10 tips for estate agents (based on personal experience as a buyer)

by Stephen Tall on April 7, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike Iain, we’re on the move. After almost 18 years in the city of dreaming spires — half my life — I’m moving to Horsham, swapping the ‘shire of Oxford for the ‘sex of West Sus. This is the view we’re leaving behind…

We first saw the house two months ago: it was number 6 on a list of 8 we saw that day (on foot: we were completely knackered by the end). We spent about 20 minutes there, haven’t been back since. I’ve spent longer buying a pair of shoes. Hopefully as and when the solicitors have justified their fees we’ll be able to move in and the ideas we’ve had for it this past eight weeks will all take shape.

If it sounds like I’m distancing myself from the process a little, there’s a reason. We were within a few days of moving into a house before Christmas when the sale fell through. Not the best present I’ve ever had… £1,200 of fees down the drain and — worse, much worse — the draining prospect of having to start the whole process all over again.

Anyway, here are 10 tips for estate agents based on our six months of searching…

Photos matter
Really, they do matter. Last time I bought a house was 2008. Even in the five years since the internet has transformed buying a house. I want to see good quality photos before I even consider viewing a house. And if you don’t take a photo of at least all the downstairs rooms (including the kitchen) I’ll assume the worst. (Though it would be hard to get worse than these.)

Floor-plans are crucial
First I look at the photos. The next step is to check out the floor-plan. I remember when we were moving house when I was a child, here’s what you’d get: a tiny, credit card-sized photo glued onto a closely-typed double-sided page of room names and dimensions which meant absolutely nothing to me. Not now: I want a clear diagram. If the house hasn’t got a floor-plan I’ll just assume the estate agent’s heart isn’t in it.

But don’t bother with 3-D floor-plans
Here’s one innovation I don’t like though: translating clear floor-plans into something three-dimensional and unreadable. Compare these two plans side-by-side and tell me which you think is easiest to read.

Or with video tours which aren’t
When I first saw an estate agent offering an online video tour of a property I was quite excited about it (in a low-rent Through The Keyhole kinda way). I clicked play and was greeted with a slow-moving slide-show of exactly the same photos I could scan through at my own pace. Why?

I still want a brochure, though
Because no-one wants to leave empty-handed. When you’re sat in the car afterwards trying to remember which bits of which house you liked, it’s easier to flick through a colour brochure than fiddle with the RightMove app on your phone.

Appointments – please stick to what you say
It’s just polite, really. Don’t double-book yourself, do keep the appointments you schedule, do confirm an appointment by email if requested. Believe me it’s not a good look if (as happened to us on more than one occasion) the estate agent leaves you in the cold for ages, then claims it must be your mistake when you have a print-out from them confirming the date and time.

Be informed
All the houses we viewed were at the weekends when many agents employ ‘latchkey staff’ whose sole job it is to let you into the house and lock-up afterwards. Unsurprisingly, they know nothing about the property (how long’s it been on the market, is there a chain, where’s the boiler, etc). My favourite was when we were being given a lift to view a house and the agent driving us complained about the parking situation: “You can never get a space around here.” Oddly we didn’t buy that one.

Please check if it’s a good moment to call
I expect the Monday morning follow-up call “for your feedback”. But please recognise I’m probably at work and might not be able to talk. Perhaps ask me if it’s convenient to talk right now and then offer to call back? Don’t launch into your spiel without pausing for breath. Because it takes quite a lot to make me grumpy (but that does).

Mutual respect: that’s all I ask
Some agents are over-the-top obsequious (“Of course, Mr Tall, that’s very wise”); others are plain patronising (“Buying a house can be quite complex, Mr Tall”). Thing is, I know estate agents are more experienced at this than me: after all, I’ve bought only two properties in my life so far. So what I want is their best advice to make a sale happen. The best agent I’ve dealt with (Mike Simkin, if you’re out there) was brilliant at easing along negotiations even when they got tricky: “they want to buy, you want to sell: so we’ll make this deal happen”.

Be upfront
Don’t string me along. The house we were going to buy before Christmas fell through at the last moment when the folk we were buying from realised they hadn’t found a house to move into they both liked: we’d been assured they’d be happy to rent, but when this turned out not to be the case the agents denied it had ever been suggested. If they’d been up-front with us from the start we’d have been more prepared for the (expensive) last-minute disappointment.

PS: I have checked out the local political situation… we’re moving into a Lib Dem ward.