Much like the British system of government, an estate agency does itself no favours by not having a written constitution. With so much room for error and misunderstanding, it is no surprise that there has been a 16 per cent rise in complaints to The Property Ombudsman (TPO) about estate agencies in the past year.
Ineffective communication and record-keeping, substandard marketing and advertising, misleading terms of business and poor complaint handling top the list of consumer issues that prompted almost 30,000 people to contact TPO with a grievance. “This does not necessarily mean that agents’ standards are slipping,” says Katrine Sporle, the ombudswoman of the service. “Rather, consumers are increasingly aware of their rights.” So what should you expect from an estate agent?
With a shortage of stock in many UK locations — on average, 35 properties per branch in April, according to the National Association of Estate Agents — the profession is falling over itself to secure instructions.
To do so, agents should be prepared to put in the groundwork, says Gavin Brazg, a property expert and founder of the website The Advisory. “Expect them to bring details of comparable properties recently sold and for sale to help inform and justify their pricing,” he says. “Simply asking you what you think your property is worth and agreeing with you is not acceptable. Show them the red card if they attempt to fob you off with a figure that’s eerily similar to your own Zoopla valuation estimate.”
Know your buyer
The last thing a seller wants is a procession of tyre-kickers and delusionists. Expect the estate agent to know great detail about each and every applicant they bring to view your property. “Just knowing the applicant’s name is not good enough,” Brazg says. “Your agent should know the upper limit of that applicant’s budget, if they have something to sell, are on the market, have sold or are just out for a weekend nosing around other people’s homes.”
According to Zoopla, more than 90 per cent of property searches start online, so stunning photographs of your property are vital. “The agent should attend the photoshoot of a new instruction to guide the photographer and ensure the right photos are taken,” says Nic Pejacsevich, the director of the central London estate agency Nicolas Van Patrick. “Many agents don’t bother.” Some may decide to take the photographs themselves, on a mobile phone. This is not acceptable.
Marc Schneiderman, the director of the luxury agency Arlington Residential, says that a good agent will prepare floor plans, plus, if there is a garden, a site plan showing the orientation and full measurement of the area. However, there are estate agents yet to be convinced that prospective viewers need any indication of the size of a house. “Agents may say they shun floor plans to preserve an irresistible air of mystery about the property in an attempt to increase viewing requests,” Brazg says. “This is nonsense.”
There’s a growing debate about the efficiency of websites such as Rightmove and PrimeLocation as the main source of advertising. “The key is to have your property advertised across various different media, rather than relying solely on the property search portals,” says Alex Goldstein, a Harrogate-based property consultant. “I find that there is a direct correlation between advertising a property in a newspaper or magazine postcard mailout and seeing the website click-through rates pick up over the next few days.”
Your estate agent should know more about social media than you do, with Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as the main ones, but also LinkedIn says Brendan Roberts, the director and head of sales at the London-based agency Aylesford International.
They should be able to tell you what kind of social media would be most suited to promoting your property, and provide evidence in the form of research and statistics.
A vendor who is selling an apartment in a grand country house was aghast to find that her estate agent expected her to conduct the viewings. This is not on, Roberts says. “It’s a basic requisite [for an agent] to accompany all viewings. Agree a viewing protocol, either by ppointment with notice, or within set parameters, say Tuesday and Thursday between 10am and 3pm or any day between 10am and 12pm.”
Whatever it might say in the agency code of conduct, it has been known for agents to avoid passing on offers to sellers. “Expect the agent to make you aware of all offers, regardless of how insulting they may be,” Brazg says. “And expect the agent to do some negotiation. Just passing on the offer and asking if you’d like to accept is not good enough.”
The extra mile
A good estate agent will not abandon you once you have accepted an offer.
There is often a period of delays and frustrations, which an agent should anticipate and plan for — especially as 800 transactions a day collapse, according to the HomeOwners Alliance. “Expect the agent to stay in touch with the buyer and, in a non-aggressive but commanding manner, ensure that key milestones such as the booking of a mortgage valuation and survey are being met,” Brazg says.
Goldstein goes farther, saying that — as in any business deal — your agent should conduct due diligence on the other side’s team, including their solicitors, from the outset.
“Ensure that your agent has vetted which solicitor the buyer is using in advance of the memorandum of sale being issued,” he says.
“If they are not up to scratch, halt the transaction until they change firms. I have done this many times and am always relieved that I tackled it at an early stage.”