How To Choose The Right Realtor Because My Realtor Sucks

San Francisco VictoriansFor the right price, everything is for sale. So when my real estate agent friend pitched to put my home on the market this past summer given the lack of inventory, low interest rates, and pent-up demand, I figured why not test things out.

I have a single family home that is suitable for a young internet couple looking to start a family. I told my realtor that if I don’t get X amount, I’m not selling, and he agreed. The asking price was $100,000 over estimated market value, but he still thought a sale was possible. It’s important to manage his expectations since he’s the one who’s going to be spending all the time staging, marketing, photographing, and showing.

It feels good not having to sell if you don’t get your aspirational price. It’s kind of like going to a bar with your buddies and having no fear talking to the hottest women there because you already have the most beautiful wife already. My biggest goal was to gain enough insight to write this post!


* Showed up dirty.  I was shocked when my realtor strolled up to my house 5 minutes before a private showing in a sweaty shirt, shorts, and sneakers after playing a 1.5 hour tennis match. His appearance was completely inappropriate and disrespectful to the buyers, and to myself. I would never dare go to a meeting that way and am absolutely baffled he would show my house in his getup.

I e-mailed him after, insisting he keep a full change of clothes in one of my bedroom closets. His presentation caused my blood pressure to rise. Maybe if my property was a studio in a bad neighborhood, it would be OK for him to come show my place in shorts and a t-shirt. But, at least take a shower beforehand dammit!

* Doesn’t listen. My realtor pushed me to do an open house multiple times. I told him NO each time, because all open houses do is open yourself up to nosy neighbors and potential robbery. I even sent him a report from the National Association of Realtors saying that only 2% of transactions ever come from open houses. I’ve personally been to over 100 open houses and I have never bought a thing!

I told him I cherish my privacy and to just use the internet marketing since 80% of buyers find their homes on the internet. He continued to push back, saying he wants the house to generate this “frenzy factor”. I asked him why can’t he just host a private open house where each prospective buyer and agent is pre-screened to create a similar wow factor? I did that with my rental property and had 30 people come in a one hour window. He shrugged. Open houses are for the real estate agent to find new clients!

* False assumptions. After saying I wouldn’t have to pay anything out of pocket, he sprung the $440 pest inspection fee I have to pay for the disclosure packet. I’m all for a thorough disclosure packet, however, if you know the amount of commission I’m paying, you will shit a brick at his audacity to back pedal. What was originally a “no cost to you” listing, became a $440 pest inspection fee, a $1,000 paint job in the living and dining room, and who knows what else.

* Not in my corner. My realtor is on a tennis league team which I was thinking of joining. I use the word “was” because when I asked him whether I had a chance to play singles for his team, he told me that it would be hard because the singles players have been members for a long time already. In essence, he didn’t believe in me. He didn’t offer to talk to the captain to try and work me in. I don’t want a realtor who isn’t 100% in my corner. The messed up thing is I kicked his ass in tennis, and would beat his team’s singles players 80% of the time because I know who they are!


* How big is his or her network? The longer he’s been in the game, the larger his network. Realtors can work from anywhere, so they don’t necessarily have to be a 10 year veteran of one firm In fact, if they’ve moved every 3-5 years, that could be a good sign they are in high demand. There is a virtuous cycle on one’s reputation the longer they have been working.

* Does he have a web presence? If your realtor doesn’t have a website in this day and age where 80% of properties are found on-line, then you should be a little leery. The website should have basic info such as his bio, his previous transactions, thoughts on the market, some pretty graphs, and so forth.

* Does he do what he says he’s going to do? If he says he will be at your house at 1pm, does he arrive at 12:45pm to prepare the house and gather his thoughts beforehand? When he says he will handle the upfront costs, does he pay for everything or try and get you to pay some of the bill?

* Does he have a reasonable level of intelligence? You must ask them questions about their thoughts on the markets and see if they can put together a coherent argument. Realtors get an extremely bad wrap for being dumb by just regurgitating what CNBC, or the National Association of Realtors write. The realtor should have his own opinions, and facts that buttress these opinions. With good intelligence, also comes good salesmanship, because the more you know, the more you are able to sell convincingly.

