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How to choose an estate agent

How should I choose an estate agent?

You put your house on the market, but the estate agent is the one who actually sells it. Choosing the right agent is a critical decision – it can make the difference between getting a really good price, and not selling your house at all. But how do you tell the difference between good agents and bad ones?

Remember: the agent works for you

As the seller, you choose the estate agent, and the agent works for you. But the decision to accept an offer remains with you. As the seller, you are usually in a strong position with estate agents – unless they have properties to sell on their books, they won’t make any commission.

Choosing a sole or multiple agent

You have to decide whether you are going for one, two or more agents.  See How many estate agents should I use? Clearly, if you are going for a multiple agency agreement, then you can just put your property on with any agent you like, and you don’t really have to chose between them.

Select a shortlist of estate agents

  • Ask family, friends and neighbours – it’s always good to have a personal recommendation
  • Compare local estate agents based on the facts: how quickly they sell, how close they come to achieving asking price and how successful they are. Our free, impartial tool is constantly updated and gives instant results for the estate agents in your area – see EstateAgent4Me
  • Make sure the agent has experience of selling property like yours – and the best way to do that is to check there are properties similar to yours in the window.
  • Look at the properties that agent sells on Zoopla and Rightmove – are the pictures well taken, and the descriptions clear and relevant?
  • Do not feel pressured to hire the estate agent you bought your house from. Obviously, if you were impressed by how they sold your house to you, you might decide to go with them again
  • What is their viewing policy – check they will accompany potential buyers when you are out. Do they phone and send around potential buyers straight away?
  • What are their standard terms & conditions — what is their standard commission rate and typical tie in period before you can break the contract if you are unhappy with them?
  • Narrow your choices down to a shortlist of about three and invite them to do a valuation

Find out how good they are

  • How quickly do they sell homes on their books? What’s their track record with achieveing asking price? How likely are they to sell a home? You can find estate agents in your local area and see instantly how they perform in these areas using our free tool EstateAgent4Me
  • After they value your property ask them to explain their reasoning
  • Are they members of a professional trade association, such as the National Association of Estate Agents, or the Guild of Professional Estate Agents?
  • Are they members of an accredited independent ombudsman service? Either the Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services: Property or the Property Redress Scheme
  • Can more than one person in the office talk enthusiastically and with knowledge about your property?
  • What would they do if your property was not selling as well as expected? What do you think about their answer?
  • Are they open at weekends? A surprising number of agents only work during the week, and perhaps do half day on Saturday, which means they are less accessible to potential buyers

Don’t be fooled by the valuations they give

Agents know that one of the main reasons people pick them is the valuation they give. They take two general approaches:

  • Some agents give deliberately optimistic valuations, to make you think you can get a higher price with them, and then try and talk you down after you have chosen them
  • Some agents insist they are giving a realistic price, and tell you not to be fooled by falsely high valuations

Do your research on how to value your home. The agent will come armed with evidence of local sold prices to support their valuation. While you should take their advice, it is you and not the agent who decides what price to put the property on at. We’ve put together the best questions to ask the estate agent.

A good place to start is with our free instant home valuation tool

How much do they cost?

  • Estate agents will normally charge you between 1% and 2.5% +VAT for a sole agency agreement of the price at which you sell your home
  • Fees normally exclude VAT, currently 20%. Add VAT, and you will have to pay them between 1.2% and 3.0% of the value of your home. So, for a £300,000 home, it varies between £3600 and £9,000
  • Try to get agents to compete on cost
  • For more details on estate agent costs see How much should I pay the estate agent?

How will they market your property?

  • Which portals are they using? It is the big property portals you want to be listed on: Zoopla, Rightmove and Primelocation, and the relatively new OnTheMarket
  • Will they advertise your property in local newspapers? Which ones? If you are selling a more expensive property, will it feature in any national newspapers or magazines?
  • Will your property feature in their window? For how long?

Traps to watch out for in the estate agent contract

Different estate agents have different terms and conditions, and their fees cover different things – although in practice, many are open to negotiation. In particular, things to watch out for include (for more information see Estate Agents’ contracts – what to watch for)

  • Does their fee cover marketing and other costs, such as for preparing the property details and For Sale boards? Clearly it is best to have all this included
  • Avoid agents who insist on “sole selling rights” – that means that even if you find a buyer yourself, then you still have to pay the agent their fee. If you do give away sole selling rights to an agent, it must only be for a very limited period
  • Never sign an agreement that commits you to paying the agent just for finding you a “ready, willing and able purchaser”, rather than for actually selling you the property. This would mean you still have to pay the agent a fee even if the sale falls through because you have had to pull out – such as if you lost your job. You should only use an agent who expects a fee as a result of exchange of contracts
  • Make sure the agreement has a time limit, so you can change agent if you are not happy. A normal period is 12 weeks, but can be as little as 4.   Agents might not like it, but try to get a no-penalties notice period of 2 weeks

What about online estate agents?

