(For the purposes of this article, I’m drawing on experience from estate agents in Bath – no doubt most cities and towns will have a similar property industry. The steps below may seem overly detailed but bear in mind you’re about to employ an professional who will charge fees amounting, on average, to several thousand pounds and who you’ll have to deal with for months.)
First, you need to think about two points closer to home;
1) What are you selling?
2) What do you want from your agent?
Your property may “fit” within a particular price range or be one of a distinct “type” (eg apartments, property with land, commercial, rural, investment) which might suggest a more specialist estate agent. Some agents deal with properties above a certain price or cover only a certain distance from their offices. Others cover a wide area and price range. You might prefer to deal with one person or a team. Do you have certain requirements of your agent (eg personal service, a particular method of communication, local knowledge, experience)?
Once you’ve worked out the basics of what you have to sell and how you want to be dealt with, it’s time to see which agents fit the bill.
Step 1 – Find qualified professionals
Check the NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) and/or RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) websites for a list of local members. Whilst all estate agents have to belong to a redress scheme, any membership of regulatory bodies is voluntary (although there have been surveys recently to indicate 90% of the public agree all estate agents should be compulsorily regulated). Estate agents who are members of the NAEA (for example) have to prove experience, knowledge and have professional indemnity in place. The most qualified, regulated and experienced will be marked as Licensed Fellows.
Step 2 – Read the reviews
There are national and local review websites that collect customer reviews for estate agents - you're on one at the moment! Other more general directory websites (eg Thomson, Yelp) will also include reviews, and Google Places has a review component. Cross check your list of estate agents against these sites to see what real customers have said about their experiences. Some estate agents’ own websites will also contain reviews or testimonials. Try tapping the estate agent’s name into a search engine and see what comes up on the first few pages.
By this point, you should have filtered the list of local estate agents down by quite a bit. Now you can drill down to who is best to invite out for a valuation.
Step 3 – Match you/your property to the estate agent
Look through your shortlist of agents. Who deals with property like yours? Does the agent have the right profile or presence for you? Look at each agent’s website and research their current property stock. Have they sold similar homes to yours?
Try to put yourself in a buyer’s shoes and examine the agent’s marketing. Where would your property be seen?
Which agent’s marketing would make your home look its best and get the most potential buyers to sit up and take notice? Use the answers to narrow down your list even further.
Step 4 – Try before you buy
Call or visit the agents on your latest shortlist. Evaluate how you’re dealt with – it is likely they will treat your potential buyers the same. Do you trust them? Can you work with them? Some estate agents send one person to value clients’ homes and another to deal with buyers so meeting different faces might give you the bigger picture. Ask their opinion on the market, collect any available information on their services or examples of currently available properties.
Step 5 – Pick three
Always ask three agents out to value your home. You need a spread of opinions – not just on price but also fees, marketing capabilities, terms, personality, tactics and so on. Don’t decide on your choice until all three have confirmed their opinions in writing.
Agree a marketing plan and contract terms with your chosen agent. Make sure you understand exactly what they are going to do in the first few days/weeks and check all the marketing material yourself before the property is launched.