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Unethical practices that affect buyers:   1  ●  3  ●  4   ●  5   ●  6   ●   7  ●  8   ●  9  ●  10 
Unethical practices that affect sellers:   1  ●  2  ●  3   ●  5   ●  6   ●   7  ●  8   ●  9 

The Problem

After working as an academic economist for 20 years, I became a real estate agent a few years ago so that I could join a growing movement to reform the way real estate is bought and sold. 

At first, my focus was on reducing real estate sales commissions.  While working as an agent, though, I discovered that high commissions aren't the only problem, or even the biggest problem, facing buyers and sellers.  Many agents also engage in questionable sales practices in order to boost commissions, push deals through more quickly, or use existing clients to attract new ones. 

Agents, for example, sometimes pressure their buyer clients to bid too much, and their seller clients to price too low. Buyers' agents sometimes steer buyers towards homes that offer higher commissions or towards their brokerages' own listings.   Listing agents who have found buyers for their own listings sometimes discourage offers from rival buyers.  It's also fairly common for agents to exploit their clients for referral fees, or to share their clients' confidential information in order to give their brokerages a competitive advantage.

It's hard to measure how much these and other unethical practices cost clients, since they usually involve lost opportunities that are hard to quantify.  But a clever economic study sheds some light on what some of them may be costing sellers.  

Economists Steven Levitt and Chad Syverson studied 100,000 home sales, and found that agents who were selling their own properties got an average of 3.7% more for them.  That would come to $18,500 for a $500,000 house.

This website describes ten unethical yet fairly common practices, and explains how you, as a buyer or seller, can guard against them. 

There are, of course, some safeguards already in place against these practices.  State licensing rules and federal laws outlaw some of them, and agents can be sued if they breach their fiduciary duty to look out for their clients’ best interests.  Agents also have a financial incentive to please their clients so that they’ll be recommended to friends and neighbors. 

But these safeguards offer buyers and sellers little protection.  Most agents stay under the radar by limiting themselves to abuses that are hard to detect and difficult to challenge.  If you want your agent to be honest, it’s up to you to make it happen.     

To learn more, please click on any of the unethical practices listed in the right-hand column. 


Top Ten Unethical Practices























Buyers’ agents who steer clients towards properties that offer higher commissions. 


Sellers’ agents who underprice homes for quick sales.  


Sellers’ agents who favor certain buyers over others.


Buyers’ agents who urge their clients to bid high.


Agents who accept referral fees, kickbacks, or gifts from the service providers they recommend. 


Agents who withhold useful information. 


Agents who tip their clients' hands.  


Agents who allow their clients to pay junk fees.  


Agents who flake out as soon as the ink is dry on the contract.  


Buyers' agents who make it hard for their clients to get out of bad deals. 


Disclaimer:  This information in this website is offered free of charge as a public service.  I make no representations or warranties about its accuracy or completeness.  My advice may not apply to your situation or in your state.  I shall not be liable for any damages resulting from the use of this content. 

©Lori Alden, 2010.  All rights reserved.