Overview: The secret of a smooth sale is knowing your home's true value

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The Independent Online

Before Easter, estate agents were bracing themselves for a flood of new instructions. Their shelves were bare and demand simply couldn't be met in many sectors of the market.

Before Easter, estate agents were bracing themselves for a flood of new instructions. Their shelves were bare and demand simply couldn't be met in many sectors of the market.

There is some good news on this front. Hometrack's latest index shows that the gap is closing. At Hamptons International, Giles Soutry, sales director for central London, says there has been a real improvement in supply, with buyers beginning to see more of a choice. The biggest problem is the market between £500,000 and £800,000, which is so short of properties that people lower down the ladder are effectively stuck.

Soutry also warns that overpricing is often a result of competition between agents, which gives vendors wild expectations. "Buyers know what a place is worth. Many were in the market last year and they can spot a figure that is unrealistic." He says those who achieve the best prices, particularly at the top levels, have settled on a sensible figure that attracts a number of buyers. "Vendors must be sure the valuation put on their property can be supported by recent evidence."

But sometimes it seems that vendors have rather long and selective memories. An agent in Clapham selling a house at £1.7million, as the vendor wanted, had one offer at £1.4m. The vendor refused the offer, saying he wasn't planning to "give his property away".

But he was basing his perceived value of the property on a couple of exceptionally high-figure sales achieved a couple of years ago during the boom in prices. The buyers did their homework and were far closer to its true market value. But try telling that to some sellers.

Beauty contest

Estate agents can afford a wry smile. In a survey just published by assertahome.com into how househunters rated the service they received from professionals, estate agents beat lawyers in the popularity stakes. Only one better, admittedly, but coming third - after surveyors, who topped the poll with banks and building societies in second place - is an improvement in the public image of agents.

Lawyers were regarded as not only providing the poorest quality of service but also being the most obstructive when buying and selling a home. Women were particularly hostile to the legal profession, with more than 60 per cent of females polled thinking lawyers were bad value for money. Surveyors, on the other hand, were said to provide the best value and quality of service.

Estate agents scored well on minimising delays, but lost points when it came to value for money and quality of service. Among the complaints about solicitors were that they are "hard to get hold of. At least agents are available at weekends". Another read: "My lawyer insists on writing three letters when one e-mail or phone call would have been perfectly adequate."

Onward and upward

Up and up go the prices, even in more cautious London and the South-east. Despite all the warnings from economists, confidence remains high, particularly in Scotland, Yorkshire, Humberside and the north. In Scotland, according to assertahome.com, nine out of 10 people believe prices will continue to rise by as much as 11 per cent.

The bullishness cannot be explained because of low house prices in the region; first-time buyers pay 4.2 times their household income in Scotland, the same as they do in London and the South-east, so property is no more affordable for local people.

Confidence appears to be based on past performance, but, as with all investment advice, that is not necessarily wise. There again, anyone listening to some economists' gloomy forecasts might have missed more than a few property boats.

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