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Just how good is your estate agent?

Would you put an elderly relative in a care home because everybody else in the area puts theirs in that care home even though you know it's not that good?

Would you put your child in a nursery that you'd heard was ok but had never asked for references and you'd no idea what the daily routine was and how they would care for your child?

Would you give a job to someone that you'd met once and you didn't really gel with?

So why would you entrust your biggest investment to an estate agent just because, without doing due diligence?

These days we are encouraged to shop local, but beware, a 'local' estate agent can actually just be a franchise of a huge national company. A 'local' estate agent can be run by a nonchalant descendant of someone who once cared about the business but after 3 generations the care is gone and the values with it. A 'local' agent can still be very salesy and very pushy - but just remember, if they're pushing you to get your business, they will push you to reduce the price.

Selling a house is a stressful business so choosing the right estate agent can mean that they take some of that stress away, OR, put another way: choosing the wrong one will add to that stress.

I speak to my home staging clients about how they chose their estate agent and I'm usually shocked by the answer. I find that more often that not there is generally an air of resignation in their answer. Some say they went with them "because everyone else in the area does so they must be good". Some say they went with them because they valued their house the highest. When I ask them if they like their estate agent they usually look at me non-plussed. WHY???

An estate agent is there to do one job: sell your house. They are there to work for you. Yet why is it that a lot of my clients are scared of their estate agents, and feel like they are at their mercy? Because that's the way they are treated. When a house doesn't sell the vendor is made to feel like it's their fault and the only option left is to lower the price, or, instruct another estate agent simultaneously, which let's face it makes it looks like the house is difficult to sell, and makes all the agents involved look inept.

One client refused to move to a different estate agent even though hers had made her cry on numerous occasions. When she did mention to the agent she was thinking of taking it off with them and going with someone else, two viewings miraculously materialised the following weekend. Now I'm not saying that anything underhand was going on there, but I do know that there are some practices that go on that I wouldn't be comfortable sanctioning.

So what should your agent be doing? Well, somewhat more than putting a photo in their shop window and putting the details on Zoopla/Rightmove. Selling houses is a numbers game, so how are they going to reach the most people? How enthusiastic are their staff? How familiar are they with technology/social media? How well do they communicate with their customers? How regularly? What kind of advice do they give?

As a vendor, it's up to you to do your research before you even speak to an estate agent, never mind instruct one. Take each agent and look at their listings on Zoopla - Zoopla tells you when each house was first listed and how much it has reduced in price. Look at how long their houses have been for sale and how many price reductions they've had. And look at the coherence of the photos - do they guide you round the house or do they jump from bedroom to lounge to kitchen and back to bedroom again, leaving you confused about the layout. In my experience I can tell you that it's always the same 'local' long-standing traditional estate agents that have the oldest listings (along with the online zero service estate agents).

But also, do some research around the value of your home. You wouldn't try selling something on Facebook Marketplace or Ebay without seeing what other similar items are selling for, so why would you do this with your home? Do a search on Zoopla or Rightmove for properties similar to yours in the local area. Look at the price, but also look at the layout and how these houses are presented. When buyers are looking for a house this is what they will do so be aware of the competition as the buyers will likely be visiting them all and will be making direct comparisons. If yours has got something that the others haven't then be ready to point this out to potential buyers (your estate agent should also be making this clear in the listing).

Invite 3 agents to your home to value it and interview them. Ask them how they've got to their valuation figure, ask how your house compares to similar ones in the area, and ask them what they are going to do to market your property and make it stand out from the others. You need them to be on your team and you need to know that they are going to successfully market your house, so ask for examples of how they are going to do that. And listen to your gut instincts. It's not all about who gives you the highest price.

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