Questions to Ask your Estate Agent Before you Instruct
Selling your home is a big decision. Your home is probably your most valuable asset, so you need to choose an estate agent you trust. Asking a few key questions will help you zero in on the right agent for you and identify any potentially contentious issues before you instruct:
What will you charge?
High street estate agents usually charge a percentage fee based on the property's selling price.
Fees can vary between 0.75% and 3.5%, depending on the contract type. In England and Wales, the average high street agency fee is approximately 1.2%+ VAT for a sole agency agreement on a no sale, no fee basis.
As a general rule, avoid any high street estate agents that ask you to pay fees upfront. Standard practice is no sale, no fee.
Online agents tend to work on a lower-cost model, but the fees are usually payable upfront. You could save money using an online agent but if your property doesn’t sell, you could end up paying agency fees regardless.
Are there any additional costs?
By law, the estate agent should tell you exactly what is included in their fees. For Sale boards, professional photos, floorplans and accompanied viewings, for example, should all be included, but it pays to check.
Most properties will require an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) before they can be put on the market.
Some agents will charge extra for the EPC - others will throw one in for free. Ask the estate agent how much they charge to provide an EPC. It may be cheaper to apply for one yourself.
(At the time of writing EPC’s are readily available through national online providers for £40-50.)
How will we communicate?
Selling your home can be stressful, so you'll want an agent that will be available to answer your queries.
Ask the prospective agent if they prefer communicating via email or phone? Do they have strict office hours or can they be contacted outside of the normal 9-5?
Navigating the sale of a home through to completion is all about communication. Poor communication is a major cause of stress and delays. It can even lead to a sale falling through. The agent will broker communication between you and potential buyers until you accept an offer.
Once you accept an offer, the agent will be a linchpin between you, your solicitor, the buyer, the lender and any number of other parties that must be kept updated in the run-up to exchange of contracts.
Gauging the agent’s approach to communication upfront is a good predictor of how they will communicate throughout the process.
If problems with your agent do occur, there are ways in which you can resolve disputes if the agent is a member of a grievance body, such as ‘The Property Ombudsman’. Pursuing a complaint will be time-consuming, however, and results are not guaranteed. It would be preferable to ensure you have chosen the right agent in the first place.
Where will you list my home?
Almost all property searches begin on the online property portals. Your estate agent should list your home on all the major property sites, such as Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket.
Your estate agent should show that they have relevant local knowledge to market your property in the most effective way for your area. Don't be afraid to ask your agent what they think is the best way to market your home.
How long will the process take?
The estate agent can't give you a definite answer to this question. However, they should be able to provide an estimate based on how long it takes to sell similar properties in the area. Ask to see specific examples of recently sold comparable properties.
You might also want to ask how often they achieve their sellers' asking price. If they rarely achieve the asking price, maybe you should take their valuation of your home with a pinch of salt? A reputable estate agent should be willing to share this information with you.
What contract type do you use?
Each type of contract has advantages and limitations. Ask the estate agent for further explanation if there's anything you don't understand.
The most commonly entered into agency agreement, sole-agency means you won’t have to pay the estate agent unless they find a buyer and the sale completes.
This is a condition of a sole-agency agreement whereby you still pay the agent’s commission if you find your own buyer.
This involves using multiple agents but only paying commission to the one who sells your home. This method may reach more potential buyers but incurs higher fees.
Ready, willing and able
Sometimes a condition of sole or multi-agency, this clause means that you u have to pay the estate agent if they introduce a buyer who is ready, willing and able to buy, even if you no longer want to sell.
How long will I be tied in?
The length of tie-in periods varies between estate agents. As a general rule, you should not be tied-in for more than 12 weeks.
You should also check your contract to ensure there are no early withdrawal fees. This means if you experience problems with your estate agent, you'll be able to end your contract without incurring penalties.
Will I have to pay anything if I pull out?
Some contracts include a 'future liability' clause which could result in two sets of fees.
For example, if you end your contract with agent A, and instead sell through agent B, agent A may claim that they're entitled to their fees because they introduced the buyer. To prevent this, check how your contract defines ‘an introduction’.
Your relationship with your estate agent will last many months. You are working towards the same ends and your interests should be aligned.
It is critical that you both like and trust your agent throughout the process. Don’t be scared to ask questions before you instruct, as the agent you ultimately choose to go with could make or break your sale.