Steer clear of the 'bun fight' in the battle for buyers

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The Independent Online

It is a dilemma faced by thousands of sellers across the country - you put your home on the market, call in a few estate agents to see how much you should ask for it, and receive wildly differing valuations.

Many vendors simply pick the mid-point between the highest and lowest prices. But this may not be the most sensible strategy where valuations vary not just by a few thousand pounds, but by tens - and in extreme cases even hundreds - of thousands.

Receiving significantly different valuations is a growing problem for vendors, says Teresa Kane of the estate agent Cluttons.

"A lack of supply and renewed buyer confidence has created a bun fight," she explains. "With agents clamouring to gain instructions on a limited pool of properties, the temptation to overvalue, to win a client's attention, or undervalue, to get a speedy sale, can be strong."

But getting the right valuation is crucial. Set the price too high, and your property could languish on the market for months. Set it too low and you could be out of pocket.

Overambitious valuations are a common problem, says Sally Gordon, who works for the estate agent Douglas & Gordon in its Fulham office in south-west London. "I have lost count of the number of times people have come back to me a couple of months after having put their property on the market at too high a price with another agent."

She cites the case of a two-bed flat on sale for £350,000. Despite 30 viewings in four weeks, there was not a single offer. "We took it on and reduced the price to £339,000. It went under offer within 48 hours," she says.

Nick Pearce of another London firm, Beaney Pearce, cautions against selling too cheaply. "We recently valued a two-bed flat overlooking Stanhope Gardens in Kensington at £695,000," he says. "The nearest valuation from another agent was £600,000."

The vendor, he adds, instructed Beaney Pearce only after it was able to show that it was selling similar properties at that level of the market. The flat subsequently went for £675,000.

So how can you find out what your property is realistically worth? First off, remember the asking prices given by agents are simply guides. For an "official" valuation, you need to approach a surveyor. Independent valuations usually start at around £200 for a property worth £100,000, rising to £375 on homes worth £350,000 or more.

You could also try looking on the net. For example, offers a property report for £19.95. This includes an online valuation, neighbourhood prices and trends, a detailed market report, a comparison of asking price and sale price figures, and details of approved estate agents. The site also offers free information on property prices in your area.

Knowing the market in which you are operating is important too.

"Vendors can get away with being slightly more bullish with their asking price in London," says Mr Pearce. "This is because in the current market properties are selling quickly."

As a rule, buyers are less vulnerable to differences in valuations than sellers. However, the valuer's report can be critical when it comes to negotiating a price - especially in gauging how much you might have to spend on repairs once the purchase is completed.

The price was right

First-time-buyer Emily Dodds is in the process of getting on to the property ladder in Essex with her fiancé, Darren Scott.

A realistic valuation helped persuade the couple to make an offer on their chosen property.

"We'd seen a lot of places and thought it didn't seem too overpriced in comparison," says Emily.

And she says the report was useful in making her and Darren aware of the type - and scale - of work that might need to be done on their new home.

"It gave us handy tips on the kind of things we might want to do to modernise."