How to Choose the Right Estate Agent

In a slow market, it’s critical to choose the right estate agent. But faced with dozens of estate agents who look and sound alike, how do you identify one who will do a good job of marketing your property? 

When you invite agents to value your property, they’ll have a shrewd idea of what your property will eventually realise. But they also know vendors generally instruct those agents who suggest higher valuations. Inevitably such competition is likely to produce inflated valuations to secure the instruction. So think twice before you opt for the agent who blithely suggests a temptingly high asking price. A lower price which generates plenty of viewings is better than a higher price which satisfies only your vanity. 

Happily there’s a simple solution to this dilemma. Ask every agent to give you two prices – an asking/ marketing price, and a target selling price. What you should be most interested in is their anticipated selling price. This will help you assess offers rationally. It also enables you to budget realistically when searching.  Anyone proposing a very wide or small spread between the two prices should explain the gap. 

Once you’ve heard a target selling price, invite the agent to give examples of comparable local properties which they’ve sold for similar prices in the last 6 months. Good agents will come prepared with such illustrations. You’re looking for evidence they can deliver as promised. Avoid valuations from agents whose stock is generally unlike your own property. Personal recommendation is always helpful, but friends and colleagues may not be expert guides to an agent’s form where your house is concerned if they’ve sold much larger or smaller properties, or ones in a different neighbourhood altogether. 

All agents will enthuse about their costly but largely indistinguishable prominence on national websites and in the local /regional press. In reality most agents who maintain a large print presence nowadays do so more to impress potential vendors than actual buyers. Find out how they maximise viewings of properties fresh on their books. Ask about any marketing tactics that may be relevant to your property.  Listen for telling details, but don’t feed leading questions.

Establish how they manage viewings. Economic reality means that the valuer you’re talking to won’t conduct many of these. Most viewings are conducted by junior staff, or even part-timers for higher workloads at weekends. There’s little point in expecting special treatment. But you should expect helpful and honest feed-back, and a senior member of staff to remain accountable over all viewings of your property.

 You’ll generally find the rate card negotiable nowadays. Driving too hard a bargain may lower the quality of service. Treat offers of low commission rates as warily as you treat the highest price valuations. Instead consider aligning your interests with theirs by suggesting a small bonus for securing a minimum price and/ or selling within a certain time frame, according to your priorities. Don’t get tied into too long an exclusive contract. Don’t be afraid to change agents or instruct a second agent if you are unhappy with progress. Make your expectations clear at the start, and ensure the contract you sign reflects these. Instructing multiple agents smacks of desperation, and is best avoided.    

Vendors can easily assume that when they sell fast for a good price it’s all because they had a beautiful house. When this doesn’t happen it’s easy to assume the agent is at fault. It’s your responsibility to choose the right agent for the right reasons. Doing so will always give you the edge over vendors of similar properties who’ve chosen the wrong agent for the wrong reasons.