Registering with estate agents
When you start your property search, you should register your interest with estate agents in your desired areas. This won’t cost you anything, or create any obligation on your part – it just lets agents know that you’re looking.
Some firms specialise in particular types of property, such as budget homes, luxury estates or new-builds. It can be helpful to identify agents who are experts in your desired area and have experience with the right types of property.
While most agents operate ethically, be on alert for signs that the agency is not above board. Check to see how many listings the agency offers, how many properties they have sold and whether they seem up-to-date with changes in the local market.
Having a 'mortgage decision in principle' in hand can also make you a more attractive buyer when making an offer.
Which? Mortgage Advisers can find the best lenders and deals for your personal situation.
Making friends with estate agents - and why it matters
You'll soon get a feel for the agents most likely to sell properties that match your criteria. If possible, go in and register in person – being able to put a face to a name can work wonders in building up rapport.
When you register, it's worth sharing your back story, as it can help the agent understand your needs – for example, if you want to move ASAP to start a new job, or if you are willing to compromise on size to live near a popular school.
Once you've registered, maintain regular contact so that you're at the front of the estate agent's mind when new properties hit the market. And don’t restrict yourself to one agent: the more you register with, the more likely you are to be called when your dream home goes up for sale.
When they put a property on the market, estate agents will often inform registered buyers before they upload the details to the web - being the first to hear about a property can give you an edge over other buyers.
In this video, estate agents explain how you can be the first person they call when a new property hits the market.
Key questions to ask your estate agent
If you have a good rapport with an agent, you can use it to your advantage when you decide to make an offer.
Information is power when negotiating. For example, if you find out the owner is on a tight deadline, obtaining a mortgage in principle could make you a more attractive proposition.
While the agent is unlikely to tell you everything they know, it’s always worth asking the question just in case. Key insights include:
- Why is the owner selling? How eager are they to sell?
- How long has the property been on the market?
- Have previous offers fallen through – and if so, why?
- How much activity has there been in the local area? How popular has this property been with buyers?
- Who else has looked at the property? Are they families or couples, younger or older? How do their situations compare to yours?
- What similar properties are on offer? What have they sold for?
Your rights as a buyer
Estate agents make their living from the commission they charge the seller when a property is sold - usually around 1% to 2% of the purchase price. This means their allegiance lies with the seller, not you.
Legislation is weighted in favour of protecting the seller against dishonest practice so as a buyer you have a limited amount of protection.
However, estate agents are obliged to:
- Not invent offers in order to force the price up
- Use clear contract terms
- Pass on your offer promptly – they can’t hold it back simply because you don’t want to use their other facilities, such as their recommended mortgage broker or solicitor
- Reveal any financial interest they have in the property that you’re looking at
- Answer direct questions accurately and reveal defects in the property that could be expected to affect a buyer's decision. If you’re given false information, you might have a claim against the agent under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs).
If you suspect that an agent has acted in breach of these regulations, you should contact the local authority’s trading standards department.
To avoid disputes over whether things have or haven't been verbally agreed, it's a good idea to record details of any conversations you have, including who you spoke to, on what date and what was said.
All estate agents have to be members of an ombudsman scheme that handles complaints:
- The Property Ombudsman (formerly known as the Ombudsman for Estate Agents)
- The Property Redress Scheme
Some agents are also members of the National Association of Estate Agents, which has a code of conduct that agents are obliged to follow.
Find out more: visit our guide on how to sell a house for information on dealing with estate agents when you're selling.
Estate agent tactics to be wary of
When working with an agent, you should keep your own best interests front and centre. Buying a house is a major life decision, and an ethical agent won’t force you into a decision before you’re ready.
That said, an agent may still put you under unwelcome pressure by using the following tactics:
- Implying that other buyers are ‘just about’ to make an offer. This might include having friends or family attend auctions or viewings to make the property seem more in demand than it really is
- Downplaying defects or encouraging you to change your priorities.
- Suggesting you need to make an offer immediately, without giving you time to work out a reasonable price.
- Pushing you to make an offer above the fair market value.
Agents have an incentive to over-value properties – if they sell it for a higher price, their commission will be larger. If you find a property you like, do your own research into what it’s really worth. When negotiating, don’t go over the amount you’re comfortable paying, no matter what the agent tells you.
Video case study
In this video, first-time buyers Lydia and Amanda share their experiences of viewing flats and explain the underhand tactics they experienced during one viewing.