Picking an estate agent to sell your home is far from a trivial task.
A good agent will make finding your buyer seem like a breeze – but choosing the wrong one can cause you stress, drag the process out and end up forcing you to reduce your asking price and ultimately sell for less.
Most people will speak with two or three agents before making a decision, with first impressions often making all the difference.
Choose carefully: The right estate agent can make selling your home a relative breeze, but the wrong one can cause problems
A seller will tend to decide based on the individual manager or valuer who visits. However, these often won’t be the ones showing around potential buyers and talking up your home.
Sellers can also be swayed by the agent who claims they will sell their home for the highest price, or the one who will charge the lowest fee. Neither of these are necessarily good reasons for selecting an agent.
We asked property experts to tell us the most important questions a homeowner should ask an agent before handing them the job.
1. What homes have you sold recently?
The aim should be to use an estate agent that has experience of selling similar properties to yours, in your local area.
It’s worth first checking in their shop window, on their website or on the online property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla to see what they have sold.
Nicky Stevenson, managing director of agent Fine & Country says: ‘Asking about recent sales is a great way to gauge how successful the agent is in marketing and selling properties similar to yours, in your area.
‘It also gives you an indication of the speed at which they have been known to secure interest, and if the price achieved was in line with the marketing and guide price.
‘Seeing comparable properties will allow you to gauge how well they were presented and marketed, and indicate that they have active buyers in the database ready to view.’
Closing the deal: You need to establish that the estate agent has a good track record of selling homes similar to your own in the local area
It’s very important to see evidence of them selling plenty of homes that are similar to your own, according to Chris Husson-Martin, head of sales at agent Hamptons in Salisbury.
He says: ‘The best question to ask to sort the men from the boys is, “What’s your market share?”‘.
‘You don’t want to see everything they have sold between £0 and £1m. You need to establish if they are market leaders in your local area and at your price range.
‘You then need to ask, why are they market leaders? What do they do differently to other agents?’
The purpose of these questions, according to Husson-Martin, is to establish if they are the agent with the best salespeople.
‘What tends to happen is a friend or family will recommend an estate agent, who hasn’t actually sold anything in your area or may not be suited to your type of property.
‘Just because someone says the name, you employ them to sell your home and they’re not going to do a good job for you because they don’t deal in your market.
‘You need to establish who will be the best agents to sell your home. Local market share and being able to demonstrate they are good sellers is the key.’
2. What’s the market like at the moment?
It’s often said that the property market isn’t one single market at all, but a series of local ‘micro-markets.’
As recent house price indexes have shown, some parts of the country have seen only very marginal house price falls in the last year – while others have had drops of nearly 6 per cent.
So the aim of this question is to find out whether the agent is in touch with what’s happening in your area – and whether they are willing to be honest with you if things are tough.
Price falls: Will your agent be honest with you if it is not the best time to sell your home?
Iain McKenzie, chief executive of estate agent network The Guild of Property Professionals says: ‘This may seem like a basic question to ask, but it gives the seller a clear indication of how much the agent has their finger on the pulse when it comes to market conditions.
‘Effective communication and trust are fundamental aspects of the agent-vendor relationship.
‘The agent should always prioritise your best interests, fostering an environment where you feel comfortable discussing matters openly and freely, even if this means putting off a sale until the market is in a better place.’
It’s worth trying to understand what the property market is doing in your local area before asking this question – so you know whether their answer is right.
You can do this by calling other estate agents, or checking on Rightmove and Zoopla to see the number of properties that have sold, how many have had the asking price reduced, and how long those that are still available have been on the market for.
3. What are you doing differently in today’s market compared to the pandemic boom?
Some estate agents may try to claim that the market is as busy as ever.
This may be the case in a few areas – but in the vast majority of cases it’s a tough environment in which to sell a home at the moment.
Hitting the phones: You want to hear that agents are being proactive in their search for buyers
Asking prices are being slashed, agreed prices are falling and transaction levels are significantly down compared to previous years.
We are no longer in the seller’s market of 2021 and 2022. The buyer’s market that we are now in demands a more proactive approach from estate agents.
For a start, they can no longer rely on just advertising it on the internet and waiting for the phone to ring.