Online estate agents are much cheaper than conventional high street estate agents. But they vary in terms of what packages and prices they offer. See our guides Should I use an online estate agent? and A comparison of online estate agents: which one should I use?

  • They vary but start at about £300 flat fee paid up front
  • There is a range of pricing plans. Most offer payment on completion but that often costs more
  • They all have essentially the same marketing approach, which is to advertise your house online on websites like Zoopla, Rightmove, Primelocation, and some use national newspapers
  • If you do want to use an online estate agent get some local estate agents to value your home first to get the best idea of where to pitch the asking price
  • Some online agents will conduct viewings for you but it comes at a cost. The cheaper option is to conduct viewings yourself.

Can I sell my home myself?

This is a possibility as more and more websites pop-up allowing you to list your home and market it to potential buyers. They will not however be allowed to market your house on the big property portals so exposure to potential buyers will be limited. If you can sell you home for the right price this way you will save a lot of money. But beware that not getting the best price for your home can be much more costly than paying an agent. £5,000 off a £200,000 home may not seem like much but will completely erase any savings from not using an agent. See our guide Should I sell my home myself for more information

Final thoughts when choosing an estate agent

Do you get on with them and trust them?  Remember to read the contract carefully and check your sole agency tie in period and required notice period. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you are not happy in any way do not sign the contract

Leave a comment

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  1. Thanks Jay, for your comments.

    best wishes,
    HomeOwners Alliance

    Comment by Sophie Khan — September 29, 2017 @ 3:42 pm

  2. Thanks for the tips in watching out for the real estate agent traps. I agree that if you find the buyer on your own and it didn’t come from your agent they shouldn’t take credit and you need to make sure that is in the contract.

    Comment by Jay Jorgenson — September 29, 2017 @ 2:55 am

  3. Superb publish. this is i was looking for.

    Comment by carol — March 15, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

  4. Some really great and detailed information here, thanks. It’s important to be mindful and ask lots of direct questions, from the obvious ‘how much will you charge’ to the perhaps less obvious ‘what happens if we disagree on something’? Don’t be afraid to ask lots of interrogative questions, it just makes you all the more savvy and their responses will be a great gauge for how easy they are to work with and how competent they will be at selling your home.

    Comment by Anna — January 19, 2016 @ 11:26 am

  5. Thanks a great help.

    Comment by Graham cunningham — December 29, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

  6. Hi ! Me Lily khan. This is the nice article for choosing estate agent. for choosing category charge is the main option for this. The article will help us more. Thank you.

    Comment by Lily Khan — November 23, 2015 @ 8:08 am

  7. Hi, nice article – choosing an estate agent is quite a difficult task and can depend on where you live, I have noticed a great deal of agents popping up in our area which are offering crazy prices, this makes you wonder if they will put a much effort into trying to sell your property as they would with the higher value ones. Something also to consider is if they are with Rightmove and any other portals which can help get awareness for your property.

    In the end we went with an established agent who charged a slightly higher percentage and were glad we did – we haven’t sold yet but we get regular updates and have had a few viewings already.

    My advice – don’t always choose the cheapest, ask around & check what other people use.

    Hope that’s helpful

    Comment by Keith — October 5, 2015 @ 8:32 am

  8. that is very useful tips. how to choose estate agent.

    Comment by dr. Tubagus — June 20, 2015 @ 5:43 pm

  9. the information on your website was and has been very helpful.
    Thank you

    Comment by monique Tennant — June 8, 2015 @ 8:45 pm

  10. Great article. I’m currently looking to appoint an estate agent to sell my home, and came across a site that helps you compare agents based on historical performance – interesting idea, worth checking out!

    Comment by Sebastien Powell — May 20, 2015 @ 4:57 pm

  11. This checklist was really useful! Ended up going with Autograph Estate Agents. They ticked a lot of the boxes and had a great energy.

    Comment by Anna — May 4, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

  12. I’m disappointed to see that there is absolutely no mention of the period of time after sale agreed i.e. the conveyancing process. Quality agents will argue that this is where the bulk of the hard work goes. Most agents can put up a board and place the property on various websites etc. Effecting a sale is the easy part, getting it to contract not so. Solicitors generally are not under pressure to complete a transaction as they’re paid regardless, they are also distant and remote and many sellers find that their agents become the main point of contact. Whilst negotiating your 1% fee, stop and consider whether your cheap agent has the incentive to work hard for you, right up to the finishing post.

    Comment by Georgina — November 11, 2014 @ 8:54 am

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