* Does he have strong integrity? The one thing I like about my realtor is that he has great integrity. I asked him whether I should disclose a minuscule leak in the ceiling that I fixed and he said, absolutely. I asked him whether I should turn on the portable air-filter in one room to help drown out some outside noise, and he said best to leave it off to be completely upfront. Good integrity goes a long way because it minimizes the risk of negative surprises.

* Does he make people feel comfortable? If you don’t feel comfortable being around your realtor, the buyers probably won’t feel comfortable either. The good thing about my realtor is that he leaves people alone to walk the property and doesn’t pepper them with questions. He lets people take their time and follow-up with him. I generally see this as a positive sales attribute, because I dislike pushy sales people.

* Can you feel his hustle? When you wake up in the morning, has he sent you some new thoughts and a marketing game plan? Has he created a Google Docs spreadsheet to track all the prospective buyers who have come through and shared the file with you? Has he suggested you go with him to make appointments to see the competitive properties on the market?  You need to see and hear his hustle. You don’t want him strolling to your house in the nick of time in his shorts and t-shirt because he had a practice match beforehand!


The oligopoly priced 5% minimum commission fee is ridiculous for expensive cities such as San Francisco and New York. Why on earth does it cost $150,000 in commissions to sell a $3 million dollar house, for example? I can maybe understand a $10,000 commission on a $200,000 house, but it doesn’t take 15X more work to sell a $3 million dollar house.

Despite the price fixing, don’t underestimate the power of the 2.5% commission for the buyer’s agent. The 2.5% commission for the buyer’s agent is an incredible incentive that makes Realtors hustle to do whatever it takes to make the buyers happy, which hopefully leads to a smooth transaction.

Paying a 5% commission makes me sick, however, I do feel I’m getting better “value” that the fee is split and incentivizing both parties to make something happen. Don’t feel their commissions are fixed, either.  Both sides with definitely be willing to negotiate down their commissions if the choice is between walking away, and making a transaction happen.


Even if you are stuck with a dud of a realtor, it is very hard to screw up a sale if you’ve priced your properly correctly and made the house look its best condition. With sites such as where you can easily find properties for sale and check out their estimated values and the agent’s own network, it’s easier than ever before to sell your property. The listing agent’s main responsibility is to get the word out and show the house. So long as the realtor isn’t an asshole or an idiot, the market will set the price.

You need to trust a realtor will do everything possible to get the word out and fight for your best interests. Good work experience, a web presence, and a great network should be standard. The problem with my guy is that I couldn’t stop thinking how my realtor wouldn’t speak up for me to join his tennis team. It’s that awkward moment where a friend speaks to you about another friend’s mutual party you weren’t invited to.

Finally, paying a 5% commission to sell a property just seems wrong. I’ve made a promise that I will never sell my house unless someone gives me a ridiculous price or until the commission level drops to a more reasonable 2-3%.


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Photo: San Francisco Victorians in Pacific Heights, 2015.



Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. says

    Sounds like realtor should not have been your realtor in the first place. How can you show up to a open house dirty!!! In any business that is unacceptable why did you keep that one in the first place?

  2. Steve J says


    Could not agree more. In our area (Seattle) its 6%. With the declining inventory, and
    popularity of the region, the realtors are now beginning to negotiate, but usually down to
    5% or so. Personally I don’t feel that its worth it. I sold my last house myself with little difficulty, however it was a unique property.

    The new players who help the DIY folks may eventually gain ground against the traditional
    brokers, and that competition is healthy in my opinion.

    I could write all day on my feelings about this, but I’d rather not get flamed by realtors who
    frequent this board. We need to keep it civil!

  3. says

    We could add to this list does the person speak and write well :) I also don’t like the extra commissions that realtor’s get Sam and as I go through my real estate journey, I’m learning more and more about this.

    I’m not feeling the hustle from the buying agent I’ve got in touch with. Every now and again he sends me another property. But it feels sort of like a job recruiter he only send me emails every now and again asking if I or any other programmers want a job. I’d like to see a little more than the fire and forget approach :)

    He doesn’t have a web presence either, so that is another strike. But I’m looking to go direct to seller anyway – but it’s nice to know some of the additional things to look for.

  4. Jason says

    To be fair, the open house situation is a little bit unique in San Francisco. Since most properties do have open houses and most only last on the market a few weeks (right now, anyway) most serious buyers plan to see things at the open house, and only schedule a follow-up with their own realtor afterward to write an offer. This is how it works with me anyway, and I’ve made two unsuccessful offers on properties this year!

