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Selling a house

How to find the best estate agent

By Joe Elvin

Article 4 of 12

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How to find the best estate agent

Check out our video on finding the best estate agent to sell your home and download our checklist of what to ask before making your decision.

This two-minute video features tips from Which?, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and property guru Kate Faulkner to bring you the top five things to think about when choosing an estate agent.

Video transcript

With so many estate agents out there, how do you chose one? All the estate agents and they're good but our five tips will help you find a great one. First off check if your agent is part of a professional body, such as The National Association of Estate Agents, this means they're bound to a code of conduct and will be qualified.

A good agent will visit your house to give a free valuation but a great agent would go further and be able to justify this valuation using examples of similar properties they've recently sold. Don't be mislead by optimistic price promises if the agent hasn't sold many properties like yours before.

A great agent will also be able to pick out and confidently describe the major selling points of the property. If they can't convince you you your home is brilliant, how will they be able to persuade potential buyers? Make sure you ask where your property will be advertised and look out how they promote similar properties to yours.

A good agent will agree to put your property in pride of place in their shop window, while a great one but also advertise it in local newspapers and online. A good agent will say he can attract buyers but a great agent will already have a list of buyers that fit the sort of buyers most likely to be interested in your property and they'll be able to vet serious buyers and avoid the time wasters.

You should ask at least three estate agents to value your property before choosing one. Of course the fee they charge is an important factor, but would ultimately suggest choosing the agent you feel most comfortable dealing with, and most confident in the ability to sell your house for a high price.

For more information, visit which.co.uk/estateagents.

 

Researching estate agents

Choosing an estate agent to sell your house quickly and for the best price can be complicated. Some will offer you low fees or give an impressively high property valuation, but these can be red flags. 

While two thirds of recent home movers told us they were satisfied with the service they received from their estate agent in our 2015 property survey, one in six were dissatisfied - so it's important that you do your research before choosing an agent.

Search for an agent that is experienced in selling property like yours - they will have a good pool of potential buyers and know what people are looking for in a property.

Look in the local newspaper and online, but also drive or walk around your area to see which agents are marketing other flats and houses in your neighbourhood. 

Also, speak to friends, family members and neighbours to see if they can recommend an estate agent. 

Once you've identified a few recommended companies that are selling properties similar to yours, visit their offices. For a true idea of how hard they'd work to sell your property if you were to market with them, you could pretend to be a buyer interested in properties like your own and see how helpful the staff are.

  • You may also be interested in online estate agents, which tend to offer lower fees for a slightly different service

Choosing the best estate agent

Shortlist three potential estate agents and invite each to give you a property valuation. Although of course getting a good selling price will be top of your list, don't automatically go with the agent that offers you the highest valuation - they may be overvaluing your property in order to win your business (check out our 'How much is your house worth?' guide for more on this). 

Make sure you check exactly what services each estate agent offers. For example:

  • Will they conduct viewings, or will you have to?
  • What marketing materials will they prepare (eg floorplans, photographs, online tours)?
  • How many relevant buyers do they have on their books, and will they tell them about your property?
  • Will they provide a 'for sale' board?

It's important that you check which property portals they will advertise your property on - Rightmove and Zoopla are by far the most popular property listings websites.

A consortium of big-name estate agents launched a rival portal called OnTheMarket.com in early 2015. Its aim is to disrupt the market dominance of Rightmove and Zoopla, and if your agent advertises via OnTheMarket they will contractually only be able to list your property with one other portal. If you're not comfortable with this, you should choose a different estate agent. 

Find out more: estate agent fees - how much you'll pay, and how to haggle

Beware of overvaluations

It’s an estate agent's job to find the best price for your house. However, our research, published in February 2017, found huge discrepancies between which agents get the ‘right price’ for their sellers.

We compared hundreds of thousands of listing and sales records to see which properties had to be reduced by more than 5% in order to sell, which we classified as ‘heavily reduced’ in price. On average, the properties that were heavily reduced went on the market for £5,000 more than all other properties – but ended up being sold for £20,000 less on average.

What’s more, properties that were heavily reduced ended up taking an extra 64 days to sell compared to other properties.

Property price drops can happen for a number of reasons, and affect some areas more than others. However, our region-by-region comparison of estate agents shows which of the agents we analysed made the highest and lowest proportion of reductions to listing prices in order to sell properties.

As part of our investigation, we looked at how estate agents in London and the south east performed. Some agents were missing from our data in these regions. But the graph below shows a number of agents which had heavily reduced more than a quarter of their properties:

What do estate agents say about this?

Of course, properties aren’t just reduced in price because of overvaluation. Chestertons and Marsh & Parsons said that the referendum to leave the EU and changes to stamp duty affected the London market, while James Pendleton added: ‘The agent is doing the customer a service by reducing [the property price]’ to achieve a sale when markets are falling. 

Fine & Country said it 'often deals with cash-rich sellers happy to start at a higher value'. Countrywide, which owns Faron Sutaria and Watson Bull & Porter, said its properties sold for 97.8% of the listing price in 2016, adding that Watson Bull & Porter only sells on the Isle of Wight. 

EasyProperty claims that it sells hundreds of new-build properties, the prices of which are set by the developer, rather than themselves. Of the properties that were actually sold on behalf of private individuals, they claim to have reduced far fewer than listed here.

Proctors asked for more details of our investigation, which we provided. We haven't heard back at the time of writing.

To make sure you know what your house should be selling for, we recommend looking at what similar houses are being sold for in your area on sites that use Land Registry data.

  • We also compared online-only agents with their traditional high street counterparts. You can see which online agents are heavily reducing properties on our online estate agents guide.

Property valuations: what to ask each estate agent

Our free checklist gives you a comprehensive list of questions to ask each estate agent before deciding which one to hire. Click the image below to download the free PDF checklist.  

  • Last updated: December 2016
  • Updated by: Joe Elvin
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