Husson-Martin says: ‘We had the pandemic years where it was all mad and all very exciting. But we’re in a totally different market now. So it’s important to ask estate agents what they are doing differently now the market is tougher.
‘Good estate agents will interact and call people, so that’s what you want to hear. You want to hear that they’re actually physically telephoning people to discuss what they want to do, and to get them come and see your house.’
4. Can you sell homes off-market?
Nothing will prove an agent has the capacity to sell than their ability to sell multiple homes before they even reach Rightmove or Zoopla, according to Husson-Martin.
‘Ask them to demonstrate what success they’ve had selling properties off market, he says, ‘rather than just relying on the internet to bring in leads.
‘A lot of agents are guilty of sitting back and relying on buyers to come to them rather than the other way around.
‘I like to show people brochures of properties we sold that never came to market. It shows my team pick up the phone and actually call buyers.’
5. Who will actually be selling my home? Can I meet them?
Many sellers don’t realise that the people responsible for selling your home are often not the same people you meet during the valuation or market appraisal.
Husson-Martin says: ‘The office manager or valuer may talk a very good game, but you need to establish who’s actually going to be selling your house.
‘Don’t necessarily rely on this flashy person sitting there and espousing everything that you want to hear. You may never hear from them again.
‘They should be prepared to get their entire sales team out, so they can see the house and you’ll meet the people who you’re going to deal with.
‘These are the same people that you’ll be entrusting to sell, so you’ll want to feel you can trust them to do a good job.’
Don’t rely on the valuer: Often the person who comes to value your home and win your instruction is not the same person who will be trying to sell your home
6. How do you vet potential buyers?
Most sellers care about who the buyer is and want to know if they are trustworthy and in a financial position to proceed with the purchase. They rely on the agent as the middleman to establish this.
‘If there is an emotional connection to the property, they are also going to want to know if it will be treated with love once it is sold,’ McKenzie of the Guild of Property Professionals adds.
‘Finding out what the process is for establishing who qualifies to buy, gives the agent an opportunity to show how they vet potential interested parties and what finance is backing the buyer.’
7. How will you maximise the value of my home?
Every seller is looking to achieve the best possible price for their home, so this is definitely a good question to ask.
Nicky Stevenson of Fine & Country says: ‘Choosing an estate agent that can present the property to the widest possible marketplace is key.
‘With an increase in social media, and video marketing, choosing an agent that is effectively a marketing consultant that specialises in property is key.
‘Your home needs to be presented in the best possible light, and so consider decluttering, tidying and decorating before photography and videography commences, enticing potential viewers to enquire and book a viewing.’
Online operator: You should consider an agent who uses social media and video marketing, according to one estate agent
8. Why should I trust your valuation?
Some agents are guilty of playing a numbers game, and take on as many instructions as possible.
They’ll tell the seller what they want to hear to win them over. Then over time, they’ll gradually claw down the asking price, leaving buyers wondering if there is a problem with the home, and the seller with months of frustration.
Husson-Martin says: ‘When they give a price, demand they show you the comparables.
‘They need to show how they came up with this figure, and prove they’re not just saying an attractive number just to win the instruction.’
9. What commission will I pay?
Estate agent fees vary wildly and can be anywhere between 0.5 per cent and 3 per cent, not including the additional VAT you will be required to pay on top.
Someone selling their £250,000 home with an agent charging a 3 per cent fee plus VAT would end up paying £9,000 in agency fees.
For those selling more expensive homes, even a fairly average 1.5 per cent plus VAT fee (totalling 1.8 per cent) can eat up more than £10,000. Sell a £750,000 property with that fee and the agent will want a £13,500 cut.
Prove it: When an estate agent gives you their estimate what your home ins worth, get them to back it up with examples of similar properties they have sold
‘Discussing commission rates upfront will avoid any surprises for the seller further down the line,’ adds McKenzie.
‘Fees can vary among agents based on their agency affiliations, experience, and the range of services they offer.
‘It’s important to note that agents who offer the lowest commission rates may also provide a lower level of service.
‘This is certainly the case if you are looking for an online estate agent, as you will be expected to do a lot of the leg work to sell the property, in exchange for lower fees.
‘Don’t necessarily be enticed by a low commission rate. Focus on the ability of the agent to achieve the right or best price. Remember the cheapest agent is the one who achieves the best price.’
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