No one enters into a professional relationship with a real estate agent hoping it’ll end badly. To increase your chances of a promising pairing, the agent selection process should include asking essential questions to determine whether the agent has the grasp of the market, experience and communication style to guide you to a successful real estate transaction.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Communication can fall apart after you've selected your agent, and when it does, the relationship may be hard to salvage.

“When that [communication] breaks down, it’s when one side has an expectation of the other that’s not being fulfilled,” says Candy Miles-Crocker, founder of Real-Life Real Estate Training and a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in the District of Columbia.

[Read: How to Vet Real Estate Agents.]

Communication snags can happen for a number of reasons: Your expectations for finding a home or buyer may not match up with the market, you feel your agent isn’t in touch as often as he should be or maybe you doubt your agent is still working with your best interest in mind. When that rift occurs, you must determine whether it’s something you can move past confidently.

“It’s important to take that step back and say, ‘Let’s recalibrate the relationship,’” Miles-Crocker says.

But when you don’t feel confident the relationship will lead to a successful deal, it’s best to move on as quickly and amicably as possible, explains Michelle Farber Ross, real estate broker and managing partner of MMD Realty in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“It’s almost like a friendship that’s gone bad or a bad marriage,” Farber Ross says. “If you feel there’s no kind of turnaround and that you’ll get back on the same page, I do believe the best course of action is to cut your losses.”

Farber Ross has only prematurely parted ways with a client once before, but she explains that once it became clear effective communication had broken down, she knew both sides would be better satisfied by moving on separately.

“It turned sour, and at that point I said, ‘I think it’s best for you to look with another agent,’” Farber Ross says.

If you feel it’s time to end things with your agent, here’s how to professionally and smoothly part ways.

Send an email. If you’re looking to purchase a home and haven’t signed a listing agreement or representation contract with your agent, it’s often as simple as notifying the individual that you feel it’s best you work with someone else. A tactful email will often get your point across.

“It doesn’t have to be face to face, it doesn’t have to be a phone call, because everyone knows it’s not a good relationship – it’s no secret,” Miles-Crocker says, noting that when an agent and client are butting heads, both are well aware.

Speak with someone else at the office. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking directly with your agent, you may be better served going into the broker’s office to talk with a manager or another agent.

In most cases, any signed agreement you have – particularly when selling your home – will be with the brokerage rather than a specific agent. It’s possible you’ll be able to work with another agent in the office, or that third party will be able to help facilitate the termination of the agreement.

“It usually can be worked out because nobody wants to give bad service – the whole business works on referrals,” says Carol Mazur, a real estate coach and owner of The Top Producer Group, a real estate training company.

Tell the truth about not wanting to sell. If you were considering selling your home but have changed your mind, there’s no harm in being honest. A good agent won't be bitter about your decision and will likely want to maintain a positive relationship for when you eventually want to sell.

“If you just decide that you no longer want to sell the property, agents are very good about that. They’re always going to put their customers first. They never want to force someone to move,” Mazur says.

[See: 10 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast.]

With this negative relationship behind you, select an agent who meets your needs. Here are two questions to increase your chances of a successful client-agent relationship.

What should I expect from the market? A good agent helps clients understand that the market is the biggest deciding factor when it comes to price points, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Mazur explains that it’s not the home seller or agent who should be setting a home's price, but the market itself. The practice of listing a home at an above-market rate and then lowering the price is outdated, Mazur explains, as you’ll miss the right buyer pool, and more days on market give the buyer an advantage.

“The old way of, ‘Let’s start high, I can always come down,’ can be detrimental to the seller,” Mazur says. It’s the agent’s job to identify the market-appropriate price for the home to attract the right buyers early and explain to you why that’s important.

Miles-Crocker says managing expectations is also key to a successful buyer-agent pairing. Your agent should help you understand limitations based on budget and geography at the first meeting.

“Our relationship is built on trust, and once that trust is broken, it’s hard to repair. … That’s why it’s so important to have a buyer consultation meeting before you even look at houses,” Miles-Crocker says.

What if communication breaks down? It doesn’t hurt to know the worst-case scenario, and if you lose faith in your ability to work with your agent, especially if you’re signing an agreement, it’s good to know what the next steps will be ahead of time.

Knowing the best solution is often to part ways, many agents and brokerages will offer an easy-termination process when both sides agree it’s simply not a good fit.

Miles-Crocker typically outlines this clause at the beginning, explaining, “If you’re not happy at any point in this relationship, then you can terminate the agreement immediately.”

[See: 10 Unorthodox Ways Your Real Estate Agent May Market Your Home.]

But not all firms will offer an easy out from contracts. Take heed of this detail before you sign anything, and know that if you reach an impasse with the brokerage, you may find yourself waiting until the contract expires, or your next agent may have to agree to split the commission with the broker you parted ways with.

Tags: real estate, housing market, home prices, new home sales, existing home sales, pending home sales


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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