How to Pick the Best Estate Agent for You
For most of us, our house is our biggest financial asset, so making a decision on which estate agent to use is not one to be taken lightly. Not only does the estate agent have the potential to affect the selling price achieved for your home, but the estate agent can often be the difference between a smooth, stress-free sale and the most stressful experience of your life!
So how do you choose an estate agent who will both maximise the price you receive for your home and won’t drive you crazy?
It is now common practice to invite at least two estate agents to conduct a valuation of your property, but this leaves two questions:
1. Firstly, how do you decide which estate agents to invite round?
2. Secondly, how do you decide out of the estate agents that have valued your property which one to instruct?
Creating a Shortlist of Estate Agents to Value your Home
Online or High Street Agents?
The majority of advisory articles about using an online agent recommend that you first get a local, high street agent to value your home.
“If you do want to use an online estate agent get some local estate agents to value your home first, and then you will have a good idea of where to pitch the asking price” -Home Owners Alliance
For me, this advice says it all: high street agents have more local knowledge and are better qualified to provide an accurate valuation of your property.
However, it is undeniable that online estate agents offer a significantly cheaper fee than high street agents. Okay, so perhaps the best solution is to follow the recommendations of advisory bodies and exploit a high street agent’s local knowledge to obtain an accurate valuation and then use an online agent to achieve a cheaper fee… the best of both worlds, right? However, what online estate agents fail to advertise is that their headquarters, where questions about your home and the local area will be directed, will often be hundreds of miles away from where you live. Consequently, those responsible for selling your home and negotiating the sale price will often know nothing about your local area. Even those online agents who advertise that you will be allocated a ‘local expert’ generally provide you an advisor covering an entire region. Local housing markets in the UK are incredibly diverse, varying from village to village, month by month. If you have any problems about the sale of your property, who are you going to talk to? Many online estate agents’ promise of ’24/7 support’ is deceivingly appealing when you realise your support is half way across the country.
Online estate agents may seem the cheaper option at first glance, but they could end up costing you thousands of pounds by not achieving the maximum potential price of your home. Instructing an online agent is risky, and for many if us, our home is not an asset that we are willing to take such a risk on.
Independent or Corporate ?
To challenge the power of the corporates, many independent agents are part of the Guild of Professional Estate Agents which consists of a national network of nearly 800 independent agents which work together to connect buyers and sellers across the UK.
If you’re unsure of whether an independent or corporate agent would be best for you, ensure that you get a valuation from both types of agents and hear what they have to say for themselves.
-Check if the estate agent is a member of an accredited independent Ombudsman service, such as the Property Ombudsman or Ombudsman Services: Property.
-Check if they are members of any professional trade associations, such as the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) or the Guild of Professional Estate Agents.
Ensure that the estate agent is currently marketing similar properties to yours. You can check this by searching for properties on their website or looking at their ‘Recent Sales’ page, if they have one.
Do they have a good local reputation? There are several ways you can check this:
-Ask friends, family and neighbours about their experiences
“Word of mouth is a neat way of finding an agent who goes the extra mile” -The Telegraph (Rosalind Mullen)
-Reviews/Testimonials: you can often find reviews and testimonials on an agent’s website, but these are often the reviews from happy clients! For a more accurate overview of the company, look on their Facebook page or Google Plus page for reviews (as these cannot be regulated by the estate agent).
-Community Forums: check community forums online, such as the Camborne Forum. Look through existing conversations for information or ask a new question about estate agents in the area.
-Does the agent’s website look professional? An agent’s website is a great indication of the quality of the service they provide. If the website looks old and outdated it may suggest that their online marketing is not up to scratch.
-Does the website provide useful advice? If the agent’s website is packed full of useful guides and advice pages for buyers and sellers, it is likely that the agent will provide you with a wealth of information and be keen to help you throughout the selling process.
-Make sure you look at the existing properties they market to investigate the quality of their photographs and whether their descriptions of their properties are clear and relevant.
Do they have a Prominent High Street Office?
Ensuring that the agent has a prominent high street office with window displays of their properties is still incredibly important. People still take the time to look at the properties in the window and consequently it remains an excellent marketing tool to attract potential buyers.
How To Decide Which Agent to Instruct
Although this is probably the most important factor for you, I would argue that this should be the least important aspect to consider when choosing your estate agent. Why? Because ultimately, an estate agent works for you. If you want an estate agent to put your house on the market for a certain price (unless it is incredibly unrealistic) they will put your house on the market at that price.
