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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52 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Taryn Hallford

    As a partner to Chisum Realty & Auction (not an agent or broker) and as a landlord, I find this article to be disgustingly off base and worded to persuade the general public (usually not familiar with market rents, real estate law or signs or scum lord behavior) to operate in a fashion that does NOT benefit or produce a fair playing field for them during the real estate lease transaction. To be clear; it is our policy that – whether an owner (Sale or Lease) decides to pay an agent or not; if our client is interested we will show and write up an offer/application with our client, so when you say Agents are always looking to get paid – No not always, we do it just to be good people plus referrals never hurt; but that’s the CHISUM way!

    • Roxanne Wiersema

      I agree with the previous commentor this is biased. I use only the MLS to search for rentals because if its on the MLS its automatically put on places like zillow for the general public to see but we have better options for narrowing search and finding out information on a property that may be a deal breaker. Not to mention having an alley who knows the process and warning flags apparently is not what you want your clients to have, I wonder whats wrong with your properties….

  • cristian ronaldo

    hello everyone
    I will rate this article average because totally saying real estate agents are not good for taking property on rent, is not right. Taking the assistance of an experienced realtor is needed.

  • Danny Khomutov

    Sorry, but at least 1,3 and 4 are fake and incorrect. Chicago realtors that are experts of their craft go above and beyond for their clients.

  • Louis

    You’re all right. There are good real estate agents. There are bad real estate agents

  • Usman Khalid

    Nowadays Real Estate Agents are becoming a bit of a problem, as some tend to favor one party in the deal rather than staying as a neutral entity and looking to help both the parties to thrash out a deal.

    • John Williams

      The article appears biased against Real Estate Agents to the favor of landlords (not tenants); and clearly so, I might add. But it was the comment from Usman Khalid that made me push the button.
      As a Realtor, I can tell you that Real Estate Agents are NOT neutral. We are REQUIRED to favor one party in the deal. That party is the Agent’s *client*! We have a fiduciary obligation to operate in the best interest of our clients. Whether that client is the buyer or seller, whether the listing landlord or the prospective tenant, our responsibility is to operate legally, ethically, and in the best interest of our client. Period. This brings value, and for that we do expect to be paid, as would any of you who provide value or services.

    • David Pichowsky

      Not to sound rude, but that’s why we have contracts. We, as Realtors, are representing either the seller or the buyer. If there is no contract, we are automatically a representative of the seller. If that is the case, we are only permitted BY LAW to disclose pertinent facts that pertain to the specific property. Not to negotiate, not to give our opinions, not to give you an action plan, or any kind of suggestions. We can give you facts about the house, period. If you would like expert advice or opinions, then feel free to sign the Listing Agreement, or Buyer’s Rep Agreement.

  • Smith Jones

    Agree with your first point that agents only use MLS. MLS software are really helpful now a days we can save money with the help of MLS software.

  • steven pratt

    wow this article is is by far the most nasty, repulsive article that i’ve ever read!! we do not only use the MLS, YES we expect to be paid but majority of the time its not the landlord paying unless it’s a commercial property here in NEW YORK! Tenants typically pay commissions and we use that to the defense of a landlord, if a tenant cant afford to pay a realtor they may default on their rent! we protect landlords if they hire us in their full interest, we also negotiate to get them the most and i mean the most money in their pocket. you my friend are heinous by trying to paint a picture of real estate agents that is incorrect. this guy should be sued for defamation .

  • Michael Merlo

    This article is just plain not true. Real Estate Agents are very helpful in renting out your house. Author does not know what she is talking about, or has had a bad experience, and wants to share it with everyone . Pretty lame!

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