Choosing an Estate Agent

If you decide to use one, choosing the correct estate agent is critical when putting your house on the market. Your estate agent will have your sale in their hands, so a poorly thought-out choice could lose you several thousand pounds.

Draw up a shortlist an estate agent

When drawing up a shortlist, local agents are usually the better choice, as they will know the area and be on hand to meet potential buyers. The major exception to this is with particularly unusual or expensive properties, where specialist national agencies may provide access to a particular type of buyer.

It is important to find an agent with experience of selling properties similar to your own. Have a look at the properties in their window displays, find their listings in the local paper or visit their websites. Websites can be useful to gauge how effective and professional an agency is at marketing properties:

  • Do the photographs make the properties look appealing?
  • Are the descriptions clear and relevant?
  • Is there plenty of detail about each house (floor plans, location maps, etc.)

If you bought your house fairly recently, think about your experience with the estate agency... don’t forget to ask family, friends and neighbours for their personal recommendations.

Be wary of estate agents erected extra sale / let boards

Look around your neighbourhood… whose “Sold” boards do you see? Be careful though some agencies erect extra boards outside multiple occupancy houses to make themselves seem more active.

Google the estate agents name to see if there is any feedback about them online.

Be prepared before you meet estate agents

After narrowing down a shortlist to around three agents, you should invite each to value your house. Here, it is important not to necessarily be swayed towards those who give the highest estimates. It is, unfortunately, common for estate agents to give a deliberately optimistic valuation to persuade an owner to choose them, only to talk them down at a later stage.

Before they arrive, do your own research:

  • Look at the advertised prices of other houses currently for sale
  • Look into the actual prices achieved in your area using sites such as www.nethouseprices.com
  • Check with your local council which school catchment areas your home sits in
  • Gauge the market in your area using a site like WouldLikeToMove
  • Keep an eye on the local market… are homes selling fast?

You should ask an agent to explain the reasoning behind their projected price, such as location, size and, in some cases, school catchment area. Ask them about recent sales of similar home; they will often tell you the back ground behind a sale… and not just of the properties they handled (estate agents chat amongst themselves as much as any profession).

Other things to ask:

  • What trade associations and ombudsman services do they belong to?
  • When are they open - a surprisingly large number of estate agencies only work on weekdays.
  • How many staff do you have full-time and part-time?
  • What type of house do they predominantley sell?
  • When did they last sell a house like yours?
  • Would your house would feature in their window?
  • Are they part of a chain, and if so will the other offices know the details of your house?
  • Can they create an online virtual tour?
  • Will they show people round or expect you to?
  • Ask to see the quality of their brochures.

Use these questions to get an idea of how well suited the agent would be to you and your property.

You should also enquire as to an agent’s marketing techniques. Most will use their company website, but will they use any others, such as Zoopla, Rightmove or Primelocation? Find out if they would advertise your property in newspapers, and, if so, which. It is best to have as much information as possible before making any form of commitment.

Negotiate the estate agent's fee

When finding an estate agent, the one golden rule is: negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

It is, of course, tempting to go for the estate agent charging the lowest fees, but it might have repercussions that would more than equal the savings. The cheapest agents are not always the most experienced. It is also wise to ask what is and is not included in the fee:

  • Marketing materials
  • Advertisements
  • ‘For Sale’ boards

These can all be left out in order to lure clients with a low price. Another trick is to quote fees, but to omit VAT - making it vital to ask whether you will need to pay the additional 20%.

An estate agent will usually want to charge you between 1% and 4% of the selling price for a sole agency agreement. Always attempt to negotiate fees, as most agents will be flexible… especially if your home will fetch a good price (say over £500,000) or will be easy to sell (perhaps because of its location or the quality of the local schools). Your research should help you here.

If you have already found a potential buyer, for example if somebody got in touch through Would Like to Move, you may only want the estate agent to handle the negotiation and smooth the process. In which case, the fee should be a lot less!

Negotiate the estate agent's fee before signing a contract'

Don’t feel pressurised to sign straight away. Any talk of a limited time offer is a classic sales technique and if it is used, ask yourself, “Do I really want this sort of firm representing me?” Equally, if you are also buying, don’t feel you have to go with the estate agent that is handling your purchase. All talk of it “making things smoother” is just their way of saying “I want an easy life” or even worse, I’ll know all the pressure points that would make you accept a lower selling price!”

Watch the estate agent's small print

Reading the standard contract is essential.

  • Avoid agents who insist upon ‘sole selling rights,’ meaning that you will have to pay agent fees even if you find a buyer without their assistance.
  • Never sign an agreement that commits you to paying an agent only for finding a ‘ready, willing and able purchaser’ as opposed to actually selling your property... you may have to pay even if the sale fell through!
  • Ensure any agreement is time limited, so it is still possible to change agents if you are unsatisfied... and check the notice period is reasonable.

Alternatives to estate agents

Be aware that there is always the option of either using an online estate agent, often cheaper than the conventional high street agents, or selling your home independently, an area where there is increasing support for inexperienced owners… for example on sites like this.