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.
Find out more: Estate agent fees - how much you'll pay, and how to haggle
Video: top 5 things to think about when choosing an estate agent
This two-minute video features tips from Which?, the NAEA Propertymark and property guru Kate Faulkner to bring you the top five things to think about when choosing an estate agent.
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 with the aim of disrupting the market dominance of Rightmove and Zoopla.
Originally, OnTheMarket only allowed agents to list properties with one other portal, but following its flotation on the stock market in February 2018, this rule was scrapped. Agents who were already contracted to OnTheMarket will still have to adhere to the rule, but those who have formed new contracts since February 2018 are able to list properties across multiple sites. It's worth checking what your agent's relationship is with OnTheMarket before you commit.
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 overvaluations?
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 Watson Bull & Porter and Faron Sutaria (which has since merged with John D Wood & Co.), 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 button below to download our free PDF checklist.
Compare your local estate agents