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Which questions should I ask an estate agent when I’m selling my home?

When you’re selling your home, there’s so much to think about, lots to remember, and plenty to consider. Choosing an agent to sell your house isn’t easy.

As well as online agents, there are traditional high street agents; then there are local ones and national ones, too, as well as cash buying companies. Thing is, all agents are different and each one will have their own pros and cons, so we’ve put together this list of questions you’ll want to print off and use as a reference.

Here are the 26 questions you MUST ask any estate agent. And remember, if they don’t give you a satisfactory answer, ask yourself why they’re not being open and honest with you.

Ok, let’s get started…

1. What are your fees?

This is a good starting point because even if you just need to sell your home and the selling is more important to you than the price you achieve, you’ll still want to know how much you’ll have to pay.

A lot of high street agents work on a commission basis. What this means for you as a seller is that you’ll need to pay to the agent a percentage of the final sale price.

That means you’ll pay X amount of the final sales price of your property, typically around 1%; although it can be up to 3%. At 1%, the fee you’d pay for a property valued at £179,950 is £1,795. At 3%, that would rise to £5,385. It’s a significant amount of money so is worth considering.

A fee structure that is based on commission will give the estate agent an incentive to sell your property for more money. Then again, they may get greedy, and the result is that your property stays on the market and does not get sold. An alternative is the fixed-fee pricing model. The benefit of this for you as a seller is that you’ll know exactly how much you’ll be charged. The downside is that the agent may feel that they’ve done all the work for your fee and not put in the extra effort to sell your property because they won’t gain any more money. It’s therefore important to understand not only the fee amount, but also the model that is used by the agent.

2. When do your fees need to be paid?

Linked to question one, this particular question is important because it’ll help you to plan your finances. If the agent uses a fixed fee model, you’ll usually have the option of paying upon completion of the house sale or paying before the property has been listed. Naturally, the second option may not be ideal if you need the cash from the house to pay for it to be sold. Also, paying before the property has been listed could prove to be expensive if your house does not sell at all.

3. Can I see a copy of your contract upfront?

Whenever you choose an estate agent you’ll be asked to sign a contract. This is perfectly normal and it will set out the terms and conditions to which both you and the agent have to adhere in selling your property. As well as detailing the fees you’ll be required to pay and when they’ll be due, it will also detail special conditions such as exclusivity agreements or minimum terms. That leads us to…

4. Will I be tied into a contract for a fixed period of time?

It’s common for estate agents to ask you to sign a contract that ties you into listing your property exclusively with them for a minimum time period. You’ll need to check this because you could find there are fees to pay if your circumstances change and you decide not to sell. And that links to our next question…

5. Do you charge a withdrawal fee?

Whether the agent you choose is an online agent or a high street agent, it is usual for them to have a clause in their contract about withdrawing your property from the market mid-contract. If, for whatever reason, you do have to withdraw your property from the market, the potential costs are:

  • You will be asked to cover the costs incurred by the agent during the period that your property was on the market. These will be marketing and admin costs
  • You will need to repay some or all of the agent’s commission for the sale

In some cases, an agent may attempt to charge you a withdrawal fee and then claim it against future business. What this means is that although you didn’t sell with them this time, they’re trying to ensure that you’ll go back to them when you sell in the future. All of this connects very well with our next couple of questions…

6. Can you tell me about the type of contracts used?

There are different types of contracts typically used by estate agents and these are the most common:

  • Sole selling rights – If your contract gives the agent sole selling rights, it means that they are the only one allowed to sell your home during the period stipulated
  • Multi agency – Having this in the contract means that you’ll be able to use as many agents as you choose and only pay commission to the one that sells your property
  • Sole agency – This is similar to the previously mentioned ‘sole selling rights’ but there is a difference. If you find your own buyer, you won’t have to pay anything to the estate agent
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It’s always best to clarify these details to make sure you’re not breaking the terms of your contracts.

7. What happens if I take my home off the market, then sell with another agent later?

This is one of those questions that you’ll want to ask an estate agent when it’s too late, so it’s best to ask this one before it comes up.

If you were with Agent A on a sole agency contract, served your notice period and left them, then joined Agent B and you then sold your house, Agent B would be paid the commission you owe them for selling your home. However, Agent A would be likely to ask for a percentage as they would argue that the purchaser was originally introduced by them. In these circumstances, there are always going to be differing opinions on whether or not a purchaser was introduced. You can avoid this by making sure the contract is clear on what constitutes an ‘introduction’.

Furthermore, if you do appoint a new agent, inform them of the names of the parties that were introduced by the previous agent (particularly those who showed interest) and make the new agent aware of the level of interest expressed. It’s also worth asking the new agent if they would split their fee in the event of a fee dispute. This is to ensure you don’t pay two sets of so-called ‘finders’ fees’.