    The stats you cite however are totally correct. In most of the country, open houses do not work and are only a way for the Realtor to generate new potential buyer leads and are popular mainly with un-serious buyers. (I used to be a REALTOR in Boston, and left the profession for all the reasons you outline… it seemed like a sham). The open house situation in SF is just very unique.

    • says

      That’s fine, but there are plenty of private open houses where all one has to do is pre-register. Theft is a BIG DEAL to many people, and there are lots of cases where things go missing, or random people walk in to scope your place out..

      What are you doing now that you are not a Realtor?

      • Jason says

        I work for an interactive marketing agency, kind of sitting right at the intersection of tech and advertising (I’m specifically in search, but my company does all kind of creative development work for big brands all over the world). The Realtor thing was really a temporary detour that very quickly didn’t work out. Honestly, it bothered me at how inefficient it all was: most realtors spend the vast majority of their time on their own lead generation simply because there’s too many of them. To make up for it, they need massive commissions to justify all that dead time. We’d really be better off with a dramatically smaller (market-size appropriate) herd of Realtors who can devote all of their time to buying and selling homes.

        • says

          This is a good point. It’s very similar to law in that respect where there are so many people practicing that they have to all charge obscenely high hourly rates to cover all the downtime in between cases.

  5. says

    Man, sounds like this guy is inexperienced. There are a TON of agents and realtors out there and a good portion of them aren’t that great at what they do because the barriers to entry are so low. I think experience and a strong track record are really important before signing on anyone to sell a property because the commissions are painful and property are usually people’s largest assets.

    It’s really stressful trying to sell property and having to worry about your agent is the last thing anyone wants. In San Francisco a lot of properties go quickly just based on the listing agent because they know how to execute and make things happen.

    I think it’s a good idea to ask around for referrals and references too before signing a realtor if possible to save on a lot of headache and a long listing. Anything to help limit stress is usually worth the extra time up front.

    • says

      Folks need to match their property price/quality with the quality of Realtor. Expensive million dollar+ home? Go with an experienced and proven REaltor and not mess around with someone JV!

  6. says

    When you buy another home Realtors always tells you the seller pays the 5% commission, which is untrue. The commission is baked into the selling price which is paid for by the buyer.

    Let’s say a house is priced at $2 million, and you bid $1.9 million, the difference is $100,000. Since the commission is 5% the seller will factor the commission into what they will receive after the sale. If it was a flat fee of $10,000 there would be room for negotiation on the remaining $90,000. So as a buyer you end up paying the higher price, so in effect you pay the realtor.

    You sell one house, pay the 5%, then buy another and pay an additional 5% into the sales price. Let’s say the total transaction is $3.5 million, you end up paying $175,000 in commissions! It is price fixing as Realtors often steer clients away from homes that don’t offer at least 2.5% for the buying agent.

    There is an antitrust lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against the National Association of Realtors based on how the MLS listings are displayed on the internet. In every industry the internet has forced downward pressures on fees or costs ( travel agencies, car buying, jewelry sales, books etc.) except in the real estate industry.

    • says

      Exactly…. EXCEPT the real estate industry, which is why Zillow, Trulia, etc are a true disgrace to the consuming public for doing nothing to lower the oligopoly pricing.

      Buyers and sellers need to take matters into their own hands. Say “NO” to 5% commission rates!

  7. Eric Shun says

    I’ve bought three single-family homes, each w/o use of a buyer’s agent. Now that really incentivized the listing agent to make the sale happen. In FL, the seller customarily pays all closing costs. The last two purchases were all-cash; each cost me just $10 to close.

    The one home I sold, I interviewed two seemingly competent agents before selecting one of them. This was S. FL in 1997 well before the boom. I got little interest and no offers in four months; then a 98% offer, and closed fourteen days later, paying a 6% commission.

  8. Money Beagle says

    It’s kind of funny, back in 2007 when I was putting my condo on the market, I kept asking my real estate agent about open houses and he actually kept steering me away from them for the exact reason you mentioned, that they don’t tend to be a good use of time. He ended up scheduling one, but I got an offer and accepted it the week before, so he cancelled it and took us around looking at houses instead :)

  9. Mike says

    I agree that you should have gotten a different realtor. At least show up in jeans and a nicer t-shirt would have said a lot about him. (Ideal->business suit attire or at least church (or mosque/temple) type clothing or something). It’s worse that the clothing was representative of his attitude towards business in general.

