Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

There seems to be no end to the clever ways in which London estate agents now market themselves. Gone are the days of the plain old A4 property details, bearing one exterior and one interior shot and a list of room measurements. Today, you should expect nothing less than a podcast or video, backed up by a stream of other goodies.

Take Knight Frank, for example. They've just opened a branch near us on Wandsworth Common, where they're up against stiff competition from a handful of long-established, independent local agents. They've been love-bombing local residents with key-rings, Knight Frank A-Zs and even glossy postcards bearing the message "We heart (name of street)". There are only 28 houses in our road, so it must have cost a lot to print a "we heart" for our street, let alone all the other streets in the vicinity.

Douglas and Gordon, meanwhile, have gone for a cinematic approach, with a series of advertisements based on film and television titles. The current one features three rather glamorous D & G negotiators and is called, appropriately, The Persuaders.

A neighbour reports that one London agent is giving away a windscreen de-misting pad. Then there's the techie brigade, such as James Pendleton, with their podcasts, and Foxtons, who are going one better with their vodcasts, which can be downloaded or implanted in your brain or something.

Why all the freebies? Well, there's a chronic shortage of property for sale in Wandsworth where, according to Knight Frank, prices have risen by 325 per cent in the past 10 years. One report said there were 74 buyers chasing every house or flat that comes onto the market in my area, and hardly a week goes by without a note from an agent coming through the letterbox asking if we are considering selling. (Answer: no.)

So would a snazzy advert or a free key-ring persuade me to put my property on the market with one of these companies? I must admit, the first thought that sprang to mind when I saw all these gifts and gizmos was that estate agents are obviously making far too much money from the likes of you and me. On second thoughts, perhaps these are the very people to employ.

How did you choose your estate agent the last time you sold your house anyway? I bet you used one of the following criteria. First, you might have chosen the agent who was selling the house you wanted to buy. "Keep in with them," you thought, "then they'll make an extra effort to sell my house and make sure my purchase goes through." I've done that twice and it didn't make the slightest bit of difference. If anything, it gives you two reasons to fall out with them instead of one.

Second, you chose the agent who sold your house to you. This is much more logical, because they probably specialise in your particular area. But it's worth checking first whether they still seem as good as you remember them, or whether a new agent has opened up who's got a fresher, more imaginative approach.

Third, you chose an agent on the basis that they gave you the highest valuation and you beat them down to the lowest possible fee. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Think about it. The valuation was probably a load of bollocks anyway. And the lower the fee, the smaller the incentive to sell your property...

So many of us, when we're selling property, concentrate on the house rather than the sale. We're so busy baking bread to make the place smell nice that we forget to wake up and smell the coffee. Yes, there are lots of buyers out there, but they're all hoping the market is going to crash at any minute, and they're not going to want to pay what they consider to be an overheated asking price. (And being gazumped five times hasn't improved their mood.)

To maximise the profit on what is probably the most valuable thing you own, you need a salesperson who is capable of marketing the place to people who've never heard of your road, let alone your des res; to people who might not think they want to move until they see your house on the internet, or downloaded onto their MP3. And that person may well be the one holding the free key-ring or dreaming up the eye-catching advert.