Choose the best estate agent: Questions sellers must ask - Selling, Advice
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Choose the best estate agent: Questions sellers must ask

14 Sep 2018

The most important decision facing anyone deciding to sell a home is the choice of the estate agent he or she selects to handle the task.

“While it is true that even the best agents can go through lull periods in their careers, a prolonged period of non-achievement should be a warning sign that all is not well, and the agent is probably not up to the task,” says Alexander.

“As in so many other spheres, 80% of the sales in many areas are done by only 20% of the staff. The remainder may be performing satisfactorily, but they do not match the high levels achieved by those who really know how to market and sell a home at a fair price in as short a time as possible,” says Rowan Alexander, Director of Alexander Swart Property.

So what should a home seller do to ensure that the agent appointed is a real achiever?

Alexander says there are recognised steps which can greatly help in these matters:

1. Check if the agent has an Estate Agency Affairs Board Fidelity Fund certificate

“If the agent does not, he or she may well be operating illegally, and the seller will have no compensating body to which they can appeal should the agent behave contrary to the law - for example, absconds with money which they should not in any case be handling. The possession of a Fidelity Fund certificate is one among many indicators that the agent is not bogus,” says Alexander.

2. Try to establish just how well the agent knows the property market in the area they serve

A few probing questions may reveal that the agent has little or no idea of the latest price fluctuations, whether up or down, and is ignorant as to how these relate to national price movements. It may also transpire that he or she does not know which price categories and precincts in his area are performing best, and has only a vague picture of the types of buyer most interested in the area.

“These fundamental facts can be established if the agent has access to the better research bureaux, is in touch with other top-selling agents and has management that keeps him fully informed,” says Alexander.

3. The agent should reveal which homes, if any, they have sold in the last 6 to 12 months

Alexander says the agent should also be able to show how close the sale price came to the asking price, and how long the home was on the market.

He says very large discrepancies between the asking and achieved price probably indicate that the agent overvalued the home so as to get a mandate - a dishonest practice that occurs all too often. Equally important, the agent should also be able to give the potential client the names and telephone numbers of people with whom they have recently worked with, and should be willing to allow the new client to consult them about their performance.

“While it is true that even the best agents can go through lull periods in their careers, a prolonged period of non-achievement should be a warning sign that all is not well, and the agent is probably not up to the task,” says Alexander.

More considerations

Alexander says having done this initial groundwork, the seller should then quiz the agent on just how much the agency will be prepared to spend on advertising on behalf of the home, and where they will place it.

The seller should investigate how frequently the agent will hold show days, and how often they themselves will be in attendance at these. Alexander says show days have a proven record in achieving results, and a lack of willingness to host them is a sure sign of a lack of commitment on the agent’s part. In addition, the agent should be able to show that they are heavily involved in promoting the homes (and themselves) through social media, because today this is an integral part of any property marketing exercise.

Alexander says the frequency with which they agent will report back by telephone and by email on the progress - or lack of thereof - that they are making should also be made clear before any agent is appointed. At the outset, it is also important to establish just how deeply the agency’s management is involved in backing up its agents.

“The ability of an efficient, caring management to motivate and encourage its agents should never be underestimated. If they are not ‘hands-on’ on a 24/7 basis, they are quite likely to have a slow-moving, unenthusiastic team.”

In addition to the above, Alexander says sellers need to consider the below when selecting an agent:

“Be very careful, about appointing an agent solely on the recommendation of a friend. We all like to do our friends a good term and to find work from them, but dinner table and bar tips must be corroborated by other referees, at least three or four in most cases,” says Alexander.

“Furthermore, the home seller should not be put off by the agent insisting on a sole mandate. The simple truth is that almost all the best agents work almost entirely on sole mandates. Awarding a sole mandate ensures that the agent and his or her management will commit themselves 100% to the task in hand. Sole agencies are the proven way to achieving a good price.”

Similarly, he says once the seller has decided that they have identified a real performer, they should not quibble about the commission, even if it is above average.

“Only poor performers are willing to work on low commissions. The high-end agents, those achieving, say, two or more sales per month, invariably obtain such good prices that these more than compensate for the higher commission paid to the agent.”

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