  10. says

    My last real estate agent was very good. She is always professional and she was in my corner. I wanted to reduce the short sale price of the 4 plex and she agreed although it dragged out the closing period. I’ll call her again and give my recommendation to friends if I ever need the service again.

  11. says

    Maybe it’s just my experience, but all the realtors I’ve interacted with – friends of mine and people I met through their jobs – have all had a limited knowledge of the economy, and I wouldn’t trust their economic judgement (luckily for them I have my own!). Here’s how it seems:

    1) The housing market is on fire! Houses are selling for more than their asking price and there are a ton of people looking to buy! This is the PERFECT time to buy/sell a house!
    2) Houses are struggling to sell and the average time on market has crept up. It’s the PERFECT time to buy (OR) People are just waiting for better inventory – it’s the PERFECT time to sell.


  12. says

    I have bought and sold three homes and four pieces of income property. I only had one bad experience and I replaced that agent. I usually use referrals for real estate people and then interview them. I used a good friend (30+ years) for the sale of my home, mother’s condo and purchase of my townhouse.

  13. says

    A friend of mine is a self-made millionaire at the age of 29 all through real estate. When she started her journey she realized she would lose thousands of dollars using an agent, so she went and got her own realtor license. It only took $750 and a weekend course (our state has very lax realtor licensing laws). Definitely worth the investment!

    I had an agent who kept insisting I offer full price at the height of the down market and kept showing me houses out of my price range just so I could “see what was out there.” I hated it, and will never use him again!

      • says

        She and I talk often of money. She owns 14 duplexes/triplexes and cash flows over a thousand bucks a month on each. She buys them for pennies on the dollar and is brilliant at knowing the real estate market. All her debt is business debt- she owes about 500,000 on over a million dollars worth of property. She makes over $110,000 a year and only works 3 months a year. I need to sit down and interview her and do a real estate series on my blog of her success. You would probably really enjoy listening to how she has built her real estate empire- it really is impressive!

        I am more old-fashioned. Mr. Eschewing Debt and I will be millionaires, it will just take us longer to get there (frugal living, investing in the markets, etc. is our wealth building tool, though she is inspiring us to perhaps invest in a rental property or two).

  14. says

    A few modest suggestions based on my experiences…

    1) As a general rule, I wouldn’t use the same agent who put me into a home to take me out again… Different hustleupagus required for seller vs buyer agent… I sold a home in the nyc area in the early 2000s having bought it in 2000… Initially used same agent… bad move. She was great as a buyer’s agent.. not so much as a seller’s agent

    2) I have bought and sold several properties in multiple states… I have not once bought or sold based on an Open House experience, nor do I personally know anyone who has.

    3) Require your agent to be present at all showings of your home and do not agree to a lock box… if they can’t agree to make showing your home a priority, perhaps they are not the right agent? You can also ask if they willing to take responsibility for any items that might grow legs during a showing…that usually solves any reluctance pretty quickly.

    4) If you have a premium property (at whatever price level), suggest a tiered commission structure… price X gets XC%… Price X+Y gets YC% and so on. Just make sure the difference in commission is “motivational.” I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard realtors say the price difference was de minimis to them and not fight for what would be a meaningful amount to the seller…that extra $5,000 might be nice to you, but would only mean an additional $25 to an agent whose commission went from 5.5% to 6% based on that incremental $5,000…

    Great post Sam.

  15. CgK says

    I sold my last condo using a partially online service, Redfin. Loved them, so bought my house using them as well. They saved me THOUSANDS with both transactions, and did all the work I can’t do myself (contracts, offers, escrow stuff). I will never use mainstream agents again.

    Caveat: Redfin is only active in a few large cities in the U.S.

      • CgK says

        I just went to the Redfin site to remind myself how it worked, and it looks like they’ve changed the way they do fees. They now get a bit more, but it’s still worth it by thousands of dollars. differs based on whether you buy or sell a place. I live in Seattle, where the traditional fee for selling is 6 %. That is split half-and-half b/w the buyer and seller agent. The buyer agent still gets their half (3 %), but Redfin only takes 1.5%. In my case, when I sold a condo for 375K, so I save over $5600.

