It’s about this time of year, pandemic or not, that agents may be asked one particularly awkward question by a vendor - Will I be in my new home by Christmas?
Before the virus, Zoopla research showed that people moved house on average around once every 15 years, so it’s not surprising that many are unfamiliar with the process and the timescale. And, for most vendors, Christmas still seems a long way away.
Figures released just last month - again from Zoopla - show it now takes an average 27 days from when the For Sale sign goes up to when a vendor accepts an offer.
That’s down from 39 days before lockdown, so it’s turbo-charged the belief amongst some sellers that moving house is a quick process.
Agents obviously have a responsibility to manage expectations and to explain why in many cases, especially in today’s active market, finding a buyer is perhaps the easiest and speediest part of the house moving process.
We all know that surveys, conveyancing, searches and the rest can trip up even the smoothest transaction - the pitfalls are possibly greater this year, when social distancing and local lockdowns complicate even the simplest task.
However, don’t be a Christmas party pooper by simply dismissing a deadline out of hand.
And if you do try to help vendors achieve their dream by December 25, explain what obstacles exist and how you can advise them to second-guess delays: that way, even if the deadline is missed, you can be seen to have added value and tried as hard as possible.
Play Santa Claus for your client
For example, let’s assume your vendor has just accepted an offer but hasn’t so far found their own next home.
You don’t have to do more for your client but if you want to provide them with the obvious checklists to help them through the next stages of the process, this goodwill is likely to be repaid in the future.
If you don’t have the time for a personal discussion, there are plenty of online guides you can steer vendors towards. They give step-by-step help on getting their finances in order, obtaining a mortgage if they need one, advising them how best to select and prepare for (and chase) the conveyancer, and how best to organise the right survey on the home they want to purchase.
Dare I say it, Move iQ is one of the consumer-friendly websites with comprehensive guides and free downloadable toolkits to help sellers and home buyers who may have become unfamiliar with the process.
But always be sure to add your own local knowledge too.
If you know a home is coming to the market (even through a rival agent) and needs to be sold quickly because of death, debt or divorce, give your client the inside track. If the council search department is slow, tell your vendor straight away. If you have good links with a removal team working right up to Christmas, suggest them to your seller.
None of this is strictly necessary - after all, you have your client’s home sold so you have discharged your duty - and it’s tempting in a busy market to move on to the next seller. But adding value marks you out from the crowd of rival agents on the High Street and online.
And if the worst happens and there’s a major delay - risking your client’s sale as their buyer becomes impatient - try an alternative strategy. For example check out your own firm’s lettings team (or even another friendly agent who deals with rentals) to identify suitable properties the vendor can consider as a temporarily measure to avoid the sale collapsing.
Christmas in a rented house isn’t every seller’s ideal, but if the alternative is a deal falling through and having to start marketing all over again in January, most will go for it.
Now one final comment about why going the extra mile, especially in this most difficult of years, is positive for the agent as well as the seller. Just because it’s an old cliche doesn’t mean it’s not true: selling homes is a people business.
So if the people you help talk positively about you, then they will talk to other people and… well, you know the end result. As we all become increasingly localised about where we shop and now work, so the importance of a strong local reputation becomes greater still.
Good luck in the build up to Christmas!
*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch – sign-up here.