Instead, choose an estate agent that is professional yet friendly and approachable, one that you can trust. Place more importance on the marketing strategy they are offering, rather than the valuation figure.
However, be wary of estate agents that over-value your home to gain your instruction. If your house is over-valued it often means that it will take longer to sell, resulting in your property going stale on property portals. Initial over-valuations often lead to greater price reductions later on -often more than if you had put it on at a more realistic price first. With houses that have been on the market for many months, they drop down the rankings on property portals meaning that potential buyers are less likely to find them when searching for properties online. Furthermore, people are often left thinking: ‘What’s wrong with this house, it’s been for sale for ages!’.
To avoid this, it is important to ask each estate agent to justify the price that they value your property at. From their answer you can gain a lot of information about how well they know the local property market and current market trends.
How Will They Market Your Property?
Photographs are your most powerful tool at attracting potential buyers attention, so make sure they’re good!
-How good are the agent’s photography skills? You can first check this by looking at the photos of their existing properties they market. Is it also worth asking if they have any professional photography accreditations and whether their staff have received photography training?
-Ask the agent how they are going to make your property stand out on property portals, such as using elevated photography.
To be honest, I’m sitting on the fence about whether videos are a good idea. The ‘videos’ that show spanning images are really no more than a glorified slideshow. However, done well videos can be an impressive tool to attract buyers’ attention and clearly show what the house is like. Yet the downside of this is that it does mean that people tend to think that they have already seen everything there is to see of the house, which may reduce the number of viewings you have.
Often an overlooked component of property marketing, a floor plan is incredibly useful for potential buyers to see the spatial layout of the house. Even more useful, interactive floor plans enable users to click on points in the floor plan to see photographs of the rooms.
*IMPORTANT NOTE: Check whether everything they talk about is all part of their standard marketing package including in their fee, or whether you have to pay extra for it.
Where Will They Market Your Property?
Make sure you ask which property portals your house will be advertised on.
Keep in mind that Rightmove and Zoopla remain the two property portals with the highest number of visitors and, therefore, offer the greatest potential market exposure for your home.
The introduction of the new property portal ‘OnTheMarket’ earlier this year has made it even more important to check where your property will be advertised. Member agents of ‘OnTheMarket’ are only permitted to advertise their properties on one other property portal, with many choosing to drop Zoopla. However, with Zoopla, on average, attracting 46 million visits to their site each month, and OnTheMarket a meagre 3 million, there is little competition.
“If your main concern is optimising exposure of your home to as many potential buyers as possible then find an agent who is not with OTM and still using Rightmove AND Zoopla” -Home Owners Alliance
To find out more take a look at our blog on ‘Portal Wars’.
As previously mentioned, take a look at the quality of the agent’s website to assess their ability to showcase your property on their website.
If the agent is digitally minded and up to date with online marketing, they will be able to tell you how many people visit their website each month and even how many people have viewed your property details!
Newspapers and Magazines
Ask the agent whether your property will be advertised in any newspapers and magazines, and if so which ones.
If you have a unique, larger property advertising it in a regional magazine is valuable tool to increase market exposure and help you to achieve the best price.
Ask to see an example of their property brochures to ensure that they are of a good quality. Property details printed on a piece of paper do not tend to impress potential buyers!
Viewing Policy & ‘Open House’ Option
– Check with the agent whether they accompany potential buyers on viewings. Buyers tend to prefer to be accompanied by the agent rather than the owners, and this can save you the time and hassle of showing potential buyers round your home.
-Do they provide instant feedback after viewing? The last thing that you want is to be left in the dark about the sale of your home. You don’t want to be waiting days to hear back about how a viewing went and whether they are interested in buying your house. Ask the agent how long they take to provide feedback from viewings and how this is done -by phone, e-mail, online login -can you choose?
-Does the estate agency conduct Open Houses? Having an Open House event can be a convenient way to sell your home and is also a valuable tool in creating anticipation in the market and building interest in your property. It is always a good idea to have the option of doing an Open House.
Will the whole team be able to answer questions about your property to confidently sell it to potential buyers? It is important to make sure that more than one person will be able to talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about your property.
The cheaper the better? When you are negotiating fees with agents make sure that you do not sacrifice the quality of the service and marketing offered for a cheaper fee.
There are lots of things to think about when choosing an estate agent to sell your home. At Malcolms, we are continually striving to fulfil the above criteria to provide the best estate agency service we can. To find out more about what we offer click here.