        When I bought my house, (about 400k), I got a refund from Redfin of several thousand dollars during escrow. Their current fee info is at:

        Living in San Fran, the amount you save will be much higher, given home prices there.

      • CgK says

        Redfin works slightly differently in each city, based on standard commisssions there (at least I think so, based on what I found). I went to the San Fran home search, and then looked under the Buying tab: .

        Here’s the San Fran info under Selling:

        They’ve actually changed the way they do compared to two years ago, when I bought a home. At that time, there was a flat fee. Now it looks like they work on percentages.

  16. says

    The clothes would have been enough to get me to cancel the contract. If someone doesn’t have enough respect for their clients how can you expect them to give 100% to selling your house.
    I guess I’m lucky that my areas top real estate agent is my boss’s son. He’s been the agent for nearly everyone in the area and he follows all of your rules. That’s probably how he became the top agent in the region.

  17. says

    I used Redfin to purchase my house as well. The employees do not work on commission. Instead, their incentive is based on a customer satisfaction bonus. A great no pressure way to buy a home.

    As CGK said, they keep half the commission. The seller I bought my house from had a 6% commission – 3% to sellers agent, and 3% to buyers agent. Redfin split the 3% with me, giving me the option to take the 1.5% as a cash rebate or apply it to the closing.

    I believe that they used to have a flat fee model for selling a home, but have went to a flat percentage. For buying, it’s always been a percent model.

  18. says

    Hey Sam,
    I have a great real estate agent that I’ve used several times. Not sure if she services SF, but she’s great, professional and easy on the eyes which always helps.

  19. says

    Being in the market The Wife and I were always shocked just how shitty some brokers are! I feel like it has to do with how easy it is to get into the busy and how easy the money was a few years ago.

  20. Dave says

    All this Realtor bashing…Not one of you spent a day in the business. There are probably 60k agents in the bay area… now imagine there are 60k fast food joints… the competition is crazy. The problem lies in the circumstances of each home… some homes are for sale because someone passed away… what are you gonna do? Leave your job, travel out of sate to put a for sale sign up and show it to strangers? I think not. If you selling your home you can bet you want other agents bring in the buyers and weeding them out so you don’t have to. Most of the commission is earned behind the scenes.

  21. says

    I agree. The difference for someone to sell the same product for 15x is weird. Zillow is starting to change things a little. Sellers can list FSBO without a listing fee. They can price the house right, and in your case, keep $75-150k of that fee. I shop and buy 100% (so far) without using a real estate agent.

    I am on the east coast and was looking to write a blog with a similiar title. Thats how I got here. .

  22. Kelly says

    Yes, let’s have them lower the commission rate, when a 5% commission gets broken down to 2.5% each and then broken down further to usually a 50/50 or 60/50 split with the brokerage. And in places where homes are only going for 100-200K, you are doing months of work for a commission of what, 1 or 2 thousand dollars? I’m sorry, but if you lower the rates further, it would make it not worth the realtors time. This is a realtors livelihood and sometimes people go month without a sale. I’ve seen it happen.

    • says

      And for the homes that cost over $1 million? That’s the median price on SF.

      Why not argue for a flat rate?

      There seems to be an oversupply of realtors now due to the Internet that enables one to find and sell online. Documents are boiler plate too.

  23. RT says

    I see several problems with your Realtor, but also several problems with you as the seller. If your Realtor agreed to list with no costs to you, then he should not be asking you to pay for a pest inspection. This would not be needed for the disclosures in most states anyways. He also should not be asking you to paint any part of the house. He should not be showing up to a showing as unpresentable.

    However as the seller I think you are completely wrong about the open house. Particularly in hot markets, and on hot properties open houses create a sense of competition among buyers, thus driving up the price. If you look at hot markets, San Fran, DC, Boston…particularly the desirable neighborhoods, you will find that homes that have open houses sell for more money and less days on market.

    Also as far as the commission rate, lets just say you get what you ask for. In our market, Redfin listed homes sell at a discount due to mispricing, as well as have much longer days on the market. Especially on the buy side there needs to be a 2.5% commission, because many agents brokerages will not allow them to show a discounted property, because if they do and the sale goes through, the buyer will then have to pay the buying agent the difference in commission which most buyers are not willing to do.

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