How to 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
When you sell property, it’s vital that you find the best estate agent for you. It’s wise to keep in mind that estate agents work for commission, which means that you’re in a strong position – if they don’t sell your property, they don’t get paid. You may feel pressure from them to accept an offer, but it’s important to remember that the decision to accept is yours alone.
Choosing a sole or multiple agent
The first decision you have to make is about how many estate agents you should 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
When it comes to choosing an estate agent, it helps if you can shortlist your options to three. Use the list below to help you draw up a shortlist, then invite the handful of estate agents round to do a valuation.
- 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 property, how close they come to achieving the 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. Check there are properties similar to yours in the window or on their website.
- 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. Ask if they phone and send around potential buyers straight away.
- Find out about their standard terms & conditions, particularly what is their standard commission rate and typical tie in period before you can break the contract if you are unhappy with them?
Find out how good they are
When the estate agents come round for a valuation, it’s a good opportunity for you to ask them some further questions to help find the right one to sell your home. You should ask:
- How quickly do they sell homes on their books? What’s their track record with achieving the asking price? How likely are they to sell a home?
- What is their reasoning behind the value they’ve given your property?
- Are they members of an accredited independent ombudsman service? Either the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme
- Will details of your property be shared with their colleagues? It’s good if more than one person in the office can talk enthusiastically and with knowledge about your property
- What would they do if your property was not selling as well as expected?
- 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
The agent will come armed with evidence of local sold prices to support their valuation, but make sure you use something like our free instant home valuation tool so you’re also armed with some knowledge about what your home should be worth.
It’s always advisable to take the advice of the estate agent, but it’s worth noting that it is you and not the agent who decides what price to put the property on at.
A good place to start is with our free instant home valuation tool
How much do estate agents 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.
This means that, for a £300,000 home, a seller could pay an estate agent anything between £3,600 and £9,000.
You may be able to get your shortlisted agents to compete on cost, but make sure you understand all about estate agents fees before you make a decision.
How will they market your property?
One of the most important factors that will influence which estate agent you choose is how they plan to market your property. You need to understand what their plans are, and be comfortable with their approach. Ask them:
- 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
When you hire an agent, you will be bound by their terms and conditions, so it’s important to understand what to watch out for with estate agents’ contracts. Some of the biggest things to be careful of include:
- Will you have to pay extra for marketing and other costs, such as preparing the property details or For Sale boards? Try to get a fee that includes all these expenses
- Do they insist on “sole selling rights”? If so, it means that even if you find a buyer yourself, 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.
- Are you paying commission when they sell the property, or if they find a “ready, willing and able purchaser”? The latter 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.
- Does the agreement have a time limit? This allows you to change agent if you are not happy. A normal period is 12 weeks, but can be as little as four. Agents might not like it, but try to get a no-penalties notice period of two 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?
Fees for online estate agents vary, but can start as little as a £300 flat rate fee paid upfront. Other pricing plans vary, and most offer payment on completion – but that often costs more. If you want an estate agent to do things like conduct viewings, you are likely to pay extra, so many people choose to do this themselves.
Online estate agents all have essentially the same marketing approach, which is to advertise your house online on websites like Zoopla, Rightmove, Primelocation. Some will also 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.
Can I sell my home myself?
You don’t have to hire an estate agent, it is possible you can sell your home yourself. This has become even easier as more and more websites pop-up allowing you to list your home and market it to potential buyers. It’s worth noting that these websites won’t 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.
It’s also important to understand that you can’t list yourself directly on Zoopla, Rightmove and OntheMarket. They don’t take private listings, so you will need an estate agent, whether online, hybrid or high street, if you want to maximise exposure of your home to possible buyers. See our guide Should I sell my home myself for more information
Final thoughts when choosing an estate agent
Make sure you get along with your estate agent, and that you trust them. They will be the first point of contact for any potential buyers, so you need to make sure that they will represent you and your property well.
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