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Choosing the best estate agent


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Hi all,

I was having a lively discussion with some fellow investors and wanted to hear what people on this forum think.

 

Whether you're a seller or a landlord, how do you choose which agent to market your property?

 

I've had 3 projects with 3 different agents and I can't say I've nailed down a system yet. First, I went with the cheapest, thinking it was good business sense. But of course, you get what you pay for, which I learned the hard way. Then I went for the agent who originally sold me the property - thinking they know the property and how much work I put in renovating it. And lastly I went with a personal recommendation from a friend who had a good experience.

 

All 3 eventually sold, which means I can't complain too much, but I want to develop some kind of rule/decision process to make this easier. What does everyone else do?

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Two ways.  One, go on a website like Allagents rather than Trustpilot.  Hate Trustpilot, some of the 5 star reviews are terrible.  "Great viewing thanks! Regards, Barry" (submitted by reviewer Steve.  Shocking!

 

Secondly, when you look at the Sold section of Rightmove.  Look at the same houses on the same street that have sold in the past 12-18 months. See how similar the houses are in terms of size and condition, and compare the prices.  Does one agent deal in volume but get lower prices?  Avoid them, they're interested in sales targets, not getting the vendor the best price!

The Liverpool Meetup takes place on the first Thursday of every month, find out more here

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Thanks Silv - i've looked at Allagents before - one thing i don't like is that there is a bias towards online agents, i.e. PurpleBricks will get reviews from across the country so it might have 1,000 reviews and 4 stars, which makes it look better than a local agent that might have 5 reviews of 5 stars.

 

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Not necessarily.  It's very easy to weed out the nationals.  Allagents publish a 'league table' for the local area, so you can quickly see from the the top 5 names which are local / national.

 

Sidenote, PB's account got suspended from Allagents last month.  PB's lawyers forced Allagents to remove all their one-star reviews, so Allagents have started a crowdfund to take them to court!

The Liverpool Meetup takes place on the first Thursday of every month, find out more here

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Stoil hi

 

Choosing the right estate agent is not an easy one and it is not necessarily a given that a good selling agent is also a good letting agent.  It is rare for agents to operate as a joined up unit with both sales and lettings working as a cohesive team and most operate as totally separate sub units who  work in the same office or as under the same name.  Most sales negs look down on their letting counterparts as a lower form of life.

 

Sales

A good sales agent will have a high through put of properties and a good percentage of properties sold to those listed.  Grill your agent of how many properties they have listed, the ratio of negotiators (negs) to properties on the market as if they have too many properties per neg your property could get lost in the noise.  Look at the quality of their marketing materials - are their photographs crisp, clutter free and not overdone (misuse of photoshop or similar, wierd use of wide angle lenses etc), are their floor plans easy to read, do they use any video material and if there is a video tour is it worth looking at.  I would phone your target agents on a mystery shop as a buyer and see how you are treated.  Find out if you can what their average listing time to sale agreement is, how may price reductions they do a month - if they do a lot of reductions they are clearly not pricing it right!  Also worth looking at how long they lock you in for - if they are confident of selling your property and their product they should not lock you in for extended periods.  Also worth checking if they are accredited to the NAEA, RICS etc as they have, in theory to abide by a code of contact but from observation, and working within the industry, this does not always follow that they are reputable - they just haven't been found out!

 

Lettings

A good letting agent is a completely different beast and should generate and maintain an effective ongoing relationship with their landlords who look to the agent as a property expert who will look after their property/properties in a broad number of ways.  I am always happy to answer a landlord's grilling to demonstrate their property is safe in our company's care - I was interrogated for @ 1.5 hours recently by one landlord but got their business, even though our fees were higher, as we could demonstrate the whole process was properly managed.

