We recently decided that it was time to move. This involved two difficult tasks: 1) Finding somewhere to move to, and 2) Selling our flat.
The first proved to be fairly straightforward, and I’ll talk about that in a later post. The second was more complicated. We haven’t actually sold the flat yet, and we’re not too worried about it. We had to jump over quite a few hurdles to get it on the market though. I talk about some of our troubles here. We learnt a lot of lessons, and I hope to share them with you here.
1) Always call your prospective agent to view a property first, before considering listing your home with them. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, if you can’t find any properties with them in your area, they probably aren’t somebody you should be considering anyway. Secondly, this is a great way to test the service your possible buyers will receive. We discounted one agent immediately after I called them four times to arrange a viewing. Each time they told me they would call me back and never did! I would hope that my buyers be called back straight away. Also important are whether or not they verify your finances. You know you can afford it, so that’s enough, right? Wrong. One of the number one reasons why chains fall through is because someone can’t secure their mortgage. It’s important that your agent verifies potential buyers’ finances in advance so that no one’s time is wasted.
2) Understand that the business model of estate agents relies on listing properties, not selling them. Prospective agents are likely to be much more interested in the property you have to sell than the property you are interested in buying. If they put little genuine effort into listing your property, they probably aren’t likely to support you (or anybody else) much as a buyer either. The amount of time estate agents spent talking about our property and putting on the market ranged from 10 minutes to 2 hours (and on his day off too!).
3) Be realistic about what you want (and need) to achieve from the sale. We were going to be selling our flat less than a year after we bought it, so I worked all our affordability calculations based on us selling it for no more than we paid for it. We obviously wanted to achieve more than this because we had put a lot of effort into making it nice, but we knew that the market could only have moved on so much in 12 months.
A classic dodgy estate agent tactic is to lure you in with a valuation which is too high. They lock you into an exclusivity agreement for a long period (say 20 weeks), and then encourage you to lower the price later down the line when you receive no offers.
We received significantly different valuations from different agents. One valued it at 30-60k above what we paid less than a year ago. We discounted this agent based on that alone. It was an over-valuation, and it was reflective of the fact that he thought that our flat was in Brentwood (it isn’t), or that he was trying to secure our business with a valuation much higher than we might get elsewhere. The agent we went with valued the flat at 10-15k more than we paid which we felt was much more realistic. It was demonstrative of the fact that he understood the area in the same way that we did, and it didn’t feel like he was trying to mislead us into thinking we would get more than we could.
4) Make sure you actually get a valuation. This is really important and relates to the above point. You should avoid telling an agent what you hope to achieve before they tell you how much they think it is worth. We made this mistake. Our least favourite agent never gave us a valuation, despite us asking at least four times. He had asked us what we wanted, and I said it would be amazing if we could achieve 30k more than we paid, but that I wasn’t sure that this was realistic. From this point on, he only ever insisted that he could achieve that. We challenged him on this a number of times, asking what he thought it was actually worth, but he just repeated this line over and over.
Not telling you how much your property is worth demonstrates that either they don’t know, or they have poor expectations management skills. Neither quality is one you should invite in your estate agent.
5) Be aware of pressure tactics. We were all but threatened by an estate agent who wanted us to sell our property through him. This resulted in us pulling out of the sale of our dream home (you can read about that here). You will always be in a better position to avoid these pressure tactics if you’ve already sold. Don’t let an estate agent force you into doing anything. Move at your own pace and you’ll ensure you don’t make mistakes.
6) Ignore their lies. The vendor doesn’t care who you list with. If you have found your dream home and you’ve had an offer accepted, congratulations! But let’s be clear: all the vendor cares about is that you sell your property so you can proceed, they don’t care who you list with. Don’t let their estate agent try to tell you otherwise.
7) Cost is important, but it isn’t the most important thing. We had three very different quotes. The agent we liked the least was helpfully the most expensive by a long way. We chose the middle quote. This was going to be around £1,200 more expensive than the cheapest quote, but we were confident that they would be attentive with us and with buyers, would be the most capable of making a sale quickly, and would get us the best price.
Online estate agents will always be cheaper, but they will offer you less. We spoke to Purple Bricks who were really helpful, attentive, and seem to have an excellent online management system. You are in greater control of your sale and have direct contact with buyers which we really liked. Ultimately, we chose a different agent because we felt that they knew the local market better. However, we would definitely consider using Purple Bricks in the future, particularly if we hadn’t already found the place we wanted to move to and were therefore under less time pressure.
8) Look at how long other properties have been on the market. This is really easy to do on Rightmove as the website allows you to sort properties by “oldest listed”. How long a property should take to sell will depend on the type of home and the location. This is not an exact science. You should start looking as early as possible to get a good feel. However, if it is consistently the same agents which have the oldest listed properties, this isn’t a good sign.
How quickly you need to sell your property will depend on whether you have an immediate change in circumstances coming (such as a baby), or if you have found where you want to go. If you can afford to wait, make sure you take your time with choosing how to approach your sale.
9) Estate agents will prioritise their vendors when selling other properties. This is an unfortunate truth. It isn’t fair, but it should influence your choice. Rightmove also allows you to look at estate agents’ other properties, so you can see how far their reach is. If a particular vendor dominates the market in your area, you should definitely consider selling with them. We benefitted from this extensively, as we found out that a sale had fallen through before the vendor even did, and were able to have our offer accepted just a few days later. This has also left the agent even more motivated to sell ours, as that will create a completed chain and they will get all of the commission.
This trick obviously works far better if you plan on moving within the same area you are currently living in, but it is always worth considering.
10) In almost all circumstances, having a national database is irrelevant. Some estate agents claim to have a national database, or the “largest database in the UK”. I am sure that this is true. I just don’t think it’s relevant. Unless you have a really unique property, someone in Aberdeen probably isn’t going to be interested in buying your two bedroom flat in Romford. If they are, they will probably be looking on Rightmove for two bedroom flats in Romford anyway, and their national database is probably still irrelevant.
What is relevant is their local database. How many people do they have on their database in your area that are looking for your sort of property? Even this is becoming less relevant as estate agents rely more and more on the internet. However, if your agent is relying solely on people contacting them regarding their online advert about your property and they doesn’t have a lot of properties you are interested in, you might as well go with a much cheaper online estate agent.
11) A bonus one: trust your instincts. We liked two of the agents we engaged with, we were unimpressed with another, and we sincerely didn’t like the last. Our final decision was based just on what felt right. We wanted an agent we weren’t afraid to call, we were comfortable being alone in our home (they need to have a key!), and we were confident would show our property in the best light.
I really hope this has been useful, and good luck selling your own property! Have you ever had trouble with estate agents? Let me know in the comments!