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Buying a Home? Get the Most From Your Estate Agent

Phi Spencer

By Phil Spencer

Having sleepless nights about home buying? It doesn’t have to be this way! We’ve got a simple tip that will ease the stress of buying a home. It’s not magic, it’s not even technical. All you have to do is make friends with your estate agent! Simple! Here’s  how you can get the most from your estate agent.

Remember, estate agents control the process

Nowhere else in the world can you find a market – not just a residential property market – but a market place, where traditionally all the help and advice is only taken by one side of the deal. Forget the lawyers and surveyors who obviously work for both sides – I’m talking about the process of finding a suitable property and negotiating the best terms.

Operating in the market every day, estate agents are the ones who know, understand and to some extent control what goes on. For all but the most experienced purchasers the inner workings are a complete mystery. With mystery comes confusion, and with confusion comes exploitation.

So, how can you prevent this?

Be very, very nice

When buying, the biggest trade secret is this: be very, very nice to estate agents. Until you can learn to love, or at the very least like, estate agents all other advice is at best only 50% effective. I realise this might be a revolutionary concept but, like all the best ideas, it’s simple and it works.

Let’s paint a scenario:

You go into a shop and try on an expensive coat. If you are rude to the sales assistant they are going to take pleasure in seeing you walk out with a purchase that doesn’t suit you and which emphasises your expanding gut. But if you are friendly they may well say “listen, I’m not sure the purple is for you”, or “I’ll tell you a secret, the sale starts next week and we’ve got loads of those in stock.” These comments may not be in the best interests of their employer, but you’ve got the sales assistant on your side.

It’s the same with agents, if you’re nice to them and build up a good working relationship they’re less likely to see you walk away with a dud house. Most agents are decent people just trying to keep body and soul together and pay their own mortgages; it’s not their fault the product they’re selling plays such an important part in your life.

Keep your cards close to your chest

You need them on side as much as possible to get early information on the best properties — but do be careful how much you let slip. Remember that they are in ‘sales’ and trained to win your trust. They may try to override your point of view with their own, or nudge you into spending more than you wanted.

Control the flow of information…

While estate agents are not in business to look after the interests of buyers, good ones are excellent relationship builders; the more they know about you, your property requirements and your finances, the easier it is to sell you a house.

Clued-up on the property you are viewing?

Some agents have viewing targets to meet and will want to show you as many properties as possible. If you read the sales particulars and ask plenty of questions before agreeing to a viewing (such as what is the weakness of the property – even Buckingham Palace has weaknesses) you should avoid wasting time looking at something totally unsuitable. Estate agents aren't keen on timewasters! 

It’s a fact:

More than 70% of buyers spend 20% more than they set out to — this is why agents take you to places you can’t afford, hoping you’ll fall in love with one and throw caution to the wind.

What if I suspect a bluff?

Estate agents are a much maligned breed and are the people we all love to hate – but in my experience they get messed around by the public far more than they intentionally behave badly.  But what if you are suspicious that you’re not being told the truth or that the agent is hiding something? 

If there are specific things you’re unsure about, ask the agent who shows you the house, ask the vendor, ask your solicitor and ask another agent from the same office. If you’re still unsure, ask them all again. If somebody’s bluffing, it will come out eventually.

What does the law say?

By law, sellers and agents don’t have to point out defects or problems; but they must answer direct questions accurately. If a buyer has been given and relied on false information, they may have a claim under the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991

Eliminate potential misunderstandings

Whether buying or selling, any verbal understanding with the agent that is relevant to the process — whether it relates to fees, price, timescale, chain situation, existence of another bid or exclusive period — should be confirmed in writing. If you’ve laid a paper trail of what’s been agreed, there is no room for misunderstanding.

This mentality can also be carried over to new builds - build up a snagging list filled with defects you've identified, so they can be rectified before you decide to move in.

Remember:

Whether you’re buying or selling, deal only with agents who belong to the ombudsman scheme or a professional association.

Estate agents are here to sell

If you are not using a specialist search company to find a home, then the sales agents are your only avenue to hearing about and gaining access to properties that might be suitable.

Always remember who is paying their bill and whose interests they serve; they work in sales and that is what they’re paid to do. 

The majority of complaints about the ‘services’ of agents come from buyers, who were clearly in the misguided belief they were about to be provided with a service in the first place. You definitely need them on side – but it is then up to you to manage them properly.

Gather your own facts 

Phil Spencer's Property Reports are proving invaluable for home buyers as they can be used to see local valuations and rental estimate to make sure you don't over value or pay too much for a property. It also includes historic details on the property such as the last time it was sold, the last sale price and how the current price relates to other properties in the area, and how that price compares nationally.

You can get a report here.

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