How to choose the right estate agent

How would you like an extra £10,000 in your bank account? Well it can be done through selling your house...

Let’s say, for example, that your home is on sale for £200,000. That £10,000 bonus essentially comes down to the selling price you negotiate – it’s the difference between accepting an okay-ish offer of £180,000 or a much better one of £190,000.

And achieving that is down to having a good estate agent, so make sure you choose yours wisely...

Main photo - iStock_000076714087_Large

Estate agents: The profitable truth

Look down your local high street where the rents are the most expensive and what ‘breeds’ of shop do you see?

You see a lot of charity shops because they’re so cheap to run, with mainly volunteer staff and stock that is given to them. You see more cafes, pubs and restaurants than there used to be, because you still can’t eat out on the internet.

And you’ll also see a lot of estate agents, because they’re selling houses, which are easily the most expensive things for sale on most high streets. And where the cost is much higher, even a modest percentage of profit is much higher.

A good estate agent established on a good high street is almost certainly making a healthy profit, so make sure you’re getting a good deal from them, both in what they’re charging you and what they’re doing to sell your house.

And remember, you’re the boss. Be a reasonable, friendly, listening boss – but be a boss. You make the decisions. And that starts with your estate agent choice...

 

How to check out estate agents before you meet them

You can do your initial research without even visiting an estate agent.

First, ask around. You can’t beat a recent recommendation from a friend or neighbour. It’s even better if they’ve got a name of a particular person, eg “we found Chris at Sweetdeal and Quick very good”.

Then make your own checks.

Is the estate agent local? Local agents know the area and the market, and should be better at attracting prospective buyers. Only if you’ve got an unusual or expensive property – a marvel or a mansion – should you consider a national agent.

Is the estate agent already selling properties like yours? If you’re selling a terraced house and their window and website are full of four-bed detached, go elsewhere.

And whilst you’re looking, consider the house descriptions too. Has care been taken here? Are the words well chosen and the pictures well taken? Are there floor plans and videos?

Is the estate agent visible? Not just on the high street, but also in the local newspaper and on the internet, including the big two websites Rightmove and Zoopla. Remember, a good agent is busy marketing your home outside their own shop window.

Incidentally, it’s worth knowing that a new portal called OnTheMarket.com was launched in 2015 by an estate agents’ consortium. So far it’s much less popular than the big two, and if you’re with OnTheMarket.com, you can only go with one of Rightmove or Zoopla.

And finally, what are their opening hours? Busy people don’t look for houses during normal working hours, so see if your estate agent gets an edge by staying open later than 5pm on weekdays, and at weekends, including Sundays.

 

What to ask estate agents when you do meet them

OK, now it’s time to venture into a few estate agents’ shops. And do visit if you can – don’t just ring round. It’s by visiting that you pick up the company’s vibe.

Gut feeling comes in here. How professional, enthusiastic and friendly do the salespeople you’re employing seem? And not just the boss – they are probably highly experienced – but also the young foot soldiers you’ll most likely be dealing with.

Remember with an estate agent, you’re paying for the people, not just the service.

Ask about their viewing policy, and make sure it fits with yours. If, for example, you’re not keen – or it’s just impossible – for you to show people around the house, will they happily take this task on?

Ask about the marketing materials they’ll prepare, including less obvious ones like floor plans, photos of every room and virtual tours online.

Ask them if they’ll advertise in newspapers and on online websites, and which ones they use. And do they provide a ‘For Sale’ board?

One interesting question to ask is: ‘What do you do if my property isn’t selling as quickly as expected?’

And be straight with your estate agent. Be honest in particular about why you’re selling, and how quickly you need to sell, and they’ll work better for you.

 

And now the figures...

Estate agents normally charge you a percentage of the price they sell your home for – between one and two-and-a-half per cent.

Ask them “does that include VAT?” because VAT adds another 20 per cent to the charge. So, for example, if your estate agent is charging you £2,000, VAT adds another £400.

Also ask “does that include everything?” because a few estate agents add extra costs for, for example, finding a quick, guaranteed purchaser – as if that wasn’t their job anyway.

You can go for multiple agents and only pay commission to the one who sells your property.

Or, for lower fees, you can give an agent “sole selling rights”. If you choose the latter, make it for a limited time. You don’t want to get stuck for months with Hopeless and Co.

Online estate agents are much cheaper than conventional high street estate agents. But online agents are a developing market and their names aren’t so familiar. There is a huge variety in price and quality, and they are more likely to add cost extras.

Narrow your estate agents down to a shortlist of about three, and invite them to do a valuation. Have a good idea already what the valuation should be.

Don’t necessarily be swayed by the highest valuation. Some estate agents will pitch high to get you on their books, and then get you to reduce the price a few weeks down the line.

Then again, beware of a valuation that seems too low, or – later on – a pushy agent you failed to weed out trying to persuade you to accept a low offer.

Bear in mind that for the estate agent, that £10,000 higher price means little to them, on a one per cent commission. A good one will still think of their customer. A less scrupulous one will think about quick turnover on lots of homes, rather than a good price on a few.

Remember estate agents are only human. One recent survey in the US showed that on average, estate agents keep their own houses on the market for 10 days longer and sell them for three per cent more, than their clients’ houses. Be watchful.