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Are Estate Agents Worth Their Money? (as featured in The Yorkshire Post)

December 2016

We constantly hear in the news today how an established business sector has succumbed to the age of the internet. Look at insurance for example. It takes minutes in front of a screen to compare hundreds of suppliers for an almost instant quote. And naturally, most of us choose one of the cheaper options. Job done for another year!

But hold on, what happens when you actually need to make a claim because of a burst pipe in the attic? You phone some distant call centre, wait patiently in a never-ending queue and when someone finally answers, you’re passed from pillar to post trying to find a solution to your serious problem. Only when it’s too late does it become clear that what seemed like a quick, easy and cheap option at first, has turned into a tedious and costly nightmare.

The same scenario has arisen in the estate agency sector. Alongside the established high street branches is a new breed of online and hybrid agent (hybrids are a mixture of high street and online). These new start-ups market themselves as doing everything that the high street agents do, but for a fraction of the price – similar brochures, websites etc. But as they are not on the high street, they pass the saving on to you, the customer. What’s not to like? After all, estate agency is just about taking some great photographs, placing it on Rightmove and sitting back while the viewings pour in – right?

Wrong!

Putting a property online is only a small fraction of the story and anyone can post anything to a website nowadays. So what are you paying for when you go to a high street agent and why the price difference? The answer, as with my insurance example, is that the devil is in the detail.

It’s a common misconception that an estate agent’s fee is just put towards marketing and flash offices, which is what the online/hybrid agents would have you believe. But getting a property marketed and under offer is the easy bit. The real work and value comes once an offer is made, ultimately leading to what actually matters – exchange of contracts. This is the key to great estate agency.

Like myself, many of the established high street agents have spent years on the job. We instinctively know how to read a situation, manage people’s emotions and predict what issues could occur before they actually crop up. Being face to face with a buyer or seller is crucial in helping to avoid and pre-empt problems down the line. Property is a people business and good estate agents never lose sight of this, being proactive for their client right up to the point of exchange.

As a recent client of mine said to me the other week – online/hybrid agents can find you a buyer but after that, you are often on your own. Your sale is passed to a large, faceless call centre where conversations are scripted and your file is flipped around several teams who don’t know who you are. If there is a problem, you’ll probably find out when it’s too late, with little on-hand support to help you deal with it. And all this comes AFTER you’ve already paid – some online agencies take their commission from you upfront – so their incentive to keep working on your behalf vanishes.

For most of us, our house is our most valuable asset. We invest time, love and energy creating a home that we treasure. We work tirelessly towards the day many of us dream of – that hallowed moment when we pay our final mortgage instalment. When we come to sell our homes, we hope our efforts are handsomely rewarded.

Whilst there is certainly a market for the online/hybrid agents, the key to great estate agency is being personally on hand, visible, experienced and proactive. Currently the high street agents have this corner covered, but time will tell.

Online vs high street agents – who is best when it comes to selling your property. How do they compare on fees and why