8. What are your opening hours?

This may not appear to be an important question, but it has implications for both you as a seller and for your potential buyer.

The first reason is your convenience. You’ll need to know that you can conveniently talk about viewings and offers with your agent. The second reason is that your buyers will need to contact the agent in order to arrange viewings and submit their offer. Not everyone works the traditional 9-5, so if your potential buyer is a shift worker, it could be that they aren’t awake during normal business hours and are therefore unable to speak with your agent.

Online agents usually have long working days and use call centres, which means that both you and your buyer can contact the agent after 5pm and on weekends, too. However, whilst a high street agent does not open on Sundays, they do have the benefit of face-to-face contact that is preferred by some people

9. How many other properties have you sold in this area recently?

Before you select an agent, you’ll want to know that they’re active in your area and know the market. Ask them if they have sold any other properties nearby in the last few months, and if so, which ones and for how much. An agent that has sold local properties is likely to have a list of potential buyers that are seeking a home in your area; meaning they understand the demand for your property and the value it holds.

10. Who will conduct viewings?

This is one of those questions that it’s important to ask beforehand to ascertain what will happen and ensure you don’t get a surprise! If you’re comfortable hosting viewings, you’ll be well placed to do so because you know your property better than anyone else. You’ll be able to point out features that your home has and answer questions from the potential buyers. However, if you’re not comfortable talking to strangers and would rather not conduct a viewing, your agent may be able to do this for you, although it’s likely that they will charge extra for the service.

11. When will you conduct viewings?

As previously mentioned, not everyone works the normal 9-5 now so if you elect to allow the agent to host the viewings, you’ll need to know when they’ll be available. It’s typical that buyers will want to have at least two, and maybe even three or four viewings before they submit an offer. After all, buying a house is a big decision. If they want to view at weekends, you’ll need to know that your agent can do this for you, or if they expect you to do it (which means putting your social life on hold so that you’re available).

12. How can we best prepare our home for viewings?

On the topic of viewings, you can ask an agent for their advice on how you could attract more interest for your home. They might suggest a neutral colour scheme, removing personal photographs, or undertaking little jobs that give your place that special touch.

13. How will you provide feedback on my viewings?

In answering this, the agent might talk about how quickly you’ll get the feedback. Whilst that is important, the thing you want to know is how it’ll be delivered. It’s all too easy to hide behind an email – especially when giving bad news – so request that you get feedback over the phone initially, and that it’s sent by email afterwards. Make it clear at the start that you want feedback to be straight to the point so that you can act upon the information.

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14. How often will you keep in touch?

The frequency of updates is a very important question to ask estate agents. You might find that they suggest scheduling regular updates. If an agent doesn’t specify a time period and avoids the question, it could be that they’re either understaffed, unorganised, or both.

It’s worth remembering that an estate agent is legally obliged to tell you in writing about every offer that is made for your property; right up to the point that the contracts are signed. They have to tell you even if the agent knows that the offer is lower than the price you’re willing to accept. This is because you need to have the opportunity to turn down offers that don’t meet your expectations.

Unless you have instructed otherwise, estate agents must pass on written offers within 24 hours of receiving them. If you suspect that your estate agent has not passed on an offer, your first point of contact should be the agent’s head office. If you feel that the head office has not dealt with the complaint in a satisfactory manner, you can approach an ombudsman to take the issue further.

15. How quickly will you put my property on the market?

It’s important to remember that not all estate agents work at the same speed. Before your property goes on sale, it’ll need to have professional photographs taken, an accurate description written, floorplans drawn, and an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). All of this takes time, so you’ll want to know the typical lead time for getting a property on the market. This will help to set your expectations.

16. Where will my property be listed?

Knowing that your property will be seen by lots of people is going to give you peace of mind that you’re reaching a large and interested audience. You’ll therefore want to check that your agent will promote your home on Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket.

17. For how long will you list my property?

Contrary to popular opinion, your home is not guaranteed to stay on the market until it is sold. Many estate agents will list your property for up to six months but then may withdraw the advert. The process will depend upon the agent you’re using and those working on a ‘no sale, no fee’ agreement will likely continue advertising your property because they won’t be paid until it is sold. Establishing at the start what happens if the initial timeframe should elapse will prevent this from being a problem later.

18. How quickly do you respond to enquiries?

When you’re selling your home, you want to know that the agent representing you has your interests at heart and is being proactive. You can ask how quickly they respond to enquiries to gain a feel for whether they’re on the ball, but one of the best ways is to test them for yourself.

This can be done by contacting the agent out of hours about a property on their website and seeing how long it takes them to get back to you. That way, you’ll have an idea of how potential buyers are going to be treated.

