How to choose the right estate agent and the questions your agent won’t want you to ask!

Don’t commit to thousands of pounds moving until you’ve read this!

Choosing the right agent can make the difference between you starting the next stage of your life with the best buyer and sale price or walking away with a less than positive sale and thousands of pounds out of pocket. Here we explore five key questions for you to ask any potential agents about to help get a feel for what they will or won’t deliver:

Pricing strategy – how has the agent come up with your valuation and what is the strategy behind it?  Have they used good comparable properties and £ per square foot examples?  We see so many properties that have been overpriced just to get the instruction, and this is a real marketing error.  Buyers have never had so much information and if your price is out of kilter with reality, it will harm your end sales price. All of which means that if it feels like the agent is being optimistic, you need to press them on this.

Why will an unrealistic price harm your end sales price?  Buyers can see how long your home has been on the market and whether it has been price reduced, and the longer it has been available, then the less likely you are to get a good price.  Buyers are time poor and if they see that it’s been on the market for a while, then they’ll assume something is wrong with it and even when it is price reduced, buyers will just see ‘that overpriced property’ rather than recognise that it is now at a more realistic valuation.

Ask the proposed agent what percentage of their properties that come to market are price reduced.  In the current market, anything more than 10% would be of concern.

If there is little detail on £ per square foot, or unrealistic comparable properties, then ask how they justify their rationale on pricing.

A lot of agents will say that they price high as they expect people to offer low but with so much data on hand for your buyer, people simply won’t view your property if it’s overpriced and it’s a lot easier to negotiate with someone if they’ve seen the property. In other words, be extremely wary of this tactic.

A great example of this is a recent sale of ours in Horsham. A different agent valued the property at £575,000 while we advised £550,000.  Five months later the vendors switched agents to us, having been pushed and pushed to accept their one and only offer of £525,000.  We achieved £555,000 in 48 hours by advertising at £550,000 so make sure your agent flattering you to gain your instruction isn’t working against your best interests.

Something else to be aware of is any agent that prices at a non-rounded number, such as one ending £…995. The brain struggles to process more complex numbers which results in the brain concluding the price is higher than a similar but rounded number. Buyers are also very price bracket driven (thanks to the portals) which means if your property is priced at £599,950 then you will miss any buyers looking from £600,000 to £650,000, for example.  The 99p trick may work on sweets and crisps, but when selling items of this value, if your agent doesn’t understand the basic psychology of pricing then there could be other gaps in their ability so treat this as an alarm bell.

Viewing strategy – this can be a hugely neglected area but has the greatest chance of success for a purchase.  Who will be doing the viewings and is the agency contracted to undertake 100% of the initial viewings?   Buyers are much more relaxed when the seller isn’t around because they can probe and ask questions which they may not feel comfortable to do otherwise.

It is acceptable to have the seller on the second viewing when serious intent has been shown, as the buyer may ask questions that only the seller can answer.  If your agent has secured you a second viewing, ensure that they are using the same agent to show them around as that agent should have built some rapport with the viewer.

Don’t be afraid to ask how the agent will conduct the viewing.  People buy based on their feelings so a good viewing guide or agent will be trained to maximise the viewing potential with subtle psychological cues such as parking down the road, providing a motivating statement before entry, letting the buyer enter the property before them and at the end of the viewing, a soft close as to their level of interest. 

Finally, don’t forget to ask, will the agent be inviting proceedable buyers only?  It’s not fun having to vacate and tidy a house only to find that the buyer is not in a position to buy and you should question why the agent allows these sorts of viewings, especially in the midst of a pandemic.  There can sometimes be a great reason, but usually the reason is because they want extra business off the back of yours, and so they are putting their considerations before yours.  A good test would be to call the agent and pretend you’re not on the market – will they book a viewing for you?

Fees – make sure the agent is transparent in their charging structure.  Are there hidden fees, for example, and are they upfront about their charges?  Crucially though, what is included and what is the justification for it? 

Every property has a top and bottom price band and so some agents will charge more than others, but if it’s because they are employing experience, technology, marketing strategies and regular sales training to ensure that you are getting the top end of that price bracket, plus allocating resources to alleviate some of the stress involved, then it will be worth every penny. 

Of course, if you are trained in property marketing, legal progression, financial qualification and property sales negotiation then you may not need all that an agent will offer you and so a cheaper option may be the right one for you, but the difference between a good and bad sale can be tens of thousands of pounds, or even more on higher value homes, so whilst an agent will need to justify their fees, don’t think that less is always more. If low fees are all an agent has to win you over, you may walk away with a lot less than you’d expected.

Buyer lists – anyone can make up and print off a ‘buyer’ list.  If an agent does that, then how many have been registered in the last four weeks (anything over that and they are probably not fully motivated to buy) and how many of those have discussed your street, or your price range?  Can they name some of them? 

The reality is that most homes are unique, and a good agent would usually have a couple of good prospects in mind, but if they come armed with a buyer list then grill them on it to see how well they know it. It’s better to have an agent with a high level of understanding of two extremely strong buyers than a list of 200 vague prospects that will receive a blanket email of something barely representing what they want to purchase.

Branch networks – an agency may have branches all over, but does someone registering in East Sussex really also want to buy in Horsham?  Or, does an agent in another location receive a commission for selling a property from your local branch?  Will an agent in Crawley really be trying to sell your property to one of their clients when they will receive nothing for it and know nothing about your home?  The answer is almost certainly no and so if this is used as a selling point, then call one of their branches at random and ask them to sell you properties local to you!  In our experience, this feature adds little to no value and if this is all an agency can offer, then look elsewhere.

These are just five of the key questions to ask your agent. For eight more key questions to ask and consider, download our full guide below!

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