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"Estate agents are not professionals" claims Times consumer journalist

The consumer affairs correspondent of The Times has savaged High Street estate agents because of the commission they charge when compared to online rivals.

Andrew Ellson has written that he was shocked at the commission rates when he was asked by family members to help sell two properties recently, one in Cornwall and the other in London.

His short piece in the paper referred to “the gargantuan fee” levied by one agent, whose absence of even a “basic level of professionalism” was evident as he “appears to spend more time buckling up his Burberry jacket than researching the market.”

Ellson goes on to say that the absence of regulation and minimum standards in the industry mean that agents “have fewer qualifications than bricklayers” and are “charging fees that would make a senior barrister blush.”

The piece has, inevitably, generated comment on Twitter with one property industry figure saying it was surprising that Ellson repeatedly asked for quotes from traditional agents if he felt online operators were so much more reasonable. However, another commentator said the piece threw up examples of “shockingly bad” service.  

Here’s the piece in full: 

No one in their right mind would consider paying anyone thousands of pounds to sell their car yet in the property market, this remains a reasonable suggestion.

In the past month, I’ve been asked by family members to help sell two properties and it’s shocking how much traditional estate agents still ask for in commission despite the advance of online competition.

One London agent wanted £16,500 to sell a home it valued at £550,000. The agent said the property would sell easily, perhaps forgetting that this meant he would be doing very little to justify his gargantuan fee.

The truth is the property won’t sell easily, particularly at that valuation, because the market is stagnating. An identical flat just yards away priced at £50,000 less hasn’t sold in months. 

The agent might have known this if he’d bothered to check Rightmove first. However, that basic level of professionalism was too much for a man who appears to spend more time buckling up his Burberry jacket than researching the market.

It’s no surprise, really. Estate agents are not professionals — they don’t have to do a day of training or pass a single exam before setting up shop. They have fewer qualifications than bricklayers. Sadly that doesn’t stop them from charging fees that would make a senior barrister blush.

The problem is not confined to property hotspots like London and the southeast. In Cornwall, I was trying to help sell a property valued at £400,000. 

The first agent, who wanted a £7,600 commission, failed in a fortnight to show up to take photos. The only other credible agent wanted £10,000 and there was no negotiating. When I pointed out I could employ a highly trained local solicitor for almost a month for the same money he said he had expensive “marketing overheads”. Yet these are the same overheads faced by online estate agents who charge a flat fee of £700.

In vain did I point out that the last time I sold a property myself, I used an online estate agent who charged just £495 and that within weeks I got a buyer offering more than any traditional agents’ valuation.

Quite why old-fashioned agents think they can stick to their ludicrous charging structure in the face of online competition is a mystery. In the absence of legislation, it’s down to all of us to shun them until they follow the rest of the high street into the 21st century.

  • David Bennett

    A very unbalanced piece. No online agent was invited to take part and yet they are mentioned, several times. Me thinks Andrew Ellson just likes bashing traditional estate agents, to get so column inches and a conversation going. £16,500 (3% commission) to sell at £550,000 and £7,600 (1.9% ) at £400,00! How many agents even quote 3%, yet alone get anywhere near it? I suspect 1.5-1.25% was discussed.

  • Simon shinerock

    Yes well, I don’t think this is the first time we have heard we aren’t worth our fees, actually we are worth far more if we are good at our jobs. I started off selling life assurance and pensions, an intangible product no one goes shopping for, so it had to be done through recommendations and referrals. It was regarded as the hardest thing you could sell and honestly I came into estate agency thinking it would be easy, given my very poor experiences as a buyer and seller it was a natural conclusion. However, what I didn’t know back then was how hard it is to be a good estate agent, true you don’t need a qualification to be one but the skills you need to learn and put into practice are amongst the most demanding of any profession, much more so than being a lawyer or an accountant for example. The selection process for these professions is in the form of exams, with estate agents it’s natural selection. The thing is these professions require a lot of knowledge whereas estate agency requires that plus the ability to communicate, build relationships manage multiple expectations and do this in an atmosphere of heightened stress. Many agents aren’t proficient at what they do, some are almost mystical in their powers. However, there’s another parallel worth drawing with the insurance business, it’s that of Equitable life, a company that didn’t pay salesmen commission and were a disruptor in their way being particularly popular with people who thought they knew better than the poor chumps buying from commission hungry salespeople. Unfortunately they went bust, it turned out that their cost of acquisition of business was actually higher than paying commission, all that advertising and all those salaries added up to more in the end. The parallel with PB is very clear, all those TV ads have to be paid for, in the end their model will prove more expensive and less effective than the high st judged on results and that’s what will win the day, natural selection is good, the strongest will survive, bring it on is what I say

  • icon

    Where do we start? First, I think the only business involved in "selling" property which blatantly advertises its staff as "property professionals" is EasyProperty. Secondly, an agents who says the "property would sell easily" may well be a brilliant proactive local agent who knows his market and who would be the property. Perhaps perceived as "doing very little", but consumers (aka Joe Public) do not appreciate the investment (money, time and effort) that goes into creating an fantastic local agency that knows its market inside out. As for the comparison with solicitor's fees, I suspect the true answer given may have been "we'll as an agent, I will do everything for free, right up until completion".

  • Kelvin Francis

    What an ill thought out and ignorant article, from someone taking advantage of his position to vent his anger over his own unfortunate experiences. He didn't have to accept the commission rates quoted, or retain their services if he considered them unsatisfactory. It wouldn't have cost him anything unless a sale was completed. Some Agencies are qualified, we are RICS, but that is not necessary. Bright, intelligent, resourceful individuals with good people skills and tenacity will run rings around the apparently cheap on-line property 'listers'. If there are holdups and there are many in any chain of transaction, if they are not legal or survey problems, they are on-liners, who will do nothing or next to nothing to help. The truth is, there is no comparison with Real Estate Agents and as for fees, we are constantly undercut on our 1%. Either properly research your subject Mr Ellson, or keep your own counsel.

  • Kelvin Francis

    What an ill thought out and ignorant article, from someone taking advantage of his position to vent his anger over his own unfortunate experiences. He didn't have to accept the commission rates quoted, or retain their services if he considered them unsatisfactory. It wouldn't have cost him anything unless a sale was completed. Some Agencies are qualified, we are RICS, but that is not necessary. Bright, intelligent, resourceful individuals with good people skills and tenacity will run rings around the apparently cheap on-line property 'listers'. If there are holdups and there are many in any chain of transaction, if they are not legal or survey problems, they are on-liners, who will do nothing or next to nothing to help. The truth is, there is no comparison with Real Estate Agents and as for fees, we are constantly undercut on our 1%. Either properly research your subject Mr Ellson, or keep your own counsel.

  • icon

    PR article paid by PB?

  • icon

    It's a tired debate. It will be interesting to find out which option he opted for and ultimately who is successful.

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