you Charles Ross - eXp Realty LLC. I'd love it if my strategies help someone avoid trouble.

Nov 19, 2023 12:03 PM
Leanne Smith
Dirt Road Real Estate - Golden Valley, AZ
The Grit and Gratitude Agent

Great post and reaffirms why there is such a lack of trust regarding real estate agents as per the Gallop Annual Trust Poll. I cringe when I have to work with certain agents. But being forewarned is being forewarned.

Nov 18, 2023 05:48 AM
Marte Cliff

That's right Leanne Smith.  And the tough part is that you can't always control which agents you'll be dealing with from day to day. 

Nov 19, 2023 12:04 PM
Ed Silva, 203-206-0754
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

It requires patience as taking care of the client comes first. I have a deal that is undergoing that strain currently.

Nov 18, 2023 12:20 PM
Marte Cliff

I'm sorry that's happening, Ed (Edward) Silva, 203-206-0754. And I wish you great success in dealing with it. 

Nov 19, 2023 12:05 PM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Marte Cliff  There is, unfortunately, good and bad in every profession.  Sometimes, we must  have to take a deep breath and ensure it is done correctly. I am glad Carol Williams  featured this 

Nov 19, 2023 11:30 AM
Marte Cliff

Thanks Hannah Williams. Yes, in spite of the polls that list real estate agents among the least trusted, I've found that there are good and bad in EVERY profession. No exceptions.

Nov 19, 2023 12:06 PM
John Juarez
The Medford Real Estate Team - Fremont, CA

The are slackers in every line of business and every trade. The only defense is to work hard on behalf of your clients and stay alert for errors, omissions or outright fraud on the part of others.

Nov 24, 2023 12:44 PM