Everyone makes the occasional mistake, but rookies often make more than their fair share. Here are the biggest errors to watch out for — and how to avoid them.

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This post was updated Mar. 12, 2024.

In 2020, we put a home on the market and set an offer deadline. We knew, based on the configuration and location of the home, that we would not be getting a lot of offers, but we were hopeful we might land a few.

As the offer deadline approached, we grew concerned. We weren’t seeing any of the normal chatter indicating incoming offers. The deadline arrived, and to our dismay, nothing was in our inbox. 

We informed the seller we had zilch and discussed the next steps. Suddenly, out of the blue, a few hours after the deadline, an offer arrived unannounced. We opened it and, to our amazement, discovered it was a fully non-contingent, over-asking price offer. We fired it over to the seller, got it signed and headed into escrow.

While waiting for the seller to sign, I ran the stats for the buyer agent. The agent was relatively new, with a limited number of sales. As the ratified offer came back, and we marked the listing pending, a thought kept running through my head.

‘Classic rookie mistake’

Not only did the agent fail to call and alert us that an offer was coming, but they also never bothered to check whether any other offers were in hand, needlessly gave away a significant amount of their client’s cash and unnecessarily removed contingency safeguards. The bottom line is that they completely misrepresented their client’s best interests.

In our region, approximately 86 percent of local agents sell six or fewer homes a year. That means that we have a high probability that offers submitted on our listings will be coming from low-volume agents. While it might mean a Realtor who has been in the business for years, it more frequently means “rookie.”

While there is obviously nothing inherently wrong with rookies per se — we were all newbies at one point — we need to be more diligent during any transaction with a freshly minted agent on the other side. 

During the sizzling seller’s market of the last couple of years amid record-low inventory, many new agents entered the industry. Consequently, we are encountering inexperienced buyer agents who will do almost anything to land a contract — regardless of whether it makes sense or, in some cases, is even legal. 

Since so much is at stake — for most people, the purchase or sale of a home is the largest transaction of their lives — rookies must be extra vigilant. Based on our experience over the years, here are the top 10 rookie failures:

1. Failing to represent the client’s best interests

It’s hard to get going in this business, and securing a paycheck as a rookie can mean the difference between remaining an agent or looking for a more secure gig. Unfortunately, the pressure to earn a buck can result in agents choosing to represent their own interests over those of the client. 

Protecting our clients and securing the best possible deal is at the heart of a Realtor’s fiduciary responsibility. We cannot, in any way, put our own interests over those of the clients, and we must work hard to ensure that the client gets the best possible price and terms. 

In looking out for our client’s well-being, we also must be willing to let them know when any given transaction may be detrimental in the long term.

2. Failing to effectively negotiate with the other side

Negotiation is a learned art that’s perfected with lots of practice. It means engaging in meaningful communication with the other side, securing as much information as possible and then writing carefully crafted offers based on the information you have received. 

Occasionally, agents adopt the idea that the other side is the enemy and try to win at any cost. This mentality is incredibly shortsighted and can do more harm than good. It can also alienate you from other agents and make it more difficult to get offers accepted in the future.

It’s frequently possible to pre-negotiate winning offers before putting ink to paper. Each one of our listings comes with comprehensive seller disclosures, reports and extensive instructions designed to help the buyer’s agent succeed.

We also state that they can call us if they have any questions. Not only do we frequently not receive calls, we often receive offers that show no evidence they even glanced at the disclosure package.

There is also a dark side to “negotiation” — rookie agents frequently try to negotiate a bridge too far by asking for unreasonable repairs, credits and other concessions that can lead to escalating tensions and even scuttle a deal. While some believe in the idea of “you never know until you ask,” seasoned agents usually know what is reasonable and what is not.

3. Failing to correctly fill out contract documents

When receiving a potential contract, my first priority is to go through it line by line to fully understand the terms as written. In finalizing the contract, to protect my clients we frequently need to counter out mistakes made by agents on the other side. We also encounter newer agents making incorrect assumptions about the contract terms. 

