What Should You Look For In An Estate Agent?

Apart from major invasive surgery there are few things worse than reading drivel from a company that shouts about how great they are. Who cares! Particularly in estate agency. Most people just want to know How much is it going to cost me?” and how are you going to sell my property quickly? But for you to know whether you’re getting an honest answer, you need to understand how agencies work. Yes it's not the most interesting subject in the world, but they're going to be selling probably your most valuable asset, so it's worth a read.

Estate Agents were (and still are to some extent) much maligned because it’s considered a bit like money for old rope. Popular opinion is that all an agent does is take a few pictures, write a short description of the property, sit back and then send you a bill with lots of numbers in it after the sale completes.

This is a little bit like assuming that the entirety of a fire fighters job is in rolling up to a fire, pointing a hosepipe at it and putting it out. As we all know, there’s far more to it than that.

This is why when it comes to picking an estate agent you need to go beyond just asking yourself “who is the biggest and most well known local estate agent?” People often do this for two reasons.

1) They believe that the most popular estate agent will have more “ready and waiting buyers”, poised, ready to spring onto their property.

2) They believe that the company that has been around the longest knows more about selling property in their area.

Both of these are, by and large, nonsense, spouted at valuation appointments by those who generally work for large corporate agencies. Let’s look at those two points one at a time.

Myth 1: The biggest local agent has more buyers and will therefore stand a better chance of achieving a sale.

In an earlier blog post, found here, we’ve already explained why the majority of larger agencies operating in a traditional way, cannot physically provide a good level of service to all their properties. It features the math's surrounding this and is a lovely bedtime read.

98% of people search for their next home using the property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla. Serious buyers will have set up their alerts and millions of people every week, nationwide, search these portals. When your property goes live, A LOT of people will see it. Even if your local agent had 1000 ready and waiting buyers on their system for your property (unlikely), it is a miniscule drop in the ocean compared to the exposure it will get on the portals.

If an agent is charging more or basing their credibility on having a large “network of waiting buyers”, tell them to take a running jump.

Myth 2: XYZ Estate Agency has been established a long time and has the most experience of selling properties in my area, so they’ll know more about how to get it sold easily.

For this to be the case, every established agency would have to have some wrinkly old Oracle sat in a corner overseeing every bit of property marketing and sales progression that takes place in the company. It just doesn’t happen. You’re far more likely to end up dealing with “Jonathan” who finished university a couple of years ago, had never even heard of an Inglenook Fireplace until last month and has decided to give estate agency a go.

How Most Estate Agencies Work

You make an enquiry for a valuation: A valuer comes out. You love them and they promise you the earth. They take your property on. That is the last you see of them. You then deal with whoever answers the phone when your property is on the market. It possibly sells. You then deal with whoever answers the phone in the sales progression team. Buyers also speak to a random number of different people about your property.

That is 3 different groups of staff (valuer, sales negotiators, sales progressors). Is it likely that all of those people have experience of selling property in your area that is equal in length to the age of the company itself?

You need to be asking yourself “how knowledgeable and experienced is the person who I am going to be dealing with day-to-day?”. You then also need to ask “how knowledgeable is the person who my BUYERS are going to be dealing with day-to-day? Who is actually SELLING my property?”. Is your home one amongst a couple of hundred, or is it one amongst a handful being dealt with by a dedicated expert?

We don’t profess to be the only company out there offering clients a dedicated property expert from start to finish because it is becoming more common now. You may find that the fees are slightly higher than an online or hybrid agency, but you can almost be certain that their depth of knowledge, experience and focus will achieve a better price every time. You can compare us to other agencies here.

So here are a few handy tips:

  • Don't use an agency that charges you an upfront fee. Where is their incentive to get the property sold if you have already paid them? The majority of reputable agencies will work on a "no sale-no fee" basis.

  • You get what you pay for in estate agency. Pay peanuts and you will almost certainly get monkeys. The estate agent is as central to your sale as your solicitor. Would you use the cheapest solicitor possible to handle the legalities of a purchase worth hundreds of thousands of pounds?

  • Make sure your estate agent is willing to assist with your onward negotiation. Well trained estate agents are great negotiators and will likely save you more than their fee if you are making an onward purchase.

  • Look out for contracts that tie you into using certain solicitors in return for a low fee. This is common with low fee, high volume, online agencies. There is no substitute for using a good quality, recommended local solicitor rather than a faceless national conveyancing provider.

  • Most agencies now provide professional photography and floorplans as standard. Don't fall into the trap of being sold these as "added extras" that must be paid for upfront.

  • Look out for withdrawal fee's. What will it cost you if you want to take your property off the market or switch agents?

A short case study:

It's alright us giving out advice, but we thought it would be useful to show you the difference a pro-active estate agent makes in practice.

We had a dual marketed property on our books via our partner agent in Spalding (Bernard Snowden). This house had already been on the market for some time with a larger corporate agency, but interest had dwindled and they decided to bring another agent on board.

When our marketing for this property started we received an enquiry from a buyer who was not proceedable (they were not on the market and sold subject to contract), but they loved the house. They were not being entertained by the other agency because they were not proceedable.

Bernard offered to take a look at their current property to see if it could be sold in a reasonable time frame at the price they needed in order to buy the one they liked. Following a valuation, a sale price was agreed and we got them on the market in 24 hours.

When the first couple of buyer enquiries came in, they were passed to Bernard who was able to talk knowledgably about the property because he had been there and understood its key benefits. It was Bernard talking to the potential buyers, not a random sales negotiator who had never even been there.

These buyers were now excited about viewing it and wanted to check out the things that Bernard had already explained to them. Forty-eight hours later we were putting up a Sold board outside this house and the previously "un-proceedable" buyer who had been seen as a waste of time by the other agency, was now in a position to purchase the house they wanted. This enabled us to achieve a sale for the property we were dual marketing. The owners of this property then also went on to buy another of our properties.

That is the key difference between a traditional agency business model focused on the number of listings and a more personalised approach such as ours, focused on quality of service. There is time to proactively put deals together that otherwise wouldn't happen.

To get a bit more insight into how we work please check out our service comparison sheet. You can access it here.

About The Author

The Agent is a one-to-one estate agency that provides clients with one local, highly experienced property professional from valuation through to completion. Our valuations and initial advice is free of charge with no obligation. If you could do with a chat about your property marketing just get in touch here and we’ll be happy to help. It doesn't matter what stage you are at, it is never too early to plan.