Of course, estate agents sell houses, don’t they?
Many might be surprised by the title of this blog post, whereas others will be gently nodding in agreement. The reason why I have chosen this title and theme of this post will become clear. Here in the UK, we have many estate agents selling property with offices in every town across the land as well as websites promoting properties for sale. If an estate agent has a property on their books and someone purchases it then surely that is a sale? In the basic meaning of the term selling, I would agree. However, with expensive or complicated products there is more to selling than someone offering to buy. Selling houses should be very different to selling newspapers or sweets where a customer walks in and picks up what they want, pays and leaves.
Some things really need to be ‘sold’
Many items, including homes, require selling as many potential home-buyers don’t always know what they want or need and some have totally unrealistic expectations as to what they can afford. With a little imagination, many properties that on the surface might not appear suitable to a home-seeker could be changed. A good salesperson will be able to match properties to buyers by showing them how the property could suit their needs.
I spent many years working as a mortgage adviser based within estate agents offices. In my experience, very few estate agents ever ‘sold’ a home. Most were fairly good at selling their service to potential vendors in order to get the property onto their books. After that, the sales effort started to fall short. In the sales pitch to get the property onto the market, the agents would promise all kinds of things to try to make the homeowner use their service. A common promise, which really ought not to be an option, was to say that they would accompany all viewings and show the home-seekers around the property in order to sell it. Usually, after the first viewing or two, the agent would call the vendor to arrange the next viewing and ask if it was alright for the vendor to show the viewer around themselves. Many homes would have multiple viewings, often into double figures and if the sales staff (usually called negotiators in England) could avoid being there, they would leave the viewing to the vendor. That did not leave much scope to use selling skills to sell the property and find out from reactions what the viewers felt about the home and what they were looking for.
When I was selling my own home I insisted that the agent accompany all the viewings as they had promised, although there were still a few occasions when suddenly they were not able to do so! The selling technique consisted of telling the viewers what they could do to the property even though they had not asked or shown any need for, including knocking walls down to make 2 bedrooms into one, another wall to join the
kitchen and dining room. Now, if people had not raised a concern that they wanted those rooms larger the fact of suggesting it would make people think it’s something that should be done and cost money. It was a terrible selling pitch.
One estate agent who could sell a home
There was one negotiator working who was new to the world of selling homes. Previously she had been a theatre set designer in South Africa and so had an artistic tendency and imagination which she could use to the full. For example, when showing a young couple around a small terrace home which only had a small paved yard with a high brick wall and no garden she painted a picture whilst they were standing in that area. It went this way. When you move in, this wall could be painted white and have beautiful hanging flower baskets along its length. Just here, you can have your table and chairs and over there, your barbecue. It will be lovely to sit in this sheltered spot enjoying good food and a glass of wine. Wham! This drab little area had now become in the minds of this couple, the courtyard of a Mediterranean villa. Other negotiators would probably have said something like, ‘well, this is what to expect with this type of property, so unless you’re prepared to pay more this is what you will get’.
What a contrast! This is honestly the best example I could use after many years of working with numerous agents. Most of the negotiators followed the same process; arrange the viewing and hope. Most negotiators also seemed to put off following up the viewing with a phone call to see what the viewer thought of the property and as a result, many never found out. Of course, if the viewing had been accompanied that would not have been necessary and the negotiators would know more about the viewer and be better placed to sell them a home.
The estate agents that I worked with spent time training staff to become effective at listing properties (getting people to sign up to sell) but did nothing on selling them. The agents seemed to spend a lot of time on spying each other to see which properties they were selling and wondering why they had not obtained the instruction to sell.
With the amount of money an agent charges (fees vary but expect 1.5-2% of the selling price plus VAT) you would have thought that they would put much more effort into selling a property. The reality though is that the majority seem to rely on the for sale board they place at the property, their office window, website, mailing list and perhaps newspaper adverts to attract the buyers to view and hopefully make an offer with little interaction.
It’s no wonder that estate agents are getting worried about online estate agencies setting up and charging much lower fees. This is getting a step closer for people to sell their home without an agent. With the power of the Internet, selling your own home is not too difficult, after all, most estate agents do very little other than value and advertise a property. The legal work is all taken care of by a solicitor. In future posts, I will explain what an estate agent says that they do, how to choose one if you really would like to use their service, plus how you can sell your home without an agent, and what work a solicitor does when you buy and sell.
The largest purchase that you’re likely to make
Buying and selling property is part of life for many and in fact, owning your own home is usually the largest purchase that you will make. To make sure that you are notified each time one of these posts is published, please follow this blog using the link in the right-hand column ‘Don’t miss the next post!’
What are your experiences of buying and selling using an estate agent? Please leave a comment in the box below.