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Almost a love-in from Which?

It’s always interesting when Which? produces a report that includes estate agency.

It asked 1,990 people their views on buying and selling homes and, surprisingly, estate agents scored a satisfaction rating of 65 per cent. Only 16 per cent of respondents were unhappy which, to me, seems a pretty good success rate.

But it’s always worth searching a little deeper into the Which? reservoir of facts and one of the organisation’s pet themes has been that you don’t really need high street estate agents as we don’t actually do anything that you can’t do yourself or online.

So it was interesting to see in the section about online estate agencies that one of the Which? recommendations, because online agents do not always have local knowledge on which to base their valuations, is that you ask a high street agent along to give you a valuation which you then demand is used by your online agent. Presumably, the high street agent can do this as some of the 16 hours’ work allowed while signing on for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Among the other pearls of wisdom from Which? is that it can be cheaper to use an online agent, although its list of online agents and comparable features quickly shows that many charge upfront fees or a set amount each week/month until the property sells. In other words, they have an incentive to drag out the process because they get paid on failure whereas most high street agents charge a commission based on the sale price and only paid when they sell – a real incentive to work hard and be successful. 

As Which? also points out, you’ll be lucky to even meet anyone from an online agency whereas in this people-oriented business a personal relationship is what it’s all about. And online agents make accompanied viewings an optional extra (that means they cost more), while high street agents know that letting the agent conduct the viewing, perhaps with the vendor tagging along, is always more successful and feedback from unsuccessful viewings raises more genuine concerns that can be addressed.

It’s gratifying that Which? does recognise this last point. Its advice includes the gem that buyers should not rely purely on online searches but should get out and about in the area where they wish to live and make contact with high street agents, registering with them. It gives a chance to discuss the local housing market, suggests Which?, a feature of the transaction that’s very difficult with a purely online operation that has no local presence.

But of course they miss the point because the best agents are something of a hybrid – we are online but on the High Street, too, and have been for years. Many of us also advertise in print, because that also helps strike up a traditional client relationship.

The report shows a softening in the organisation’s approach to estate agents. Despite all its tub-thumping in the past, which no doubt helped sales of its own book on how to sell your house yourself, it seems that estate agents are back in the fold. Its website discloses that it even asked the National Association of Estate Agents to help draw up its guide on choosing an estate agent. Now that’s progress!

*Colin Shairp is director of Fine and Country Southern Hampshire 

colin.shairp@fineandcountry.com

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