How to find the best estate agent

Ned Browne

If you want to sell in a flat market, finding the right estate agent could be the difference between success and failure.  But, in the information age, choosing the right one has become much easier

This month’s article focuses on traditional high-street estate agents.  Next month we’ll look at their younger cousins: online estate agents.

 

Research, research, research

How well do they present the properties they’re currently selling?  Look at the photographs, the description and the floor-plans – and look at these online, in the local paper, on the property brochure and in the shop window.  Talking of which, how do their premises look?  A tatty estate agent is no place to sell your property.

How much will they charge you?  Fees can range from 1% to 4% (although some estate agents will offer a flat-fee option).  You should note that these are subject to VAT too, so the spread is effectively 1.2% to 4.8%.  Fees are an important factor, but high fees can be justified by a high selling price.  And, remember, they are negotiable, so be prepared to haggle.

Needless to say, ask friends and family for recommendations, but only if they live in the area.  Agencies will vary office to office—it is, after all, a people business.  The propensity of for-sale signs is another good local indicator.

Membership of trade bodies is also a good sign.  If they are, for example, a member of The Guild of Property Professionals, they will have to comply with their code of conduct, which aims to drive up standards.

 

The property valuation

This is where things can get tricky; it’s very common for estate agents to over-value properties in a bid to secure your business.  You should get at least three valuations and ask lots of questions.  For example, how can you be sure you will sell my property for this amount?  Or, how many buyers do you currently have on your books?  Or, what percentage of the properties you sold in the last 12 months have sold for the asking price or above?  Also, look at their website—are there lots of price reductions?  

 

Professionalism (and hard work)

Always visit any estate agent on your shortlist.  Remember, this is what prospective buyers will do.  How does it feel when you open the door?  Are you made to feel welcome and greeted with a smile?  Is it a professional environment?  What are the opening hours?  (Hard working estate agents invariably get the best results.)

If you decide to ask them to value your property, that’s another time to assess them.  Do they arrive on time?  To they listen to your concerns?  Do they answer your questions satisfactorily?

My particular bugbear is estate agents who seem to forget who’s paying them; some treat prospective buyers as their primary clients.  It’s not uncommon for estate agents to let on when sellers are desperate to sell, thus giving the buyer the upper hand.  It’s not an easy thing to gauge, but do read online reviews such as Google Reviews or Trust Pilot.

 

Open house or individual appointments?

Open house viewings are becoming increasingly common.  Ask the estate agent what they’d favour with your property.  If they are planning open house viewings, be prepared to vacate your house while these take place.

 

Sole or multi-agency

Sole agency is when one estate agent has the exclusive right to sell your property for a set period of time – normally four to twelve weeks. If your property is sold by another agent during the tie-in period, you will still have to pay their fee.

Multi-agency is when several agents will have your property on their books.  When the property is sold, you’ll only have to pay the agent that sells your property.

Personally, I much prefer sole agency (provided I’m confident I’ve chosen the right agent).  My reasoning is twofold: firstly, I only have to deal with one agent and secondly, being listed on two or more estate agent websites can look desperate.

 

Always read and/or amend the small print

Make sure you're happy with the written contract before signing.  If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask questions.  If there’s anything you don’t like, change it.  For example, if you don’t like the length of the tie-in period, cross it out and add a more acceptable timeframe.

 

Help is at hand

You can also use some clever websites to do some of the donkeywork; websites such as getagent.co.uk will allow you to compare fees, for example.  But, there is no substitute for research.  Knowledge is, after all, power.