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Friday, 13 August, 1999, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Homing in on a special agent

How do you choose between the myriad of estate agents?
As the housing market thrives, more people want to sell - but it's not just the houses that need inspecting, it's the estate agents, too.

By BBC News Online's Jane Harbidge

As property experts are so fond of pointing out, your home is probably the biggest buy you'll ever make. Equally, it's probably the biggest sale.

The Property Maze
Yet when it comes to reselling, many people pay relatively scant regard to choosing an estate agent to entrust with their precious home.

So if you spend a lot of effort considering your choice of agent, what should you look out for?

Predictably, there's no one secret - it's a mixture of intuition and hard-nosed business facts.

At stake are a host of issues, from the price you get, to how your precious house is marketed and how efficiently the agent will work for you, not to mention their fee.

Agents usually charge between 1% and 2.5% of the selling price. Give one firm the sole rights to your home and they'll charge a lower fee than if you choose so-called multi-agency.

The advantage of multi-agency, however, is that your house should gain more exposure to would-be buyers. Then, it's only the agent who introduces the buyer who gets the fee, on completion.

The more, the merrier

Simon Regan-Edwards greatly favours the multi-agency approach, after he and his wife Sian made the switch when his house near Ludlow, Shropshire, failed to sell for four weeks.

"The mistake we made at the outset was going for an agent who wanted sole agency rights. We dumped that idea because we wanted to widen the area where our house was being advertised. We didn't want to wait. Once we had opted for two agents, we had a sudden influx of ten or 15 new buyers.

"Both seemed to work well for us because they both wanted the sale."

Kitchens are often a crucial selling point in a home
Mr Regan-Edwards, 32, is adamant that it was worth the extra 800 they had to pay - 2.5% commission on an 80,000 home instead of 1.5%.

The speed of the sale helped him save at least 900 - the monthly rent he was paying on a London flat while his wife stayed in the house.

He says: "I'd advise anyone selling to shop around - it's a subjective judgement, based on how professional they are and how they advertise. Then go to as many agents as you like."

But agents will tell you differently - sole agency is all you need these days, they'll tell you.

Single agent - but not free

And the National Association of Estate Agents backs them up. "You're likely to create a better relationship on a one-to-one basis," says chief executive Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy. "It must be someone you can work well with over weeks."

But he advises against being tied into a sole agency agreement for longer than about ten weeks in case you do want to spread your chances.

Buyers usually have a survey done before agreeing a sale
"Test an agent's service by acting as a potential buyer. If you walk into their office and don't get treated well, nor will anyone who might buy your house."

He also warns people not simply to pick the one offering the best price or lowest fee. "The cheapest isn't necessarily the best."

Well, he would say that, wouldn't he - he represents estate agents, you might argue.

But he insists: "If you skimp on the fee, you might skimp on the service. Their suitability is more important - the fee is lowest on the list."

Personality comes top of the list of estate agent Joanna Haydon-Knowell, who runs her own business in north London. "Getting the cheapest commission rate in the world won't help if they make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up," she says.

Beware knock-down plans

"You could be dealing with them closely for up to six months - a good agent sorts out all the conveyancing problems and post-sale negotiations - so you have to get on."

The extra few hundred pounds' commission is money well spent if they do a professional job, she says.

And she cautions against automatically going with the promise of a higher selling price: "Often an agent overvalues, either because they don't know the area or because they are hoping to win the instruction, planning to knock down the price over time."

In this case, ask the agent for two or three sales they have handled recently of similar properties.

Take the advice - but don't take it too seriously. After all, as one recent house-buyer said, if the property is perfect and the price is right, you'll buy it - no matter what the estate agent is like.

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See also:

03 Aug 99 | Your Money
Let the property buyer beware
18 Jun 99 | The Economy
UK buyers 'swooping on homes'
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