There are bad apples in every profession – real estate included. With more than three million licensed real estate agents, there are bound to be bad agents who play tricks or use shady tactics to win your business or charge you bogus fees.
We’re here to help. We spoke to several real estate agents to uncover the eight most common tricks real estate agents play on sellers or buyers, so you know what to watch out for.
Read on to learn how to avoid working with a shady realtor, and what to do if you’ve already hired one.
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Tricks real estate agents play on sellers
1. They inflate the value of your home
When you’re preparing to sell your home, good agents provide you with a comparative market analysis (CMA) report. It analyzes recent, local home sales to guide your pricing strategy and list your home at a reasonable price.
Be wary of real estate agents who inflate your home’s value in a CMA. For example, it could be a warning sign if your home’s CMA value is far higher than what’s listed on online home value estimators.
The agent’s motive is to win the listing by telling you what you want to hear – that your home is worth more than you expect – in hopes of winning your business.
“Some agents inflate the appraised value of a property by using an inexperienced or unqualified appraiser, or by providing the appraiser with inaccurate property information,” says Martin.
“To avoid this trap, it’s important to get a second opinion from a qualified appraiser,” he adds. “You can also ask to see the appraiser’s credentials and check their references to make sure they are qualified.”
The takeaway: if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Find an agent that is straightforward and provides information that helps back up the suggested listing price.
2. They misrepresent their experience and track record
Real estate agents are hungry to win your business and can stretch the truth when portraying themselves. One sneaky trick agents use is embellishing years of experience and track record to win your listing.
New agents especially may want to cover their lack of experience by touting their company’s track record. Or, they may make statements about how many homes they’ve sold that are hard to believe, like “I sold 8 houses last month, all above the asking price!”
You can spot this quickly if you notice an agent frequently refers to their brokerage’s success instead of their own. Ask for a record of the agent’s sales, or check yourself if you feel they’re not being honest.
3. They wrap extra fees into their commission or sell you extras
Real estate commissions vary depending on the market but typically range from 5% – 6% of the property’s sale price, split between the buyer’s and seller’s agent.
Some tricks shady real estate agents play is adding extra, phony fees without a clear explanation. Others will add fees for services like marketing and 3D tours that may be unnecessary or never provided.
“To avoid being blindsided by hidden fees,” Martin suggests, “always ask your agent for a breakdown of all the costs involved in selling a property. Make sure you understand what each fee is for and the total cost will be before moving forward.”
You also have the freedom to try to negotiate realtor fees to get a lower rate. Realtor commission is completely negotiable, as there’s no law setting a fixed commission rate.
A discount real estate broker like Clever Real Estate also helps you save on commissions and fees. Clever’s free service matches you with top-rated local agents and pre-negotiates a 1.5% listing agent commission rate on your behalf.
4. They claim they already have a buyer lined up for your property
Agents use another sneaky tactic when trying to win your listing by pretending they have a buyer ready to purchase your home.
This trick can influence you to list with the agent by thinking you’ll have a quick sale since a buyer is already lined up. If you’re suspicious, ask the agent for the buyer’s name on the spot to test their response.
Even if a legitimate buyer is interested in your home before it’s listed, there’s no guarantee of a sale. Keeping your options open helps you evaluate all potential offers to get the best deal.
Tricks real estate agents play on buyers
5. They try to steer you into buying their listing
Sometimes, real estate agents represent both the buyer and the seller in what’s called a dual agency agreement. While not all dual agents have sinister intentions, this arrangement has clear conflicts of interest.
Dual agents earn double the commission on the sale of a home since they represent both parties. It provides a powerful incentive for an agent to only show you their own listings, rather than houses that might be the best fit for you.
All agents should disclose this type of arrangement and share their current listings with you before viewing properties.
Even so, it’s probably best to avoid working with these types of agents since it’s more likely you won’t be represented fairly.
6. They only show you expensive properties with a high commission payout
One of the most important home search criteria you’ll share with an agent is your budget.
Watch out for real estate agents that seem to push you into the high end or above your housing budget. It indicates that the agent might only be interested in earning a high commission check.
Some properties also pay out a higher commission rate than others. A shady, untrustworthy agent may only show you homes with higher commission payouts, so you may not get the full picture of available properties.
If you notice that your agent is not showing lower-priced homes, this could be evidence of a shady realtor tactic.
7. They create a false sense of urgency around a home
Another trick dishonest real estate agents use is creating a false sense of urgency to nudge you into buying a home before you’re ready.
