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Frustrations of a buyer… By an estate agent!

Our resident negotiator Karen Wilkins has been house hunting for her parents… and has had a great insight into the world of estate agency from a different perspective. What follows is her account of a rather frustrating time in the dealings she and her family have had as buyers… If you’re putting your faith in to a professional outfit then you’d assume they’re doing their absolute level best for you…. right?…  read on…

What happens when an estate agent is looking to buy a property themselves? The unfortunate truth is that they get to see how lazy some estate agents are.  Such is the position I find myself in now.  I am house hunting for my parents who live out of the area, and hence I’m now on the frustrating end of the move – the purchase, and experiencing how other agents operate when they are supposedly looking after their clients’ best interests in selling their property.  The sorry truth is that out of 5 agents I’ve had dealings with, not a single one has given me the information I needed to view the property or handled any offers professionally or more worryingly, legally…

You would presume that when you instruct an estate agent, regardless of who came from the branch to put your property on the market – valuer, lister, manager, or whoever – they would inform their staff of the very basic information about the property in order for them to effectively sell your home.  Such as – the vendor’s position (have they found a property themselves, what chain is there, is there a time-frame attached to the sale), how long has it been on the market, how much the house down the road sold for by the same agent, or heaven forbid, anything about the property itself like the heating system, the age of it or which way the garden faces.  Some questions arise that the agent can be forgiven for not knowing but none of these fall into that category and can be key to a potential buyer when viewing the house, and thereafter deciding whether to offer on it or not.

So I’d just like to share with you what I have learned from these recent exchanges, and why I will be a better estate agent because of them:

  1. When a potential buyer asks the question of “is there a chain on this property?” unacceptable answers are:  a) “Oh, I don’t know as I am not from this branch, I’m just covering” b) “Erm, I’m not sure as I do the EPC certificates, not the viewings” c) “They could be moving but I’m not sure” (C – REALLY?!)
  2. When a suspicious oily smell lingers by the oil-fired boiler, and the query is raised as to why that would be, a ridiculous answer of “I don’t have a very good sense of smell” can be easily translated to “Darn, she’s right. Quick! Deny there could be a problem by saying you can’t smell it.  That’ll put doubt in her mind and make her disbelieve her own sense of smell”…  It certainly doesn’t.
  3. If you, the agents, have a sold board on a house a couple of doors away and the potential buyer draws attention to it, at least expect the question of… “so what did that sell for, a ball-park figure is fine”…, don’t then stand there, scratch head, look puzzled, pull the details of the property you are about to view out of the viewer’s hand and say, “Err, how much is this one up for again?”…  At the very least you should know the asking price of the house you are about to show a potential buyer around.  (It’s called estate agency school, day one, lesson one).
  4. Following on from that discussion, if you give the answer of “x” value, well below the guide price of the house the buyer is about to view and explain that it was because it needed a lot of work, don’t be surprised if the feedback regarding an offer about the house subsequently viewed, (that needs complete refurbishment), is that the offer is no higher than the “x” value you gave earlier.  Buyers aren’t stupid and we really do remember such important details when spending in the hundreds of thousands of pounds…

However, more worrying than a lack of interest, attention to detail or even basic knowledge, is the underhand tactics some estate agents employ in order to secure a sale in their own personal interests.  You may not have considered the implications of how most estate agents operate in their pay structure… Individual sales negotiators get paid the bulk of their salary from achieving a personal sale – i.e. they have their own personal list of buyers and if one of those ends up buying a property that the office is selling, they will get the commission. But… if in the same office another negotiator’s buyer gets it, they don’t see a penny. “That’s fine” you might say; “competition to sell my home is healthy”, but consider it for a moment as a potential conflict of interests – 1) The seller’s and 2) the individual negotiator’s… ie ”I’m going to get paid more if I sell it before my colleagues can even if they have a better buyer who may be willing to pay more for it”.  Surely, this doesn’t happen? I tell you now, it does. As a vendor you really shouldn’t care which negotiator sells your home, just that the people you’ve put your trust in does their utmost to find the best buyer for you, not them!

 Such competition within the office can often create a stormy atmosphere and, ergo, underhand tactics to stop another negotiator’s buyer standing a chance of getting the house they’d like.  I strongly suspect that my parents have just this week fallen foul of such a practice.  They were effectively blocked from viewing a property for 4 days by being fobbed off with excuses such as not being able to get hold of the vendor.  This house had only just come to market but mysteriously didn’t appear on the Rightmove alert emails, it was my eagle-eyed sister who noticed it 24 hours after it went live, and I got straight on the phone to book a viewing.  The “gentleman” who answered the phone said they couldn’t view it until two days later, but would call me to confirm.  Two days later, and after no such phone call from the agent, I called back and got the same man again.  I was told it was in the diary for that day but he couldn’t contact the vendor to confirm it.  The day passed by without contact, so the next morning I called again and got a very helpful young lady who advised me that there was no trace of my alleged booked viewing from the day before.  Hmm…  Anyway, the viewing got booked for the next day and my parents set off early in the morning for the viewing.  An hour and half before the viewing I received a call from the very same “gentleman” at the estate agents advising that the viewing had been cancelled because a sale had just been agreed. With a viewing due to take place in just over an hour? To say I was livid is an understatement.  However, it goes from bad to worse.  I argued the point about not being allowed to view beforehand and the vendor allowed the viewing to go ahead.  My parents loved it and drove straight to the estate agents’ office, (thankfully without me in tow), to place an offer.

And this is where it gets very shady indeed. The law clearly states that all offers must be put forward to a vendor and confirmed in writing to both parties. How a vendor actually responds to this news could all be down to the estate agents’ delivery of it; A negotiator on individual commission,  protective over their own buyer, can quite easily cast unjustified doubt over another if it will cost them their cash. So imagine my surprise when I heard he had completely refused to even put the offer forward!  To cut a long story short, he experienced the wrath of an unfairly treated sales negotiator who knew the law and therefore forcefully told of it!

All of this only fuels the suspicions and dislike of estate agents, unfortunately.  However, this is why David set up Cornerstone Residential as an agency with a moral compass. Where we work, (and get paid), as a team to find the best buyer for our clients, and why I am very proud to say that we are not your usual run-of-the-mill estate agents.  Above it all, David, Pauline and myself have all been house-sellers and house-buyers so we understand your concerns and questions.  We are here to sell your home and find you a buyer, the best buyer, in the best position, in a helpful, professional manner.  Hopefully you’ll spot the differences between us and others too.  Thanks for reading.

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