Does your agent earn their fee?

Estate agents. Should we be trusted to earn our fee?
Generally, when I am interviewed or write about estate agency, and when one compares what different agents do for their fees, much, if not all, of the conversation is about marketing the property: photographs, viewings, feedback, negotiating a good price for the seller and ensuring the buyers are in a position to proceed…that kind of thing.

What we don’t talk about nearly as much is what we really do to justify our fees.  Behind the obvious work is the background hum: conversations back and forth about all the properties not yet sold: how best to present them to encourage interest and offers.  We are regularly reading and rereading our property details, checking the presentation, looking at how easy or hard it is to arrange viewings, have we arranged a board outside and if cannot, what are the alternatives.  There’s a whole host of this activity going on daily: looking at our ‘property title’ on the net: does it stand out; will it get a potential viewer to ‘click through’ and then request a viewing?  Do we follow up really quickly on viewing requests?  Rightmove stats show many agents may not even do this on the same day never mind immediately…!

Sales chasing, the nitty-gritty of our work, starts once the sale is agreed.  Have sellers and buyers got their solicitors in place and communicating? Have they organised their survey? Is the sale of their existing property moving forward (other agents in a chain need to do their bit too and can cause real problems if they are casual about ‘chasing the chain’ as we call it)?  There’s nothing worse than being told all along that the chain is ‘no problem’, a worrying phrase we dislike intensely, only to discover the first buyer in the chain has pulled out or does not have the finance in place so contracts cannot be exchanged.

Good agents spend hours every day chasing existing sales, keeping sellers and buyers informed and on board. Interestingly, it is now not uncommon for agents to outsource this most critical part of the sales process to a call centre or a person not in the office.  These operations spend all their time dealing with sales progression so can be very useful if they care enough.  Of course, the firms that offer this service succeed or fail by the quality and consistency of their support throughout the sale process.
This work is the core benefit to sellers and buyers.  It requires trust, openness and a methodical and lateral-thinking approach to problems and dilemmas, which takes years of experience to develop.  Often, it’s only at the end, when the keys are being handed over, that sellers and buyers see clearly the importance of a dedicated estate agent’s efforts. 

A recent “straightforward” sale with no chain took in excess of six months to nurture through to completion. At the end we had two very happy customers but it could have turned out very differently without the right approach!

Online, up-front payment agents, now burgeoning onto the market place, will tell clients they can do all of this.  I’m wondering how this can realistically be achieved, when their office may be located in Colchester or Manchester or anywhere else, to be honest. Having someone on hand as and when needed, who knows you and is conversant with your situation, is what real service is all about and is worth paying for…but only when the job is done.

The online world has its place but is not the answer to everything.
Meet your agents, go to their office to see what they do.  Speak to different staff and discover how interested they are in really helping you get moved; ask probing questions, think carefully how they respond and make your choice.  Remember, this is an important time as you will spend the next three to six months talking to each other.

Paul Bonett F.N.A.E.A.  M.A.R.L.A.