How to buy via an Estate Agent

publication date: Nov 19, 2009
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books

How to buy via an Estate Agent

Many people complain bitterly about estate agents. Some of the complaints are valid, some really aren’t fair. If you want to successfully buy through an estate agent it’s essential that you understand what information you give them, how to ensure they want to sell a property to YOU and that you know when an agent is telling the truth – and when they might be telling some porky pies!

Is the Property you want Available at a Price you can Afford?
When we start looking for a home, we often have our ‘ideal’ property in mind. It might be a classic country cottage in the country or a penthouse apartment in the city. And we tend to give this ‘specific’ description to estate agents, expecting them just to hand over the property we have been dreaming of at the exact price we want to pay.

If the agent doesn’t give it to us, then we tend to think they are ‘holding it back’ for someone else, or that they are doing their job. However, it’s really not the agent’s fault if no-one is selling the property you want at the time you are buying, nor is it their fault if it’s out of your price range. That I’m afraid is down to the market and sellers!

Lesson One: How to Work with Estate Agents

Be realistic and fair! Don’t ask agents for properties at prices that don’t exist! Do your research first, even if that’s asking them the following questions:-

1.     This is what we’d like

2.     This is where we would like to buy

3.     Here is our budget

4.     Can we afford what we are looking for?

5.     If not, can we afford the home we want somewhere else, or what could we afford in the area we are looking in?

What information to give to agents
When we give information to agents, we often complain that they don’t ‘listen’ as they send us to view properties that are not suitable. For example, we asked for a three bedroomed home, but they showed us a home which had two doubles and one single when we wanted all doubles. If you don’t tell them exactly what you need – how do they know? So make sure you give a brief that explains the minimum property requirements you need, eg you’d like a garage, but it’s not essential versus you need three double bedrooms and a garden is essential as you have a dog.

Lesson Two: Give the agent a decent property brief

You’ve seen it on Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location, the buyer gives Phil and Kirstie a list of 35 things that they want in a home. Would you feel motivated to find it (especially if you earned your money from the seller)? However if someone gave you a list of ‘this is the minimum’ we need ie our must haves and our nice to haves. This is especially the case if you’ve also researched what properties are for sale at what price and know that you have the budget required.

Do Agents ‘hold back properties’?
Most of the time they don’t do this as it’s not in the interest of the seller as it can restrict the price they receive and therefore their own commission. However, there are, as in any industry, some unscrupulous agents that will risk doing this.

The best way to avoid this happening to you is to ensure that you keep weekly contact (not harass) the agent, just ask ‘have you anything that’s coming up’ etc. If they don’t show you a property you would have been interested in, it’s worth then taking it up with the agent and indeed approaching the owner of the property.

All agents’ now have to belong to an Estate Agent Redress Scheme. If you think that an agent has sold a property to someone that you would have been interested in, then it’s essential to report it to the scheme they belong to. If they don’t, then you need to report them anyway as they are operating illegally!

Lesson Three: Make sure you keep your eye on the market

If it’s possible, keep an eye on internet sites, local newspapers and even drive up and down roads you are keen on, or put leaflets through doors of properties you are interested in. Don’t 100% rely on agents to always think of you when they have a property available, they make mistakes like everyone else.

Why do agents accept Offers when you’ve made one already?
It’s odd that, because the seller accepts a higher offer than the one you made, the agent is often the one to blame. However, it’s the seller who is the one to have a go at – the agent has a legal duty to the seller to pass on offers, even if you have made one and it’s been accepted.

Lesson Four: Understand how to ensure your offer is the last one made!

You can make your offer ‘subject to the property being taken off the market’ so that no-one else is shown around. It won’t stop previous viewers making an offer. Also keep in touch with the seller directly at this stage so that if the agent does accidentally (or on purpose) introduce another offer, hopefully the buyer will call you.

Make sure agents WANT to sell a property to YOU!
It might seem a daft statement, but think about how you work. If you had two neighbours both who wanted to buy your property, which one would you tell first the property was available? The nice one who is always willing to help out and a pleasure to have as a neighbour or the other one that is often argumentative, fussy and not too nice to deal with. Despite media reports, agents are definitely human (!) and it’s essential to get on with them.

1.     Be realistic about what you want, don’t make demands that are impossible to fulfil.

2.     Always feed back to agents post a viewing. What you liked, what you didn’t like.

3.     Thank them for organising viewings for you.

4.     If the seller cancels a viewing – don’t have a go at the agent, it’s not their fault!

5.     Always turn up on time for viewings and only cancel if essential – give them a good reason as the agent is the one that has to ‘let down’ the excited seller that was looking forward to your visit.

Lesson Five: Be honest with your agent!

Many people don’t tell agents the truth about what they want; change their mind half way through the process; take a property from another agent or pull out of a deal at the last minute. All this ‘buyer’ activity frustrates agents as they don’t get paid a penny by the buyer, nor anything from the seller if they don’t actually sell the property.

The more open and honest you are with an agent and the easier you are to work with (ie form a relationship with) the more likely they are to think of you first and want to sell a property to you versus other people that have messed them around.

Not all agents will reciprocate, but most will and they will be the best ones that are most likely to find you the property you want. And don’t forget, if you find an agent doing something dodgy, email us at enquiries@designsonproperty or report them to the Estate Agent Redress Scheme they belong to.


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