I’m selling a house for the first time and need to choose an estate agent. What do I need to ask, how do I differentiate them and how much trust should I put on the initial pitch they’ll give me?
Estate agents should be masters of sales patter given that’s the whole purpose of their job, so yes, you’re going to be greeted by the same marketing spiel from all of the agents you invite round. But hopefully they’ll be saying all the right things to show they are local experts.
For example, they need to impress you with their local expertise on house prices; do they know about the house down the road that your friend just sold for a price you still can’t quite believe? Do they know what the local buyer demographic is and how your house will appeal? Just don’t bother putting much stock on their claim that they have someone on their books right now looking for just this property; they all say that.
But which local estate agents should you approach? Word of mouth recommendations from friends is a good starting point. But this isn’t a window cleaner – they’ll be selling your biggest asset and you’re paying them thousands of pounds in commission. So do some research yourself. You need to know the facts: how quickly they tend to sell homes like yours, how often they achieve the asking price, and how much they charge. Our EstateAgent4Me tool allows you to compare agents by these performance indicators with the latest data from thousands of websites.
It’s also worth researching how various agents market their properties on Rightmove and Zoopla. Are the descriptions thorough? Are the photos good quality? A good agent will invest in marketing - but make sure the cost of that is not an added extra.
When you know which agent performs best, you need to get at least three of them round to hear how they work and get a valuation. Don’t take the valuation as gospel. Ask each of them to explain how they came to that figure. Some agents will exaggerate to win your business, others will go in deliberately low to make their job easier if they get the listing. Do your own research.
Crucially, ask to look at their terms and conditions. What tie in period do they offer? We would never recommend signing any contract that ties you to an agent for any more than six weeks.
Find out what their typical commission is and compare that with others. Estate agents normally charge between 1% and 2.5% +VAT for a sole agency agreement. Negotiate the commission down. If you’re still not comfortable with a commission payment because it feels like too much money for the service you’ll be getting, consider an online agent. These agents tend to charge a flat fee instead, but the cheapest deals mean you pay up-front. You can compare online agents for free using our tool.
For more information read “We used online estate agents and saved thousands”
Check out their opening hours. Far too many agents are closed evenings and weekends - the times when most people are house hunting!
Think about how involved you want to be with viewings. Some agents will handle all viewings for you, others will want you to show prospective buyers around.
Ask how they will market your property. If they are a member of On The Market, the industry owned portal, they will only be able to list the property on either Rightmove or Zoopla. If you want your home on both, make sure they’re not an On The Market member - online agents are not allowed to join On The Market.
Finally, think about which of the shortlisted agents you get on with and trust. Having a rapport with your agent makes the selling process much, much easier!
Paula Higgins is chief executive of property help portal, the HomeOwners Alliance and is one of the organisation’s co-founders.