When there is any question, we always point them back to the contract. When encountering agent “shenanigans,” we assume they either do not understand the contract they and their clients signed or made mistakes when writing that adversely affect them and their clients. 

We recommend that rookie agents have someone with extensive experience audit every contract document before it goes out. 

4. Failing to communicate effectively 

Communication is the lifeblood of the real estate business. In the absence of communication, people tend to assume the worst — it is true in relationships and businesses alike. 

Additionally, the lack of communication provides fertile soil for mistakes to grow like weeds. Even when mistakes are made, it’s often possible to iron things out in a phone call. Constant, effective communication with clients is critical to help them feel included and valued. 

The communication does not need to be long and detailed but needs to be frequent — even if you have nothing to report. The silence that occurs when an agent fails to communicate can be the death knell to their business. 

5. Failing to maintain control of the client

There is nothing worse than an out-of-control client. While some clients are respectful of your time and knowledge, others will run all over an agent if given the chance. 

The outcome is never good, and it can include ridiculous offers, absurd requests for repairs and exploding transactions. Rookie agents are particularly susceptible and must learn quickly how to manage client expectations. In many cases, newbies must simply learn how to say “no.”

6. Failing to protect their commission

It’s very common in our region to see buyer agents giving back significant portions of their income. In the current market with its inventory shortages, it’s particularly difficult for a buyer’s agent to get their buyer under contract. 

With contracts few and far between for most rookies, they are frequently willing to do almost anything to keep their client happy — even if it means sowing the seeds for the destruction of their long-term careers. If you fail to manage your commissions, you will ultimately fail completely.

7. Failing to get mentoring and coaching

This is a catch-22 scenario for many rookies: They know they need the support to become proficient, but they can’t afford expensive coaching. 

Most offices provide adequate mentoring to help rookies learn the ropes. Larger brokerages often provide extensive online training. New agents need to be proactive to make sure they get the support they need — it will only happen if you decide it is important enough to actively pursue. 

Sadly, I have encountered rookie agents who do not feel they need time-consuming training;  the loss is always theirs. Once an agent’s business gains traction, we also recommend they get professional coaching to further enhance the likelihood their business will grow and flourish.

8. Failing to remain positive

Real estate is brutal. Friends end up going with other agents, transactions blow up at the last minute, clients do not understand the lengths we go to in protecting their interests and can lash out without warning — the list of disappointments, frustrations and hair-pulling scenarios is endless. 

Not only should agents not “dish it back,” but they must maintain a positive attitude throughout or risk becoming jaded, discouraged and ineffectual. The last thing you want is an agent rant being mentioned in a review.

9. Failing to treat your business like a business

Like the foundation of a building, the practices and structures put in place from the very beginning will shape the future of your career. When building a skyscraper, a significant portion of the work is done below grade and out of sight. 

Successful agents spend hours practicing scripts, prospecting, working on their MVVBP (mission, vision, values, beliefs and practices), developing a business plan, attending training events and more. 

Developing effective time management skills is paramount, as is cash-flow management. Many agents get so excited by a commission that they spend it without laying away reserves. Building a successful real estate practice is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

10. Failing to align with a competent brokerage

The reasons for joining a brokerage are myriad as are the promises and glowing stories told by those looking to recruit new agents. Brokers know that, due to high attrition rates, they need to hire many agents to keep a few. Out of the many, a gem or two might emerge. The focus then is often on filling seats instead of providing in-depth training and support. 

New agents should thoroughly research their options and distinguish between the hype and realities in prospective brokerages. It is also a good idea to seek out respected top producers to get their advice.

Everyone makes mistakes, but new agents who study hard, follow the fundamentals, pay attention to the details and double-check everything will keep the faux pas to a minimum. 

Seasoned agents could take note as well — I have seen all of these mistakes made by experienced professionals as well. Truth is, the failures listed above do not look good on agents who have been in the business long enough to know better.

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.

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