Gather ‘round all ye wee new agents as we tell you our real estate horror stories—nightmares that will make you break out into a cold sweat. And they’re not all about lockboxes. Let’s sit by the fire (OK, at the bar) as we pass along our cautionary tales and lessons learned.
1. No Free Lunch
It’s normal for sellers to be protective of their things. For example, they might ask potential buyers to wear booties to not track mud across their expensive rugs. But one seller wasn’t just protective of her rugs—she wanted to lock the fridge. This story is even more horrific because she wasn’t accusing the buyers of stealing her food—it was the agents! She canceled her listing contract in a huff and demanded a gift card to a local grocery store as payback for the “stolen” food. While we’re on the agent’s side here, who can forget that guy who drank right from the seller’s milk carton?
💡 Lesson Learned: You can be the best agent in the world and still be fired for something you didn’t do or something out of your control. But if you were thinking of stealing food from the fridge, don’t. If you’re fired, it’s OK. Keep your head up and try these high-impact lead-generation ideas!
2. Fire Sale Real Estate Horror Stories
I bet this is a familiar story for most of you. An agent takes a cold call and agrees to list a couple’s condo. There might have been some red flags, but only in retrospect. The condo had been completely renovated after a massive fire, and while it was beautiful, it was by far the nicest property in the building.
Every other comp was at least $50,000 lower than what the couple wanted for their condo. This agent explained the comps carefully and predicted that the most accurate market price would only be about $15,000 over the standard comp. The couple refused to listen. The listing sat on the market and finally expired. While the agent lost the sale, he can sleep well at night knowing that when the fire-damaged-then-remodeled condo did sell, it was right at the price he’d predicted.
💡 Lesson Learned: Check out our step-by-step guides for creating a persuasive listing presentation and an accurate, data-driven comparative market analysis. But remember, even when you do it all perfectly, some people still won’t listen.
3. Fruit Falling Far From the Tree
Every so often, a client will show up with their children. Usually, the kids are well-behaved and glued to a device, but we all have real estate horror stories of kids jumping in the pool or scratching up a pool table. However, for this agent, the children got up to some mischief. As the agent, her clients, and the client’s twins arrived at a luxury property, the mom pointed out a beautiful lime tree. As they were leaving, the twins showed up at the car, having picked every single lime off that tree.
💡 Lesson Learned: Sometimes, you must make limeade from all the limes your client’s kids stole. Just keep saying to yourself, show me the money!
4. Don’t Worry, Dear
One of our Close readers arrived at a listing and accidentally walked in on the seller taking a bath. The older lady barely glanced up and said, “Don’t worry dear, it’s only body parts,” and kept washing away.
💡 Lesson Learned: Sounds like the homeowner kept her sense of humor and her dignity in what could have been a traumatizing moment. Remember, don’t take everything too seriously, and always knock first.
5. Call a Locksmith
Most of us have a broken lock or I-can’t-get-this-damn-lockbox-open story, or at least the thought of a lockbox makes us break into a cold sweat. For this poor agent, bad lockbox luck struck him twice—on the same day. He had two condos in the same community and offered to show a group of people both properties. Despite his best efforts and frantic calls to the owner, the first lockbox wouldn’t open with the code.
After a lengthy period of frustration and embarrassment, he gave up and led the buyers to the second condo. The lock was broken. One can imagine the potential buyers eyeing each other, shuffling their feet. Nothing would open that door except a $325 locksmith with a drill. After what seemed like an eternity, the door was finally opened (by the locksmith). That agent never forgot that day and probably still gets nervous at showings until he hears that sweet click of a lock opening.
💡 Lesson Learned: Until robots or artificial intelligence (AI) solve this problem for us, a lockbox mishap will happen to everyone at some point. Keep your sense of humor, don’t give up, and call a locksmith if necessary.
6. Hiding in Plain Sight
We all hate it when the seller hangs around during an open house or a showing, shuffling right behind, eavesdropping, or interjecting an opinion. But for one agent, the seller took this a step further. She stayed in the house for showings but hid under the covers of her bed. It wasn’t subtle. It was very strange. When confronted by her listing agent, she always denied it. Talk about a real estate horror story!
💡 Lesson Learned: An agent who sells a house while the owner hides under the sheets during showings should get an extra martini, a TED talk, or a book deal. We have a lot to learn from this real estate master.
