Let’s face it, when it comes to choosing an Estate Agent, there are a lot of options available with a plethora of traditional high street, on-line and hybrid agencies to choose from. Understandably, for many people, fees are the key determinant of how they choose an agent, but as we explain below, there are a number of other considerations that should probably be taken into account. The fact is that any good agent should be worth their fee by securing the best price, selling the property in the shortest period of time and ultimately providing great customer service.
So, what should should you consider when choosing an agent;
Price – this is where many people start and finish the decision process. However, our advice is to look at fee structures very carefully to understand what is included, what period you are tied into the selling agent for, what happens if no sale is completed etc. Some of the online agencies charge an upfront fee which, while lower than the high street agents, is non-refundable if your property is not sold. Ask yourself the simple question – what incentive does an agent have to sell my house if they have already been paid? One of the benefits of a traditional commission based fee structure is that the higher the selling price the agent achieves, the higher their fee. So, the intent of the seller and the agent are perfectly aligned. This is why the commission fee model works so well.
Terms and conditions – while the fee might look attractive, what are the other terms and conditions that you are being asked to agree to? Is the agent asking for “sole selling rights” meaning that you will have to pay them even if you find a buyer yourself? Are there extra costs for marketing materials, for sale boards, photos etc? Also, how long is the contract period? Are you being asked to sign an exclusive contract for four months or longer, meaning that you cannot change agent for a considerable period even if they are doing a poor job? There are different types of agency agreement, and it's important that you know what you are being asked to sign.
Resourcing – many agencies send out their “star performer” to win the listing, but then use trainees and junior staff to conduct viewings and manage the sales progression process. Successfully completing the sale of your home requires refined marketing and sales skills and considerable negotiation experience. When you invite an agent to value your home, ask them who will be conducting viewings and negotiating on your behalf and ask to meet that person.
Do a little detective work – if you are considering an agent, before meeting them, why not go and view a house they are selling to see first hand how they perform. Are they courteous and do they make a real effort to sell the benefit of the property to you? Are they prepared for the viewing and able to answer any questions that you might have? Are they pushy? Do they follow up after the viewing to understand your level of interest? Remember, the experience that you have pretending to be a potential buyer is exactly the same experience that your buyers will likely have when viewing your property.
Expertise – does the agent work from gut feel or can they back up their decisions and recommendations with quality data and information. Some agents will say "we have years of experience”, but the fact is that the market is constantly changing. Both you and the buyer of your property are about to make one of the largest financial decisions of your life and while “gut feel” is an acceptable decision process for some, most of us want to make informed decisions based on hard evidence and facts. Some agents might undervalue your property to achieve a quick sale, while others might overvalue it just to win the listing. Make sure to ask the agent for evidence in support of any valuations that they give you.
Do they do all the talking? – does the agent do all the talking and tell you exactly what the key attributes are in your home that they can sell? At the end of the day, nobody knows your home better than you do. You know what works well for you and your family and what doesn’t. Be wary of an agent that tells you exactly how they will sell your home. Agreeing a marketing plan for your property should be a “two way process” between you and the agent.
Marketing capability – many agents talk about marketing plans and strategies in the context of web exposure, premium listings, high quality photos etc. These are important, even critical components of selling your property, however a real marketing strategy goes much further and deeper than glossy photos. A detailed marketing strategy for your property involves understanding what it is you are trying to achieve, what are the key selling attributes of your property, who your target market is and what competition your property faces. In our experience, following a logical and fact-based process, based on real data and information gives the best chance of selling your property quickly and at the highest price.
Existing Listings – look at the quality of the agent's advertising on Rightmove, Zoopla and their website. Are the listings well written and sell the benefits of the properties the are advertising? Are the pictures high quality?
Sales progression process – ensure you understand the process the agent uses to manage any offer through to successful completion. This is called “sales progression”. Many Estate Agents believe that their job is done when they get an offer accepted. The file is handed to a junior member of staff to “keep an eye on things” while the senior team move onto the “next sale”. We do not concur with this approach, as the data clearly shows that after offer, a transaction still has a 40% chance of not completing successfully. Cognisant of this fact, at Aspire, we do things somewhat differently. We recognise that obtaining an offer is only part of our job, and that is why the file stays with our senior staff to manage right through to successful completion of the transaction.
Reviews – one of the best ways to find out how good an agent is, is to look at the reviews they receive on websites like Google Reviews and Trust Pilot. Does the agency have a policy of collecting customer feedback at the end of a transaction? If they do, that means they understand the importance of customer service and are focused on it. If an agent is not interested in formal client feedback, that should tell you a little about their culture and service standards. Why not go even further and pick a couple of reviews that have been published and talk to the reviewer in person so you can dig a little deeper into the experience they had with the agent.
Look at the data – take a closer look at any data that highlights the performance of the agent. How many price reductions are they showing on Zoopla and Rightmove? How long does it take them on average to get an offer? What is the ratio of properties that fail to complete after an offer is accepted?
Trust your gut – at the end of the day, you can evaluate all of the evidence and data, but you should also trust your gut a little. Is the agent someone that you feel you can trust and that you will enjoy working with?