This article is part of a larger series on How to Become a Real Estate Agent.
Working in real estate can be challenging. In fact, some agents face truly awful situations—ones their training never prepared them for. The horror stories we’ve collected below can happen to any agent, so be sure to review them closely and take note of recommended ways of avoiding them.
Here are the 13 worst real estate horror stories—and how to avoid them:
At the top of our horror story list is the open house incident related by Dina Ochs of Wilsonville, Oregon, who was selling her own property a couple of years ago. She let buyers walk through her home at their own pace. When one visitor did not return for a long time, Ochs went searching for him and found him rifling through the kitchen cabinets. She asked him what he was looking for and he bolted out the door—with her prescription medication in his jacket.
Theft is a fairly common issue for agents hosting open houses. To avoid this problem, make sure you lock up all valuables and keep them out of sight. Just as important, make sure dangerous items—like medication—are also locked up. If you’re concerned about safety, have another agent join you at the open house and be sure they accompany all visitors as they tour the property.
When homeowner Reanna was asked by an agent via text when a good time was to show her house, she replied with cringe-worthy text that was definitely TMI. Thanks to auto-correct, the agent received a response from the seller that noted that the timing was good because she had just cleaned—and “pooped.” Reanna meant “mopped,” of course, but that didn’t make it through the autocorrect filter.
The lesson here is a simple one: Whether you’re an agent, a prospective home buyer, or a homeowner, always double-check your communication before you send it. This is especially true for text messages as they are composed quickly and often on the fly. If you send the wrong message—including one that’s inadvertently gross or offensive—you run the risk of losing a sale.
Most homeowners keep their personal lives, well, personal. But sometimes, agents and prospective buyers get a very intimate look into homeowners’ routines. In one case, Agent Suzie showed up to an owner’s house for a showing but the owner had overslept—and was scrambling to get ready. As she poked her head around looking for him, the door to the bathroom opened and he revealed himself completed naked, save for a pair of slippers.
To ensure you’re not catching a seller unawares, call out your name and a greeting as you enter a home. In most cases, the homeowner will be there to greet you, but if not, avoid the embarrassment of catching them in awkward circumstances—which can jeopardize your professional relationship.
Some people take the foreclosure of their property harder than others. The owner of one house in particular decided to respond to the news by painting obscenities all over the walls and punching holes in the cabinets. He even poured concrete down the toilets to stop up the plumbing. There was so much damage to the house that the city condemned the property rather than put it up for sale at auction.
Notice of foreclosure is hard—whatever your circumstances. If you’re an agent or investor who wants the property, be prepared to spend a little extra money on repairs to damage caused by homeowners unhappy about the loss of their home.
Upon moving into her new house in Pennsylvania, Liz Spikol was greeted with a short note from the previous owner stating, “We have seen a mouse.” One mouse did not seem like a big deal for the new owner, so she continued her move-in. Within a week, however, she noticed blue powder falling from the ceiling and opened it up to inspect. The ceiling area was overrun with mice—dead and alive. The blue powder was rat poison.
To be sure you’re not setting yourself up for unwanted surprises, be sure to complete a thorough inspection of any property you intend to buy. Check all areas of the house—not just common living areas—and ensure your home inspector does the same.
Jay Seier in Fort Collins decided to put his home up for sale himself—a great way to save money on an agent. While the house was listed, an investor approached him asking to lease his property for five years, then buy it outright. The lease amount was generous and the buyout price above market value, so Seier agreed—only to learn that the investor was going to sublet the house to people Seier didn’t know.
Real estate investors can be a boon to buyers wanting to sell in a hurry, but it’s important to read the fine print and know all terms of the investment. If possible, give yourself an out if things go awry or the investor makes an unexpected—and undesirable—move.
Mary Shelsby, an agent in Pittsburg, found a way to use a neighborhood downside to promote a property she was trying to sell. Highlighting her sense of humor, Shelsby posted for sale and open house signs that claimed her property possessed the quietest neighbors across the street—the “residents” of a graveyard.
This is less a “horror” story and more of a humorous anecdote, though it could have ended badly. Agents who use humor as Shelsby did will want to be sure their messaging isn’t offensive or off-putting. This, of course, requires knowing your audience well. In Shelsby’s case, the response was largely positive.
After purchasing a home in Tennessee, one man was surprised to find out that the previous owners ran a meth lab out of the basement. It turns out the city had listed the house as “unfit to live in” due to its history as a meth lab and required any new residents to bring the property up to code in order to continue living there.
The moral of this story: Do your homework. Make sure you research the history of any property you intend to buy and be sure it doesn’t carry any liens or bad marks from the city. If you are still interested in the property, bring any relevant downsides to the table to aid in price negotiations.
As noted in story No. 4, people are often angry at the bank for foreclosing on their home; some take that anger out on the home itself. While home-wreckers typically focus on destroying walls and fixtures, others get more creative. For instance, Agent Karyn Anjali Glubis reported that a Tampa home was damaged beyond repair by an owner who ran a garden hose through the ceiling and left it pouring water into his foreclosed house for days.
As with the story noted above, there’s little to be done about a homeowner’s response to foreclosure. Investors and agents’ best bet is to be ready for additional repairs should the owner take out their frustrations on the house.
New to the real estate profession, Agent Cody never suspected that he would need to deal with a paranoid, gun-toting seller. But that he did. In fact, each time a buyer visited the seller’s house for a showing, the owner would hide in the house with his guns or tools, sure that someone was coming to rob him. After the closing, Cody and the buyer helped the owner load his guns and tools to move out of the house.
To avoid any kind of dangerous situation in the home-buying or selling process, be sure you vet the seller and the buyer thoroughly. Trust your instincts and make sure you notify the police or other relevant authorities if a client or prospective client engages in dangerous activity.
A chair would be perfectly acceptable in a sitting or living room, but an armchair in a bathroom—complete with an area rug and pillows—is odd. One property, as showcased below, featured exactly this setup, which made it a bit awkward to shoot and show for prospective clients.
If you’re aiming to sell a property, appeal to the most common buyer in your market. This often requires re-staging a home to be sure that each room reflects its intended purpose. Whatever the owner’s preferences, a house should feel open and welcoming to all prospects, giving them the ability to envision themselves living there.
12. Unwelcome Guests
Mike Litzner, an agent from Long Island, New York, reported finding a homeless man living in the house he was showing to potential buyers. The man created a fort around himself and stocked it with alcohol to help manage cold nights. One buyer humorously asked if the fort came with the house.
Believe it or not, common squatters are not an uncommon problem for real estate agents. To be sure you avoid this problem—and disrupt showings—keep doors and windows locked at all times and only provide keys or entry codes to approved persons.
Gregory Leeson of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, wanted to be completely open about the state of his home, so he included this on the listing: “Slightly haunted. Nothing serious though.” It is unclear if he was trying to be funny or wanted to avoid legal issues, but the sounds and screams coming from the home have caused lots of attention. In fact, the owner has received several offers and some requests for interviews from the media.
This FSBO “horror” story has a happy ending for the owner because the honesty inspired a discussion about haunted houses, proof of ghosts, and whether listings should reveal paranormal activities. While honesty is often the best policy, agents should consider whether or not unsubstantiated stories are wise to include in sales materials; sometimes, they ignite fears that can turn buyers away.
Bottom Line – Real Estate Agent Horror Stories
While real estate horror stories can be humorous, they can also jeopardize sales or ruin the relationship between a buyer or seller and an agent. To avoid this, be sure to consider the scenarios above and make note of how to avoid them. Being prepared will go a long way to ensuring nothing disrupts a successful sale.