19. Do you vet prospective buyers before viewing?

This is an important one because it’ll mean your time isn’t being wasted by people that have no interest in buying – or don’t have the means to buy – and are only there to pass the time on a wet afternoon by looking at your décor. A good agent will only allow proceedable buyers to view your home; ones that have a mortgage in principle or funds available to buy.

20. Can you handle offer negotiation and sales progression?

The role of your estate agent is not just limited to finding potential buyers for your property. When you receive an offer, a good estate agent should help you to negotiate and get the best possible price. It’s going to be in their interests too if they’re taking a commission. Then, when you’ve accepted an offer, they should oversee the sale all the way through to completion. That means regularly chasing all parties in the transaction to make sure the sale is on track and completed as quickly as possible.

21. Do you have any feedback I can read?

How an agent reacts to this question may be more telling than the feedback they provide. It’s likely that you’ll be directed to their website where you’ll only see the positive and highly praising comments that the agent has cherry-picked. Instead, take a look at Trustpilot and allAgents. You’ll be able to find positive and negative comments from buyers and sellers and then form an opinion of how each party is treated. It’s easy to think that you only need to look at comments from sellers because they’re people like you; they’re selling their home. However, it’s worth reading the comments from buyers because if they get poor service, it could cost you a sale.

22. Can you recommend surveyors, solicitors and removal firms?

It can often be useful if your agent is able to recommend local professionals that can help you complete your move and it’ll help you to save time. After all, they’re dealing with house moves every day so they probably have a good idea of who is reliable and can do a good job. However, the strength of the relationship they have with these professionals leads us to the next question to ask.

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23. Do you get commission for recommending firms?

If you do ask for recommendations of other services, also ask if they receive a commission. If they do, it might be that this is a way for the agent to increase their earnings from each client and you must remember that it’s no longer an independent recommendation. If that is the case, do your research on the other companies and find online feedback to make up your own mind.

24. Are you a member of The Property Ombudsman?

Knowing that the agent is a member of The Property Ombudsman not only means that you can judge if they’re reputable (ask yourself what reason they have for not being a member), but you’ll also have a valuable lifeline if things don’t go to plan. Although the Ombudsman isn’t a regulator, it will allow you to file a complaint and potentially receive compensation if an agent has caused you financial loss, distress or inconvenience.

25. How much is our property worth?

You might be surprised that this one isn’t at the top of the list, but there is a reason for that.
All the questions that have been mentioned so far will provide you with an indication of the agent’s character, reputation, how they operate and how they treat their clients. This question is about the valuation of your specific home and in giving you a figure, it should not come attached with an obligation that you have to use that particular agent.

The agents that do operate on a commission-based fee are more likely to value your home higher so as to maximise their commission. Therefore, take valuations in context of any vested interest the agent may have in selling your property.

Some estate agents will set a high valuation in order to get your business. It may be pleasing to hear them suggest a figure that is higher than you were expecting, but it doesn’t mean this is the amount you’ll get. Have a look online at similar local properties that have recently sold, as well as those that are still on the market. It should give you an insight to what the right price would be for your home. If you think the higher-than-average price for your place is justified, make sure potential viewers know what makes your property stand out. For example, do you have a garage, but your neighbours don’t? Is your garden larger than others?

Every house has its own perceived value. However, the perceived value held by you as the seller is not necessarily going to be the same as a potential buyer’s perceived valuation. Naturally, you see the good points of your property. A potential buyer will be looking for the bad points.

Understanding pricing is to understand how to sell your house. Having the wrong price will negatively affect your sale from the very start. Too many homeowners settle on what their emotions say their home is worth (letting their heart rule their head), or set their price above the prevailing market rates.

What you must remember is that buyers are not fools. They will undertake their own research and they will of course have their own limits on spending. Despite what your local agent may tell you, pricing high does not encourage better offers. The only thing that does encourage offers is setting a realistic price and creating some competition.

Having your property valued by a regional expert who knows the prices from recent sales – as well as current market conditions and what you can realistically expect to achieve – is the only way to be certain that your price is close to being correct.

26. Can you tell me why you got into property as a career?

There’s an important reason for asking this question. It may seem like a throwaway question that’s more conversational than the 25 questions that have gone before, but the answer you get can be very telling.

A huge part of sales is based on knowledge and trust (after all, we only deal with people that we like), but a hugely important characteristic is passion. This is what will get potential buyers excited about your property. You’ll be able to spot if they’re telling you a genuine story about how they came to be where they are now, or if they’re reciting a tale they’ve rehearsed over and over.

Any questions for us?

As you can see, there are lots of important questions you should ask an agent before instructing them to sell your property so as to find out if they’re right for you and make an informed decision on whether or not they should be appointed to market your biggest asset.

If you have any questions about selling your property to a fast sale specialist and cash buyer – whether it’s a semi-detached, detached or terraced house, or a flat – we’ll be happy to have a chat with you. Send an email or call us.