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Buying a home

Estate agents: registering and your rights

By Joe Elvin

Article 4 of 13

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Estate agents: registering and your rights

Find out how to choose the right estate agent, how to build a rapport and which questions can give you a competitive edge

Video transcript

An agent like most human beings will want to do business with people he or she like. It's that simple. As an agent we know that the people that regularly get in contact with us, they're the ones that are on the forefront of our minds. Everyone will get contacted about property but it's very hard sometimes when it's so busy, we're getting so many inquiries to get to everybody. Estate agency is changing. There is Internet estate agents available now, but i don't think that the industry is ever going to change. People like to deal with people. Get yourself into the local area, introduce yourself to the local estate agent.

If you are an agent, you'd be much happier going out showing somebody a property who you know you will have a bit of a laugh and a giggle with and who are nice and interesting than going out with someone who's going to want to bash you over the head and be rude to you the whole time.

Go in, sit yourself down, tell them what you are looking for, tell them how much you're looking up to, show them your agreement in principle, give them as many forms of communication as you can, and tell them that you'll view a your house within 24 hours. This will put you in the front of the queue. I've seen the people build their rapport by almost making notes about the agent, what the agent's shown them, what the agent may have told him about their own personal life, and then phoning him up once a week. How was football last week? See your team didn't do very well. I've been looking to buy another property myself, and I'm on at the agents and I'm saying, I'm giving them encouragement and I'm saying, I know you are going to find me something. Please keep me in mind, I maybe call them just before the weekend, just after the weekend and just to say or send him an email, 'Is there anything coming up for me?' If somebody is going to email and say, yeah, I'll happily view that house, you're not building any rapport. Build a rapport with your agent and enjoy the process.

Watch: Estate agents reveal how you can be the first to when hear a new property hits the market.

In this guide, we explain how to deal with estate agents as a buyer, including:

 Having a 'mortgage decision in principle' in hand can make you a more attractive buyer when making an offer. You can call Which? Mortgage Advisers for impartial advice on 0808 252 7987.

 Choosing an estate agent

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.

 How to build rapport with an agent

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.

Checklist: buying a house through an estate agent

Our printable checklist will help you get estate agents on your side as a buyer. It also lists the questions you should ask about properties you're interested in viewing or making an offer on.

 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?

 Estate agents and 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:

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 pitfalls

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.

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.

Case study: first-time buyers experience pressure tactics 

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.

Video transcript

We went to see a property, we went to second view of a property, and on the second viewing, it was quite different to the first. On the first view we went to see it at night, so it was quite dark. It was in the winter as well so it was really dark. Went into the garden, and there was like a puddle, and been told it was something about a dishwasher, and it will be fixed in a week.

When we went back the second time, we could see the extent of the damage in the light, and the previous, the first few who we'd known, so the stage was really trying to pressure me into putting an offer in.

Yeah, they generally say we've
already had a lot of interest, we've already had several people putting offers, and they put pressure on you.

So we felt, we like this place we don't want to miss out, so we've got to put in an offer, which we did, just to kind of secure it. We went back again and found all of this damage that had been going on for years, and would cost thousands of pounds to repair that they tried to brush over as just a broken washing machine.

It was clearly a lot worse than that. And that is something that you have to be careful of it. Don't be pressured into putting offers into something while making any movements onto something because of an estate agent, because they're trying to make their sale. It's your money at the end of the day.
    • Last updated: October 2017
    • Updated by: Stefanie Garber
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