7. Addicted to Love…& Being Under Contract
We’ve all had clients who can’t commit or waste our time. But this real estate story from Reddit stayed with me. An agent had a client go under contract multiple times, but she would back out right after the home inspection each time. While it’s not unheard of for a buyer to be turned off by a list of repairs, it was starting to be a problem.
The agent stuck with it, hoping it would all turn into a commission check (plus it was a referral from a great client). It turns out that this client wasn’t shopping for a house at all—she was shopping for a husband. She had a huge crush on the home inspector and would go under contract on a house just to have an excuse to see him. The agent had to fire her when she started calling the inspector at night. The worst part is that the agent assured us that sexually harassing the inspector was the least of her sins.
💡 Lesson Learned: Looking to date and/or become a home inspector? We’ve got you covered with this step-by-step guide on how to do it. The home inspector part. Not the dating.
8. Nightmare on West Paces Ferry
@glenndabaker Once upon a time I saw the wrong house… #G#GlenndaBakerR#RealEstateA#AtlantaRealEstateR#RealEstateTickock #O#OnceUponATimeISoldTheWrongHouseG#GoogleGlennda ♬ original sound – Glennda Baker
Glennda Baker is the best at everything: real estate, influencing, motivating, and storytelling. She uses that Atlanta drawl to pull us in and forgive her for everything, including selling her client…the wrong house. I won’t do Glennda a disservice by telling her story when she does it so well, but she did sell her client the wrong house. She describes the nightmare feeling that she might get sent to real estate jail. Spoiler—there’s a happy ending.
💡Lesson Learned: We’re all human, and all make mistakes (some more of a nightmare than others). But don’t lose your cool! Negotiate your way to a solution and live to sell houses another day.
9. The Mysterious Case of the Lying Tenants
For anyone who’s managed a property, you know that you can do everything right and still face an unexpected mystery. For this property owner, it was the case of fictitious lead poisoning. She had run the background check and called the previous landlord. The new tenants seemed great. The second month, though, no check appeared. When pressed, the family said that the problem wasn’t their missing rent—it was lead poisoning.
The tenants claimed that their child had lead poisoning from being in that home for just a few weeks. Now, the woodwork was made of natural wood, so even if there was lead in an old layer of varnish, the property manager knew that kid would have had to eat through it faster than a woodchuck and lick the radiator constantly. The Board of Health agreed. A judge agreed. No lead poisoning—the property owner was in the clear. Turns out these tenants had pulled the same trick before, and their “previous landlord” in the background check was a lying relative.
💡 Lesson Learned: If you’re a property manager, go to two or three former landlords and verify, verify, verify everything. Also, use an online tenant screening service instead of doing it all yourself!
A Real Estate Success Story to Scare Away the Horror
There are lots of real estate horror stories about difficult clients—time wasters, jerks, people who don’t understand how money works or that punctuality is important, the people whose kids pick all the limes—but as agents, we try to help them, no matter what. Like doctors with their Hippocratic oath, most agents feel a call to serve. When clients deal with some of the biggest financial decisions and most stressful moments of their lives, real estate agents are there.
I know so many real estate stories of agents who stepped up when there’s been a death, an elderly person needed help cleaning out their house, or a young couple had to have a babysitter to look at a house. This is one of those real estate success stories:
This was the agent’s very first deal, and it was for a rental. Sure, the clients had poor credit, but they were kind, easy to work with, and offered to sign a longer lease or put down two months of their deposit. They finally found the perfect place. Soon after they submitted their application, the listing agent called. The husband and wife had multiple felony charges and two large dogs of a restricted breed.
The agent could have been furious and dropped them like a hot potato. Instead, because she knew all of this necessary information, formed a new plan and got character references from employers, parole officers, and letters of recommendation from previous landlords. The agent finally found the perfect place and an amenable landlord. The wife cried when she got the keys, and the agent still stayed in touch with them. Oh, and they’ve been perfect tenants.
💡 Lesson Learned: This isn’t a horror story, but it is a real estate story we hear repeatedly—agents working hard to make their communities better and stronger. If you lose motivation after a real estate nightmare, we’ve got you covered.
Bringing It All Together
Most of the time, our lives as real estate agents are pretty normal. We carry on daily, helping people buy and sell homes and achieve their real estate dreams. But then, one day, when we least expect it, we accidentally walk in on a senior citizen taking a bath.
Have any real estate stories to tell? Any wild experiences? Send them out as cautionary tales in your marketing materials—and let us hear them in the comments!