4 reasons you should not use a real estate agent to rent a house

Written on October 10, 2018 by , updated on May 5, 2019

Don't work with an agentCall me crazy, but I get a little annoyed when real estate agents call me about a rental listing.


Here’s a typical conversation:

Me: Hello.

Agent: Hello, this is John. I’m a real estate agent with AAA Real Estate. Is the home for rent at 123 Main Street still available?

Me: Yes it is.

Agent: Well, it’s not in the MLS.

Me: A silent pause

Agent: Anyway, my client requested to see it. And I want to show it now.

Me: I’m having an open house Saturday at 3 p.m., and your client is welcome to come.

Agent: No, that doesn’t work. My client wants to see it sooner. When can I show it?

Me: You can’t show it at all. Tenants are currently living there, and I’ve made arrangements to have an open house Saturday at 3. Please invite your client to come then.

Agent: Do you pay an agent commission?

Me: No.

Agent: Thank you. Goodbye.

And I never hear from this agent or their client again.

Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t use an agent when you want to rent a home:

1. Real estate agents use only the MLS

If you ask a real estate agent to find you a rental property, they will most likely look only on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which only agents can access.

In fact, I asked an agent the other day how he finds rental properties for clients. He said he finds them through the MLS.

Here’s the problem of looking only at the MLS for rental properties: Since only agents can list properties through the MLS, real estate agents are missing all the properties landlords like me advertise. And if your real estate agent is missing out on properties listed by non-agents, you are too.

You are better off, when looking for a rental property, to look online.

You’ll probably find lots of rental homes by looking at various real estate sites on your own, more than what your real estate agent will find by using only the MLS. Of course, you can always find properties and send them to your agent, but then why not just contact the person on the listing yourself?

Related: The Only 3 Websites You Need to List a Rental Property

2. Agents expect to be paid

Real estate agents mainly work with clients who are buying and selling homes. In those cases, the seller typically pays the real estate agent by giving the agent a percentage of the home’s selling price.

So the expectations for most real estate agents who are helping a client trying to rent is that the landlord will pay the agent for finding a tenant, typically one month’s rent (similar to getting a cut of a home’s sale).

But in a rental market where most applicants find rental properties without an agent, landlords have no reason to pay an agent. In other words, if I have five applicants for a property, four who represent themselves and one who comes with an agent who expects me to pay them a month’s rent, guess who I’m not renting to?

If you use an agent in a market where most people are finding properties on their own, you will likely be taking yourself out of the running to land a rental property.

3. Agents don’t really want to work with you

I’ve always suspected that statement to be true, and now I have a couple of stories to back this up. I think this probably represents what many agents think.

A real estate agent called me the other day on behalf of her client, and when I told her I don’t pay an agent commission, she let me know that she doesn’t know what to tell renters who call her for help. She wants to help them find a home, but if the landlord won’t pay her commission, she is not interested in working for free.

Another agent told me that he usually doesn’t work with clients looking to rent but that he will sometimes do so to help a friend out.

Since it’s not the norm for homebuyers to pay an agent (home sellers typically do), renters and agents expect the landlord or property owner to pay the agent just as home sellers (owners) do. But while most home sellers use and pay real estate agents, most small-time property owners do not use agents to get their property rented, so they have no interest in paying your agent.

If you really want to use a real estate agent to help you find a rental home, you might want to consider paying your agent yourself.

4. Agents often do more harm than good

Landlords who know their business find out what market rents are for similar rentals in their area. (I use the Cozy rent estimate tool in addition to keeping up with rent prices in my area.)

But when a real estate agent comes along, they are usually loaded for bear and ready to negotiate rent price—it’s just part of their job, like offering less than asking price for a home to buy. Although that’s standard practice for the home buying process, it’s not typical for landlords like me who plan to rent the property for the price listed.

Just as I don’t pay agents a commission, I am not interested in taking less than my advertised rate for my rental properties. If you’re paying an agent for their great negotiating skills, your money is largely being wasted when it comes to renting versus buying a property.

When real estate agents are helpful

There’s a place for real estate agents and rental properties. In big cities like San Francisco or New York where it’s difficult to find housing, you might benefit from using an agent. Or if you are relocating and know nothing about the area, you might need help from an agent who can show you around. Other than that, you are typically better off to cut out the middleman and find a rental house yourself.

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40 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Bridget Beck

    Your statements are not all entirely true. In the age of info at everyone’s fingertips. Agents AND their clients peruse many different sites to find their home. Having an agent that’s skilled in tenants rights is important. Many tenants do not know the conniving things landlords do and what’s legal in each state. As a landlord and a real estate agent I have experience on both sides. Typically where I’m at the commission is $50-$150 to bring a qualified renter. Many landlords have no problem with that. Facts and agents can be different in all states. Do a little more research and include the Benefit that landlords get. A good tenant, do not have to schedule showings yourself. If u don’t open options to agents your limiting your options.

    • Lisa

      I totally agree! well said. I will help anyone that needs my service. If I don’t get paid I will still find a rental for that client because when they do decide to purchase a home they will reach out to me.

      • Laura Agadoni

        Thanks Lisa,
        I appreciate agents like you.

        • Tamara Boorstein

          I have a question. I am moving out of an untenable situation with a landlord who is holding me accountable to an unsigned lease (signed on my end, not on hers). The lease is a copy of the one that the realtor Long & Foster uses. But Long & Foster did not rent the property. It was rented directly through the owner (Virginia). Is it legal to use a realtor’s use as your own? Per her original email, “I got this boilerplate from a friend at Long & Foster.”

        • Keath

          Of course you appreciate agents like her. You are cheap and I would hate to be a tennent of yours

      • Latarsha Croom

        Greetings Lisa,
        My husband and I are looking for a rental property. Can you help us????

      • Taneisha German

        Can you help me with finding a rental property seeking to move by Nov-15?

    • Jennifer Mannis

      Your comment that agents only use the MLS is incorrect. The top managed buildings in most areas pay a full months commissions to Brokers.

      I personally prefer managed apartment buildings for my clients. Managed buildings treat each client equally (whether they come in with a broker or not). If the client’s credit and income meet the predetermined guidelines set by the management the client gets apartment.

      Managed buildings also have set guidelines on how the apartment is to be delivered. Typically, management repaints the apartment, replaces carpet and thoroughly cleans the appliances.

      Landlords might not be trained in supplying disclosures or security deposit management or apartment delivery. Buyers beware.

  • Al Rivera

    Great info, Bridget.

    As a licensed agent and landlord myself, what you are saying is true. A good agent can help a tenant find a great deal and identify a slumlord. Too many tenants get burned by not knowing their rights when renting from a bad landlord/cheap landlord.

  • Bradford Schmeisser

    I used an agent this time because of too many other family matters. However we signed things we
    should’nt have in the contract lease. Now its hard to get out of it. Its a horrible lease, with even a threat in it.

    If i cancel, i still have to pay 10 percent of total rent if tenant
    if same tenant stays there.

  • Kevin Jamison

    This has Cozy written all over it. Often times, writers are paid by corporations to write articles in their favor and recommend their services.

    You cannot put all real estate agents in the same box. Our team works with residential and commercial landlords and tenants. We have been very successful with finding and identifying qualified tenants for our clients. In fact, the majority of our landlord and tenant clients are repeat clients.

    Being a landlord is a business and business owners must do their due diligence. They also have the right to except, reject or negotiate any contract.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for the comment! I just want to point out that this point was purely my idea, and it’s about my personal experience with real estate agents whenever I list a rental property. I have nothing against agents! And I use real estate agents for buying and selling. But in my years as a landlord, I’ve only had the experiences I outlined in my post. I did point out that in some cases, agents can be useful. But not for my business, a small-time landlord who rents single-family homes.

      • Linda

        Why would a renter not use an agent?
        Landlords are only looking for themselves.
        Renters need to know they are paying the correct price. Renters need to understand the terms and lease they are signing. Real estate agents work hard and yes they should be paid for their service.

  • Joseph Testa

    This article is a sin

  • John

    Two agents have inquired about my listing and both conversations ended swiftly when I told them I wouldn’t pay commissions. If I wanted to lose one month’s rent, I would’ve hired my own listing agent. Their can pick up the phone themselves rather than have someone else make easy money off me.

    If one month’s rent is valued at $2000, I’m losing $167 per month to commissions within a 12 month lease. I could simply list the house for $1833 without an agent and receive the same net rent, but I don’t need to list that low. Instead, I list at $1950 and get droves of inquiries because the rent is still below market value.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi John,
      That has been my experience as well. And while not all agents refuse to show homes to their clients if we landlords won’t pay a commission, some do refuse. If the renter really wants to use an agent, the renter should be prepared to pay the agent if the landlord won’t. If not, they probably won’t be seeing all the rental options available to them. Bottom line: if there is no commission on the deal for the agent, there is no incentive for them to show the property. And that’s the reason I wrote this, to help renters out, not to bash agents!

      • John Smith

        Laura, The tenants have come to me to rent directly from me (without the agent). My question was if this acceptable to do, given the agent found the same tenants for a previous short-term lease (3 months).

  • Nguyen Thanh

    Stupid article :)).

  • Ryan

    I have found the same experience when agents contact me about my rental. I also really find it off-putting when they, or any contact, rigorously and repeatedly message me about the home.

  • John Smith

    Great article Laura. I have one question I hope you can answer. I have a condo in FL that I rent for the winter. I worked with a real state agent to find the tenants for this past winter. The tenants want to come back next season to rent it. Do I have to use the realtor again for the same tenants, or can I deal directly with the tenants, which I don’t mind? I’m not trying to cut any commissions from the realtor, but the reality is that after the rental they didn’t really provide any value, and in fact I have to get my own deposit back from the association, which I thought it was part of their service.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi John,
      I can’t comment on specific cases, but I would think this depends on whether you signed a contract with the agent, and if you did, what the contract says. Good luck!

  • rob young

    anyone know of a house or apartment (3 bedrooms pref, but 2 maybe) – on Long Island NY (Suffolk pref) – please call or text me (Rob) @ 516 313-1261

  • Jay

    this article is so not true. You sound like you don’t know what you are talking about.

  • Jay Lasa

    First off, this article is written for a company that helps people rent homes (which is why the add popped up) and secondly, almost everything you said is untrue. As a landlord, I always use an agent because we both benefit from each other. I am not a slumlord which is why I work with them. I have them do all the screening and showing and sit back. The realtor also makes sure the client is being taken care of by me meeting all the safety and health standards.

    Landlords who don’t use realtors have something to hide!

    P.S my realtor’s commission is always paid by the tenant and never had an issue.
    SO I’m getting a free service for NOT being a slumlord.

    Goodnight xoxo

  • Brian Coyle

    Realtors are brokers. Like with stocks, most people need only the most minimal brokerage. Like with stocks, if they do their own research, they can use online platforms without a broker.

    Any realtor will disagree, as will any stock broker. Many people do need someone to hold their hand when they make a big money transaction. For them, the brokerage or realtor fee is worthwhile.

    If realtors think about it, they shouldn’t charge landlords for rentals. Many landlords will sell one day, and if they have a relationship with a realtor that could be great for both. Many landlords know other landlords, some of whom will sell and want recommendations for realtors.

  • Eddie Edwards

    Absolutely one of the most absurd and untrue articles I have read. If anything, it shows how out of touch the author of the article is and the editor who allowed it to be put to print. I could go through a long list of reasons why this article is simply false. So let me summarize quickly each individual article.

    1. Realtors only use the MLS (100%) incorrect, false, not -true

    2. People who rent out there own homes are more likely to find people who are less qualified. I have signed Exclusive Agency listing. In 100% of the cases I was able to find someone before the owner. In other words, money earned. I offset vacancy.

    3. Again, false. Owners pay in vacancy.

    4. Landlords statistically overprice and do not disclose LBP required by law.

    • Alice

      Your statement is incorrect it depends on the state you are dealing with agents who only goes by MLS only and I have to go to hotpads when some units are not on their listings. What you called less qualify is people with disabilities, low income and many others that deserve equal opportunity not all landlords like them or welcomes them reason why Fair Housing laws was establish to protect those that are been rejected for this reasons. I welcome you to have a walk with me you be surprise all the type of landlord discriminatory practices under their so-called guidelines.

  • Murphy

    As a person trying to lease a home, this article is spot on. I signed an exclusive representation agreement with a broker thinking it would give her piece of mind that I wouldn’t go elsewhere and expected results in return. I live in a sought after area in Texas with amazing schools and my realtor has only been able to get in contact with 2 listing agents to see a home in the past 2 weeks, despite the 24 “ favorites” I found and told her I wanted to see. She keeps coming up with excuses like “ we can see hone because current tenants throwing up in bed”. I realize what a mistake I’ve made signing an exclusivity agreement and decided just to rent a decent apartment for a year to get out of the agreement. Never again will I use a broker Again.

  • Jen

    How can I work with broker without signed an exclusive agreement?

    • Alice

      The way I do it is by telling them that I want an expiration date on the contract and any time I can cancel without any obligation. Written or email. This day it seems you force to take one even if you don’t want too since they will decline to show you a rental home even if is an open house. Some don’t care about contract they will take you. Others do.

    • Eddie Edwards

      You never have to sign anything with a Realtor. You are not necessarily working with a Broker. Many people misusing the name Broker in here I’m noticing. The agent must have you sign a disclosure simply indicating who is working for and that’s you the client. The mistake people make is asking of the agent they are working with is actually a rental expert.

  • David

    This isn’t true at all.

  • Alice

    Some landlords use rental agents to avoid the hassle to deal with undesirable tenants this is a problem since landlords do not get to know the person personally only what is their agent is telling them most of the property rental agents are people that seek only their benefit and look to discourage the landlord to take people because of their financially status etc. Application process allowed agents and some landlords to cherry-pick tenants violating many rights to disable tenants or income protected people. This process has loopholes where the agent will inform you that someone else was chosen before you or act concern regarding how you going to pay for utilities. Don’ bother with agents to agents. You better of with landlords only.

  • Alice

    Your statement is incorrect it depends on the state you are dealing with agents who only goes by MLS only and I have to go to hot pads when some units are not on their listings. What you called less qualify is people with disabilities, low income and many others that deserve equal opportunity not all landlords welcome them the reason why Fair Housing laws established to protect those that are been rejected for this reasons. I welcome you on my search you be singing another tune.

  • Eddie Edwards

    Again, this article is so way off frankly it’s almost a joke. As a tenant looking for a rental here are the facts and I have 34 years of rental housing experience. #1 Zillow, Trulia and Hotpads are the same company. Many people do not know that. Also, they are NOT repeat NOT in the business of rentals. They are in the business of advertising. Fact #2. The DO NOT remove listings that have rented. There are listings on there that rented 5-6-7 years ago making the search process time consuming. Fact #3 Guess where the get MOST of there legit rental listings?? FROM THE MLS!!, Yes, they buy the information from the MLS so they have content. If you want to walk into a strangers house without an agent, your crazy. Too many people getting robbed.

  • NO Lik

    DO you have statistics for agents/fsbo in rentals?

  • anonymous

    I had a bad experience dealing with a real estate agent as a tenant. An agent showed us an apartment which they listed. They also handled the lease. We paid them a fee. It turned out that the apartment had no rental license or inspection certificate. It also had some glaring code violations and it was not move-in ready. The landlord never repaired anything and he kept our entire deposit. I filed a complaint with the state AG because the agent did not respond to my emails and her boss defended the landlord and the invalid lease which she claimed had rolled over into another year. I gave them a one star rating online. Then I got an email threatening “we may be taking action against you” because of my “false review and complaint.”

  • anonymous

    The agent tried to defend herself by saying that she did not represent me. However, as one broker put it, “the agent also has a duty of fair and honest dealing towards third parties and is expected to act competently and professionally.” Where I lived you are not allowed to collect rent without the proper license and inspection certificate. Even after I pointed out the problems and code violations with the apartment, she did not bother to check if the landlord had the unit inspected and she insisted that I was still bound to the lease because it “rolled over.” The duties of a rental agent includes inspecting a property prior to rental and addressing maintenance problems but these folks were all about running defense for the landlord.

  • Jim

    Hey There! You cannot put all real estate agents in the same box. Our team works with residential and commercial landlords and tenants. We have been very successful with finding and identifying qualified tenants for our clients. In fact, the majority of our landlord and tenant clients are repeat clients.

  • D Ling

    Just bought a condo in a retirement community in California Because of timing issues, we won’t be able to move in until next year so we are planning to rent it out for a year. We think we may have found a renter who is currently renting in the same community for more than a year and would provide references. Of course, we’d check her, a widow, out first. Is there a step by step guide how and what to do on the web for a landlords like us?

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