Chapter 10: Working with Estate Agents

This is an extract from the ebook How to Really Buy a Property.

What's covered in this chapter
  • How professional buyers work with estate agents;
  • How you can use agents to your advantage;
  • How to know you are dealing with a quality agent;
  • Why good agents ask the questions they do;
  • How to be focused in your property search;
  • How to treat agents during your property search;
  • What are the questions you should be answering.

There are plenty of poor quality estate agents around as the industry is fairly unregulated. However at the same time there are a large number of highly professional firms and individuals who are well educated and have a wide experience of the property market.

A potential buyer who takes the view that every estate agent is below them will often have the most stressful experience. The majority are also first time buyers or amateur investors. Almost anyone who is well on their way to building a property portfolio will treat agents with respect and interest. These people realise the agent can be a solid mine of local knowledge, a person continuously in touch with the ever changing world of property finances and an excellent contact for the future.

The Way Professionals Work with Estate Agents

The best advice is to try and treat the sales negotiator as a friend of a friend. There is no need to talk about what you have been up to at the weekend but showing an interest in that person and what they do may reveal a great deal of useful information and could place you at the front of the queue should the right property come up.

If you are going to buy successfully you will benefit from having a professional Estate Agent on your side, you will need them to like you and respect you

Despite what the press or colleagues may tell you do not treat them with outright suspicion and be sure to include a little empathy. This does not mean imagining how hard their lives might be but instead consider why they ask certain questions.

For example some agents may refuse to show you a property until you have proved your identity and your finances. Why do they do it?

Firstly there is the question of security. You are going into someone else's home and the person taking you there knows nothing about you. To all intense and purposes you might be looking for the best apartment for your next robbery. After all, how often can someone walk into a building and ask, "So, is there an alarm here?" and "What are the locks on the window like?".

Secondly if you are seriously thinking of buying you will have given some consideration to your budget and looked at various mortgage possibilities. Show these to the agent without hesitation as they prove you are a serious buyer, not someone with nothing to do on a Tuesday afternoon.

Incidentally, the agent who asks for this kind of information is exactly the type of agent you should be looking for when you come to sell for exactly the same reasons.

A negotiator wants to see:
  • That you are well prepared for your search in terms of finances but are happy to discuss further options
  • That you have given some thought to a solicitor but this is open to discussion
  • That you are focused on what you want
  • That you will listen to advice and not think you know best just because you have read some articles, watched a TV show and have a distant uncle who writes about the economy for The Times!

In other words you are prepared for buying but reasonably open minded in your search. To prove a point ask any estate agent how often a person buys a property they were not looking for. It happens every day of the week. Someone may buy in a neighbourhood that they had ruled out because the apartment is perfect or they may buy a lower ground floor flat that they had previously dismissed when they see the large size of the garden.

In the same vain consider your own industry. How often does a client come to you and tell you all about your job and what is likely to happen. They don't because that is why they are on your doorstep but sometimes media coverage of the property market seems to turn certain people into overnight "experts".

Remember always that the individual negotiator is usually paid on commission and they know they are more likely to get that payment (i.e. get a property to exchange) from a buyer who is prepared, focused and listening than someone who thinks they are fantastic and knows it all. The latter will often end up on an endless and fruitless search.

Don't think because you are a first time buyer or are looking to spend half a million pounds you are God's gift to Estate Agents.

Being Prepared for Your Property Search

You will gain a huge amount of respect from an agent if you can show that you have given some thought to:

The negotiator in a successful and professional agency is busy, especially in a busy rising market, and he will make a calculated decision on who to call first when that bargain of the month or that extra special property comes onto the market. They want to sell a new property faster than any of their colleagues and so the best buyers get the first call. Those who have not considered their finances or shown they are ready to have an open relationship go to the bottom of the list.

What You Want and Why You Want it

This may seem bizarre but if the agent is going to help you and not drag you round irrelevant properties you are going to have to help them by verbalising what you want and why you want it. It does not matter at the early stages if this is fairly vague as you may not be aware of what you can buy until you have seen a few places and then you can refine things further.

Take some time before you start to write down what is essential, what is nice to have and why you want each asset. Something like this:

What You Want How Much You
Want it
Why You Want it
2 double bedrooms Essential The rent will help pay your mortgage
Quiet road Essential You are a very light sleeper
Outside space Preferrable Nice for the summer
Period Property Preferrable You like homes with character
Big Windows Preferrable You like somewhere nice and light
Not ground floor Essential Worried about security
Not x-council Essential Worried about security
Not above the 4th floor Essential Your mortgage deal does not allow it
10 mins. to the tube Preferrable Easier to sell?
£250,000 or less Essential Don't want to pay the stamp duty
Will do work No preferance If it is reflected in the price

This gives any agent a starting point. They can then show you some properties before you revisit the list. You may conclude after seeing ten places, for example, that ground floor flats which you had discounted earlier, are actually not too bad in certain locations, especially as they give you patio gardens which are larger than the balconies on higher floors.

Make sure every time that your requirements change to call every agent that you are registered with and let them know. If you do not then your dream property might come and go and you will be none the wiser.

To do this it is essential that you keep a list of all the agents you are registered with. Too many buyers register for say, a two bedroom flat, and then call up four weeks later asking about a one bedroom property they have seen on the net which looks perfect. Chances are it has already sold but the negotiator might have called you before it even went on the internet had he been aware of your change in requirements.

Also be at pains to point out to any agent the one factor that you will not compromise on, most buyers have to think on this when asked so do it now. Do you really want to go out on a wet and windy Thursday night to view the perfect property only to find out it is on the A3 trunk road and you would never get a wink of sleep if you lived there?

Many buyers think that because they have gone to such efforts to organise themselves they can just write it down and fax, email or drop off a sheet with every agent.

Do not fax, email or photocopy your requirements to every agent and then sit back and wait

You need, need, need to build a relationship with an agent that makes sure you are the first one into a property. The negotiator needs to believe you are well motivated if he is going to spend time for you or with you. The easiest way for him to differentiate that is to split buyers between those who call up and register and those who register by email or over the internet.