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Estate Agent Speak Translated

Feeling confused after talking to your estate agent? You're not alone. Ed Mead helpfully translates some estate agent speak to clear a few things up...

estate agent speak

Estate Agent Speak – an entirely different language

It’s a peculiarly British thing – you mishear something, or can’t understand, and rather than ask you just make a 50:50 judgement and plough on. We all know that when driving anywhere, for those still clinging to maps rather than the ubiquitous sat nav anyway, starting off down the wrong road can lead to exponentially larger problems later.

Well, the esoteric jungle that is the property market has thrown up many words designed to obfuscate over the years and, like any industry, practitioners in it love to use their own language.

(Not) Sold

One of the most irritating concerns is the use of wording on For Sale boards. In this digital age, they should be dispensed with anyway – they deface a street and serve only to advertise the estate agent. But it’s the way they are used after an offer is agreed that you need to understand. The most common, and misleading, is to put SOLD in huge letters with “stc” in tiny letters underneath. STC means “subject to contract” which helpfully doesn’t mean it’s actually sold, merely under offer. Agents do it to help give the impression that they are shifting property. What it should say is UNDER OFFER – and given that over 35% of all agreed deals fall through, anything else is misleading and may stop other buyers registering to view.

This also leads to many sellers telling friends and family that their house is “sold” when it’s not – a property IS NOT SOLD until contracts are exchanged and a deposit paid. Many a seller has rushed off and made plans on the erroneous assumption their property really is sold when it’s not – it’s just under offer. With the average sale now taking c. 11 weeks there’s still a lot of potential pain to come, so relax.

Show me the money

Another term that misleads is the use of the expression “cash buyer”. When I first started in the 70s, this actually meant money in the bank (or in some cases actual cash in an actual suitcase – money laundering was a twinkle in the eye back then). Nowadays it has come to mean “not in a chain” – i.e. no related sale, but of course one of the slowest parts of the buying process is getting a mortgage. So if your agent says they have a cash buyer – ask to see their bank account or a letter from their solicitor confirming it’s all cash.

When a buyer says they’ve got a mortgage arranged it will probably be a mortgage agreed in principle. This indicates a borrowing amount from a lender, but a letter from a mortgage broker stating the expected range of lending will give you a better idea of whether they really are good for the money.

Many agents, particularly when the market is busy, ask for non-refundable deposits. Don’t buy it – your solicitor will spend as long agreeing terms for giving the deposit as actually buying the place. By all means offer a good will deposit to be held to your solicitor’s order – great sign of good faith.

One last bugbear, “square footage” – check WHAT is being measured. Commercial and residential property is measured differently. Commercial spaces measure only the useable space, residential measure the entire “habitable” space with a ceiling height of over 2.3m inside the external walls… so when an agent quotes the square footage make sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to.

Written by Ed Mead
Independent property advisor and commentator

Find and compare the performance of local estate agents in your postcode using our free estateagent4me service — compare the success rates, average days to sell, % achieving asking price and typical fees of estate agents in your area. Use our estateagent4me tool to find and compare the performance of local estate agents in your area.  Compare their typical success rate, average number of days to sell and likelihood of achieving the asking price.

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