April 2, 2020

All bad things should come to an end

When a broker fails you, cut your losses. (Flickr photo by cooling)

There isn’t a seller who doesn’t begin to wonder what his or her broker is doing wrong as the weeks and months pass without an offer.

Yet the silence may have nothing to do with the quality or performance of the broker.

For example, the seller may have rebuffed the broker’s strong suggestion to clear out clutter, paint a wall, lower the asking price, take the dog for a walk during appointments and open houses, organize the contents or closets, or mitigate innumerable other distractions that may inhibit buyers.

It is a broker’s first priority to market a property to bring the maximum number of potential buyers for the quickest and smoothest sale at the highest possible price. But no broker can readily change a buyer’s reaction to a property and thus his or her willingness to make an offer.

One broker I know has managed to attract more than 70 buyers to an Upper West Side co-op that is knowingly overpriced, and the seller is demanding to know why the place hasn’t sold. It just isn’t the broker’s fault.

But there comes a time when a seller or a buyer should “fire” a broker who isn’t doing everything possible to serve the client’s best interests. Consider moving on if you are stuck with a broker who doesn’t:

–Keep up a stream of communication;

  • –Respond promptly to requests or other messages;
  • –Stay abreast of the market in terms of new listings and new closings;
  • –Show up for appointments punctually;
  • –Follow at least monthly housing market reports;
  • –Make reliable referrals to lawyers, lenders or vendors such as contractors;
  • –Regard electronic communication enthusiastically;
  • –Seem to have a comprehensive understanding of real property and Fair Housing laws;
  • –Adhere strictly to ethical standards;
  • –Dress appropriately;
  • –Restrict the amount of time he talks on the phone, Tweets or answers e-mails when with you;
  • –Possess detailed knowledge of a neighborhood that appeals to you;
  • –Arrange his or her schedule around your needs, rather than his or hers.

The low threshold to become a broker/agent is one reason that many of us have shortcomings. But those who have survived the Great Recession and have years of experience tend to be the ones who understand what consumers justifiably demand from the individuals representing them in a purchase or sale.

And of course, there are bad apples in every walk of life.

Should you have a problem with a broker, first have a calm and rational conversation with that person. Maybe there’s an explanation. Maybe there’s a disconnect between your expectations and the broker’s.

If matters don’t improve, let the broker know you still are unhappy and that you need to make a change.

If you are seller, the next step is to be in touch with the broker’s sales manager and ask for a replacement. Since listings reside with the firm, not the individual, that’s your only way out unless the manager agrees to tear up the contract.

A buyer who, in all likelihood, has not signed an exclusive agency agreement with a broker needs only find another one. However, it would be courteous to let the first know.

Finally, if you think the broker has run afoul of the law or codes of ethics, don’t hesitate to inform the appropriate authorities (e.g. the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, among others) or membership organizations such as the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

–by Malcolm Carter


  1. Sir, all accurate points and advice. This market requires a stronger bond between the client and his/her advisor. Chauffeurs and people capable of faxing paper will no longer suffice. However, if the obligations of the professional are met then the client in receipt of this efforts must take them seriously in order to actually buy or sell. It is a two-way street.

  2. Malcolm Carter says

    Scott, love your comments about chauffeurs. To that, I would add door personnel.

  3. Agreed Malcolm. I think that expectations by the consumer are sometimes unreasonable however I think they ask for the wrong things. Get me someone who gets results, knows their marketplace, can negotiate like a terrier, and expedite the process and we are good to go. Keep the fluff, this isn’t about making me feel comfortable and flattering my wife. Saving me money and time is what makes me feel comfortable. 🙂

    • Malcolm Carter says

      In other words, Patrick, it’s not about me, me, me, the broker OR the consumer. It’s about a consumer and broker taking the journey toward a successful transaction together, as a team.

      • Well, it’s really just about the customer isn’t it? Do you go into a car dealership and hope to get the experience of the salesperson and you finding that perfect financing of your new car? At the end of the day I think it goes in this order: the buyer, the seller, everyone else. 🙂

  4. You present a terrific and exhaustive list of undesirable broker qualities Malcolm. I have personal knowledge that you manifest none of them.
    Communication of relevant information is the key to any successful relationship. The real hurdle is that, as Attorney Forcino points out, actual communication requires a bilateral relationship. Often the information a broker has to communicate is displeasing to a seller (e.g., that the seller has to spend money to stage, and/or lower the sales price) One would hope that when a professional such as yourself attempts to communicate such info, that it will be received as just that: thoughtful professional advice.

  5. Ryan Hinricher says

    I think brokers should fire unreasonable customers as well. Why take the overpriced listing?

    Regarding Malcom’s requirements of broker, I agree, especially with communication. I’ve listed properties in the past and suddenly never heard from the broker. A lot of effort goes into getting the listings, but the result lies in what’s done with it when you have it.