  • They need to know their local area and be able to advise on a realistic current market valuation
    • How many properties do they list each month
    • How many do they let each month
    • A large number available and not let out is an indication they are not doing something right.
    • How do they market a landlord's property? 
      • Renting should be little different to selling and the same care of presentation should be used
      • Are there proper marketing photos taken, do they use floor plans and proper property descriptions etc
  • They need to be able to demonstrate a knowledgeable understanding of current letting legislation
    • Ask them how they handle tenants' Right to Rent - do they maintain proper checks and retain the right copies of documents
    • What are they doing with EPC checks - are they aware of the impending changes to letting F & G rated properties
    • What paperwork do they give to a tenant at the start of a tenancy? They should give all of the following:
      • Copy of AST
      • Copy of correctly filled out Prescribed Information to all "interested" parties - ie. if deposit provided by parent they too need a copy
      • Copy of Gas Safety cert - if on gas
      • Copy of EPC
      • Copy of How to Rent leaflet (latest edition- 1 Feb 2016)
    • What do they do about smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms
      • Do they check the smoke alarms on day of tenancy start? Do they get tenants to sign that it was tested in their presence?
  • What percentage of their tenanted properties are in arrears?
    • If they are coy about this they may have a problem - 
    • What are their procedures for chasing arrears - they should have robust protocols for keeping tenants on side
    • When does a landlord get to know about a tenant's non-payment of rent
  • They need to have a  competent understanding of property design and what to look for when inspecting for maintenance requirements - failure to spot early dilapidation or wear could cost a landlord many multiples to fix if a small repair develops into a major failure.
    • What is their property inspection regime?
      • Does a landlord get a report of each inspection and advice on remedial work recommended/ required
      • Can a landlord nominate their own contractors - be suspicious if not 
      • Does the agent take a commission from contractors? - beware some agents demand 10 - 15% from contractors to be added to their invoices - if they deny it and you subsequently fitnd out that they do charge I believe that is fraud
      • Do their contractors guarantee their work
      • Does the agent check up on the work carried out?
    • Are there minimum requirements for the property condition when the agency takes it on
      • They should carry out a compliance and basic health & safety inspection to confirm your property complies with all the main legislation
        • Smoke/ CO alarms
        • Safety Glass
        • Gas Certs
        • Soft furnishings
        • Legionella risk assessment etc
  • How do they treat tenants?  Are they seen to be looking after their tenants & treat them with respect - what sort of atmosphere is there in the office?
    • If an agency is very dismissive of tenants then it is likely that they will have tenant issues and grumpy tenants do not look after landlords' properties.
    • Be wary of online reviews as it tends to be a place for the disenchanted to rant with little chance for background reasons but it is possible to spot trends.  Agents can get it in the neck from tenants because of poor landlords but that too should be managed.
    • What sort of background reference checks are done on tenants?
      • Be wary of agents who do DIY/ in-house checks
      • Ask which company they use and if there is an opportunity for insuring the tenancy against non-payment of rent with the reference report.
    • Who chooses which tenant gets to rent your property?  It should always be the landlord's decision with the agent providing the background information.
      • Can the landlord see the results of a reference check?  If not why not? They cannot hide behind Data Protection as you have the right to see the results if you want to
      • Do they retain all copies of reference checks for subsequent scrutiny
    • Have they had to take tenants to court in last year? If so how many - more than one or two should be a matter of concern for most areas I would suggest
  • Do any staff members have industry standard qualifications in lettings - if so how many? RICS or NFoPP, ARLA Property Mark
    • How do they train staff
    • If they do not demonstrate proper training how can they prove they know what they are doing?  Length of time in business could mean that they have just had a long time getting it wrong!

This is not exhaustive but I hope it gives an idea - I am always amazed at how little homework some landlords do to research where they are going to place their very expensive investments and I too regularly have to pick up the pieces of when landlords have only looked at headline fee of x% per month and going for the lowest.  We are far from the cheapest agency in the town where I work but we are the biggest because our landlords see the value we provide.  Take time to interrogate your agent and select the one who is going to look after you, your tenants and your property the best.

 

Good luck

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Hi Stoil,

 

From my experience, you should think about the sales manager rather than a whole company regarding the sale as you can find an exceptional agent in a not known establishment. Always a good idea to pick someone local so they know the market and might already have a buyer waiting list.

Smaller agencies tend to be more focused on individual clients too.

 

Regards

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