Property: Go undercover to pick your perfect agent

It's an important decision - so pose as a customer and check out estate agencies, advises Ginetta Vedrickas

CHOOSING AN estate agent can be even more traumatic than deciding to move. What questions should you ask? And who will best earn their 2 per cent? Selling an inherited property brings an opportunity to compare agents and their approaches. I make three appointments and wait.

9.40am. Open door to young and very small boy, Jeff, who bounds around like an affectionate puppy. Assures me he knows area intimately - "my girlfriend lives round the corner" - and soon gets me as over-excited as he is: "You're looking at loads of money." Effect spoilt by long phone call to his boss: "It's a tricky one." Glean from eavesdropping that boss, like Jeff, has no idea where house is, or its value. Jeff confides he "loves his job". Who wouldn't after six months? Leaves with a whimper.

10.30am. Kevin bangs on door. Looks rough. Explains he was up late watching football. Appears more mature apart from his brace. Sit down for lengthy chat. Kev seems receptive to questions. "How many clients are looking for this type of property?" "Lots", offers Kev. Eventually gives truly tempting valuation and for lowest fee, 1 per cent, so I promise to be in touch.

11.30am. Receive call from mobile phone. Giovanni will be late (football fever again). Finally open door to dour person who shatters all preconceptions about excitable Latinos. Giovanni's lip curls as he looks round. Get sinking feeling, synonymous with mechanic looking under bonnet. Wait for property equivalent of "your big end's gone". Not surprised when Giovanni suggests selling to developers and, naturally, he can recommend some. His valuation is pounds 50,000 less than Kev's. Close door reeling in confusion and determine to seek further advice.

Ian Dickson, director of Winkworth, Shepherd's Bush, says: "You are making a huge financial commitment and must be confident that the agent will do a good job. If he puts you off, will he put buyers off?" He finds the choice of agent "varies dramatically" depending on whether you are buying or selling: "The man might be the biggest creep in the world but if he's got the right property at the right price, and you're buying, who cares?" Some agents may not know their market and will undersell properties. "It's great for buyers but not sellers."

Mr Dickson believes overpricing is more common among agents and finds that many vendors simply choose whoever gives the highest valuation. "It's a common ploy but sellers frequently find that, within weeks, the agent wants you to reduce the price to the figure suggested by the middle man. We get vendors coming to us who feel they have been tricked."

But how can you ensure that your valuation is accurate? Most agents suggest asking for proof of comparable sales. Confirm their accuracy by asking to see property details and make comparisons in terms of location, size and condition. This involves research on your part but it may be worthwhile.

Your valuation may be realistic but is your agent competent? Carol Sutton eventually sold her three-bedroom semi in Surrey, but only after changing agents. "In three months the first hardly sent anyone round to view, and the ones he did send were looking for something completely different," she recalls. So how can vendors minimise inefficiency? Ian Dickson advises: "Go into the office and look at the quality of staff. Inexperienced 17- year-olds probably won't give as good a service as people who know a lot about what they are selling."

He goes further: "Pose as a buyer and see what reception you get. Ring up and say what you are looking for. They may offer to send details but a good agent will talk you through what they have and ask when you want to come and have a look."

Is it better to choose a large chain rather than a small business? "I wouldn't condemn the one-office operation. They may know their area thoroughly and have reciprocal agreements with others, but do check how much exposure they can give your property." Vendors should also be aware that bigger firms frequently move agents around, so their local knowledge may be inadequate compared with that of a small company's employees.

I thin of Kevin and ask Ian Dickson whether fees should form a basis for choice. He warns: "Don't go for the agent who offers to cut his rate. Many have to, because they are scraping around for business."

Someone who isn't scraping around is Gordon Blausten, of the Notting Hill agency Bruten & Co. What makes him estate agent of the year? "My glittering personality I suppose!" He compares choosing a good agent to finding a solicitor: "Ask neighbours and colleagues in the area in which you wish to buy. Test out their local reputation. The agent with the highest profile is not necessarily the best."

He counsels against agents who operate simply as marketing companies. "It works, but they are often interested only in getting the deal done rather than obtaining the best for their clients. We want the best, but not necessarily today. We sometimes advise clients to wait and they may be able to get a bit more."

The National Association of Estate Agents asks prospective members to complete a written test and lays down guidelines. The NAEA is also campaigning for the industry to be licensed.

Gordon adds a cautionary note about pricing: "We work on comparables but also take into account how much people are willing to pay. Prices would never rise if we relied solely on surveyors' valuations." Most agents say that publicity is important, but Gordon is philosophical; "One good negotiator is worth a dozen pages of adverts."

Before choosing an agent: Check that they belong to a trade association; meet the manager and staff; pose as a buyer; look at comparables and check property details; ask how much coverage they will give your property.

Winkworth, Shepherd's Bush: 0181-749 3394; Bruten & Co: 0171-229 9262

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

    £550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

    Data Insight Manager - Marketing

    £32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

    £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    .NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf