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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101 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Tiffany C.

    Here is one thing the author did not address: the HUNDREDS of people coming to me fed up with being scammed on websites like zillow, realtor.com, etc. These people are loosing thousands of dollars because these websites are not screening the individuals posting homes for rent.

    On the plus side, working with a realtor who uses the MLS is beneficial and safer because these are listing agents who are posting these homes, therefore, it is guaranteed to be safer to seek out these properties with a real estate agent.

    If I had a dollar for every person who came to me saying that they were kicked out of a home that they wasn’t available to rent to begin with, I’d quit real estate and live off my new riches.

  • rachel mason

    can i realtor charge you for application fees and make you register your pets before they will even submit the application to the owner of the rental property

    • Karen Johnson

      why are property managers so prejudiced and and make yoy go through hoops and barrels about someone else property. do they get monthly payments for renting the property as well

  • myree wade

    hi i have a real estate who manages my property i want to manage it my self now how do i go about telling the agent i wish to with draw the property from the agent all help would be appreciated thank you myree

    • For Your Own Protection Illinois

      You seem to be have a problem properly articulating a single comment. What makes you think you can advertise and manage real estate properly on your own?

  • jopowdy

    This is a silly and almost certainly duplicitous comment.

  • Nichole kahoalii

    This is grossly inaccurate. The dialogue provided was a wild generalization. There are so many great agents out there that have the best interest of their clients in mind. Often times landlords don’t like it because agents know the law, understand the ins and outs and are strong advocates and negotiators for their clients.

  • Vinny

    This is the worst real estate article every written. It basically says real estate agents such for fake reasons.


    This is really the most absurd website to convince people to not rent with a person who has a license and who knows what they are doing unlike a landlord, who is not knowledgeable of the procedure!
    Realtors® can sell your home faster than you can on your own! Listing your home with an agent is likely to result in a faster sale, since Realtors® are better able to market your property. Real estate agents have access to Multiple Listing Service (MLS) databases, which are widely searched by people looking for homes

  • DanB.

    As I read this article I see that being that the author is a landlord she is very much one sided. She never really touches on any pros of using a realtor for rentals. I have used a realtors in the past to find rentals and had a lot of success with them. I did pay the realtor fee myself once but mostly I found that owners/landlords are willing to pay the fee because it removes the stress of looking for a tenant. From what I have also experienced is that some realtors take a percentage from the monthly rents making it easier on the landlord.

    So writing a one sided article is really not helping her argument here.

  • Joey

    The real estate agent shilling in this comment section…wow. Of course you want to convince landlords and prospective tenants to give you commission. Your judgment is so clouded by your own paychecks, just take a step back.

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