One way agents may do this is by telling you the property has multiple offers or is about to receive other offers. This may be true but it can be hard to verify. In any case, you shouldn’t feel pressure from an agent during your home search.
Agents may also schedule your showing with other potential buyers at the same time to create a false sense of urgency, says Kris Lippi, CEO of isoldmyhouse.com.
“This is a ruse to instill a competitive spirit in you and push or pressure you to make a hasty offer,” Lippi says.
“Some will also use a sealed bid, preventing you from learning what other buyers offer for the home,” he adds. “This is their method of boosting urgency and fostering fear of loss in buyers.”
The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to stick to your timeframe so as not to make rash decisions, even if the agent is pressuring you to do so.
8. They use “bait and switch” tactics
Agents sometimes use disingenuous ‘bait and switch’ listing tactics designed to catch your eye and prompt a phone call.
The way agents use this tactic is by uploading a fake listing that looks attractive at a good price. When you call to inquire about the listing, the broker says the property is no longer available but says there are similar listings they can show you.
Often, the “similar” listings are of lower quality, in a less desirable location, and at a less competitive price. This trick is not only a waste of time but is completely dishonest.
Carolyn Gagnon of Compass Real Estate in New York elaborates: “For example, an agent may fake a listing with a beautiful location photo before it hits MLS and has very vague details such as street name but no actual address or leaves up old listings, both to get multiple buyer calls asking for more information.”
“The agent then tells interested buyers the property isn’t available, but there is another available property – just for them!” says Cagnon. “The win for the agent, of course, are potential buyers, but for a buyer, this is not only annoying but misleading.”
How to avoid shady real estate agents
Consider working with a realtor
Real estate agents belonging to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) must abide by a strict code of ethics. This higher standard makes it more difficult for shady agents to operate.
However, it’s important to note this isn’t a guarantee that you’ll work with a good agent. You still need to vet and interview each agent carefully and ask for references.
Find an honest realtor
One of your best options to find a trustworthy agent is to use an agent matching service. You simply tell the service what you’re looking for in a realtor, and get matched up quickly to 2-3 options that meet your criteria.
Some agent matching services, like Clever Real Estate, even provide commission savings for buyers and sellers.
Interview agents, and ask the right questions
There are several good questions to ask a realtor before hiring one. Our guide breaks down the most important questions to ask to help you vet an agent’s experience and track record.
What to do if you’re already working with a shady realtor
Fire your agent
Buying or selling your home is too big of a financial move to let a sneaky agent be involved in the process. If you sense your agent is using shady real estate tactics, it’s best to fire your agent and move on.
File a complaint
The next step you can take is filing an official complaint. This protects you and other potential home buyers by holding the agent accountable for their actions.
If your agent is part of the National Association of Realtors, report the complaint to the organization. You should also file a complaint directly with the company the agent is working for.
Find a new realtor
Now that you’re not working with a shady realtor, it’s time to find a new agent that has your best interest at heart. Our guide on how to find a realtor breaks down the top ways to find a quality buyer’s or seller’s agent.
Tricks real estate agents play: FAQs
Do real estate agents play tricks or games on clients?
Yes. Unfortunately, there are some real estate agents who intentionally deceive, defraud, or trick their clients to make more money. Common tricks to watch out for include agents who inflate the value of your home in a comparative market analysis (CMA) report or charge you bogus fees or unnecessary add-ons. We break down the most common tricks sellers and buyers should watch out for.
Do real estate agents lie about offers?
You can potentially avoid working with an agent who lies about offers by hiring a licensed realtor. The Realtor Code of Ethics states that agents must disclose any offer on the property, and cannot lie to or hide information from other brokers or clients. Learn how to find a realtor that you can trust.
What are real estate agent's dirtiest tricks?
We asked the experts, and found that some agents only show buyers the most expensive properties outside of their budget in order to earn a bigger commission check. Some agents may even try to steer you into buying their own listing in order to earn a double commission check, as they represent both you and the seller. We recommend you avoid working with these types of agents. Use an agent matching service like Clever Real Estate to get matched up quickly to several trustworthy realtors.
Signs of a Bad Real Estate Agent: What are some of the most common warning signs of a bad realtor? We break down the seven most common red flags to watch out for.
What Makes a Good Real Estate Agent?: Here are the key skills, traits, and qualities that make a great real estate agent.
The Best Questions to Ask a Realtor: We spoke to the experts (realtors, brokers, and other professionals) to learn the best questions to ask a realtor before committing to working with one.