We all know how it’s a tough decision to sell your home, especially in today’s hard-to-read housing market.
But after taking the plunge there’s one more difficult choice to make — which estate agent to use? With no end in sight to economic and political uncertainty, a proactive agent is a must have for selling.
A survey by The Advisory — an impartial consumer advice service for sellers and buyers — shows that the ten largest online estate agents were between them marketing just 3.8 per cent of all new properties listed in a two week sample period in July.
Decision time: We all know how it’s a tough decision to sell your home, especially in today’s hard-to-read housing market
In recent years traditional High Street agents have fought back with much more competitive pricing and an emphasis on local knowledge and ‘people on the ground’. They now market around 95 per cent of properties,’ says The Advisory.
Whatever your choice of agent, there are five key questions to ask them to optimise your chance of moving before Christmas.
1. What do you charge?
Comparison website getagent.co.uk says a High Street agent charges an average 1.2 per cent commission, plus VAT, payable if a home is sold. On a £300,000 home that’s £3,600 plus VAT.
Around five years ago 2 per cent was the UK norm, but today’s 1.2 per cent is the lowest in the EU.
‘Competition from online agencies and a market slowdown have seen traditional UK agents lower commission,’ says GetAgent chief executive Colby Short.
Online agent fees vary from £99 to £1,000 and many want paying up-front: this is non-returnable, even if the home doesn’t sell.
One online firm, Housesimple.com, offers to sell homes for free — sort of. The agency instead earns ‘referral fees’ from no-obligation products such as mortgages, conveyancing and insurance.
‘We believe selling should be a great experience and that’s why we are making it simple, transparent and free,’ says chief executive Sam Mitchell.
Be careful: Online agent fees vary from £99 to £1,000 and many want paying up-front
2. What do I get for the fee?
High Street agents typically do the whole sales process for the customer — advertising on websites Rightmove.co.uk and Zoopla.co.uk and in the local press, contacting would-be buyers, and accompanying them to viewings, or ‘open houses’ where rival purchasers view at the same time to encourage competitive offers.
Online agents’ fees are usually basic and include advertising on websites, but little else.
Many charge extra for a For Sale board or to accompany a buyer to a viewing. As the seller often pays at the outset, there may be less incentive for the online agent to push a sale to completion.
3. What’s your sales record?
It’s vital to choose an agent who sells your type of home in your neighbourhood — even in your street.
In late 2017, an analysis by investment bank Jefferies found that only half of Purplebricks.co.uk customers sold their homes within 10 months — a figure disputed by the agency itself.
Jefferies says those who do not sell through an online firm then typically hire a traditional estate agent, meaning that far from saving money they pay twice.
Check also the typical sale price each agent achieves in your area: ask if it is close to the asking price they put on the property to begin with.
In England and Wales, the typical sale achieves 96 per cent of asking price according to getagent.co.uk.
4. What type of contract and for how long?
There are several contract types — sole selling rights, multi-agency or sole agency — each with pros and cons.
A good estate agent should explain these and descriptions can be found from consumer groups like the Homeowners Alliance (hoa.org.uk) and Which? (which.co.uk)
Agents predictably want to ‘tie in’ customers for as long as possible but most are so keen to get customers they will accept just four to six weeks, meaning you can change agent after that time if you are not happy with their performance.
5. What redress do I have if there’s a problem?
All agents must by law be in either The Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme.
Both have codes of practice and can order compensation for customers in extreme cases of poor service, but as membership is compulsory this does not indicate that the agents are necessarily ‘best in class’.
Many good agents are in the National Association of Estate Agents or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Poor service can be reported to local Trading Standards departments.