Country houses for sale

Choosing Your Agent Carefully

The recent Whistleblower programme on BBC1 exposed a number of deeply suspect practices by various estate agents. It has put the profession under the spotlight. No wonder. For most of us, our homes are our biggest financial investment, and we need to be able to trust those who sell them on our behalf.

When choosing an agency, we are probably most influenced by their valuation and their fees. There is little merit in engaging ‘honest, but dim’ if they are going to undersell your property. Nor do we want to pay an extra 0.5% to 1% in fees (plus VAT) just because they have swanky offices to maintain.

It is worth paying the extra amount, however, to have an honest and experienced agent who will best market the property to maximise the price, as well as know how to facilitate the deal there- after. As James Laing, partner at Strutt & Parker, says: ‘There is more to selling a property than simply accepting the highest offer. Getting the bid is often only half the job.’ Vendors normally get valuations from two to three agencies. Valuations will usually be within 5% of each other, but one agent might spot something good, or bad, that the others have missed.

Choose an agent you like. House sales can be traumatic and it is important to get on with one another. But can you trust them? The best way is to use an agency affiliated with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). RICS publishes the ‘Blue Book’, the bible of professional standards. It lays down what is legal and what is good practice. Agents who breach the rules will also have something to lose: their jobs.

If you are unhappy with the behaviour of your agent, an RICS-affiliated agency should offer an internal complaints procedure. If that fails, then complain to the disciplinary committee of RICS. They ‘take no prisoners,’ says Mr Laing.