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What is an estate agent?
Online estate agent advice
09 December 2019

What is an estate agent?

Rosie Hamilton
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. How many estate agents are there in the UK?
  2. 2. What do estate agents do?
  3. 3. What is a hybrid agent?
  4. 4. What is an online agent?
  5. 5. How good are online estate agents?
  6. 6. Can you have two estate agents selling your house?
  7. 7. Who regulates estate agents?
  8. 8. Does changing estate agents make a difference?

How many estate agents are there in the UK?

There are over 18,000 agencies in the UK. And, in the average postcode they are 62 estate agents currently listing property for sale.

What do estate agents do?

In a nutshell, estate agents market and sell property. As a seller you’ll work closely with them to ensure you achieve your home selling aims - whether this is a quick sale, or the best possible price. A good estate agent will do the following as standard:

  • Value your property

Estate agents will look at the age, location, size and layout of your home to establish a basic valuation. They’ll then position your home in relation to recently sold and currently on sale properties nearby. They can use this information to suggest the best market price for your home.

Top Tip! Ask your estate agent for 3 figures: their highest valuation, their suggested market price, and their estimated eventual sales price.

  • Market your home

Once you have instructed an agent, marketing your home becomes their main priority. They’ll take photographs, create listings on online portals, be in touch with buyers in your area and give you advice on how to present your home for viewings. The best agents are consistently enthusiastic and proactive in their marketing campaign.

  • Handle viewings

An estate agent should offer to handle viewings as standard. They will use their sales expertise and local knowledge to encourage interest in your home. And, they’ll be able to gauge interest and answer awkward questions on your behalf.

  • Negotiate offers

When you receive an offer on your home, your estate agent will take charge of negotiating the best price whilst investigating the buyer’s position. You can then make an informed decision about whether to move forward.

  • Liaise with solicitors

Once you have accepted a buyer’s offer, your estate agent will put your solicitor in touch with the buyer’s lawyer so they can start the conveyancing process.

  • Track the ‘chain’

The conveyancing process can take some time - particularly if there is a ‘chain’ of buyers and sellers. Your estate agent will monitor its progress and, if needed, push your solicitor to be more proactive.

Although estate agents generally represent a seller, they also work closely with buyers. If you’re looking to move, they’ll help you find your dream home. They’ll match you with properties they think best match what you’re looking for. If you like the look of a property, an agent will take you for a viewing and provide information about the house, the seller, and the local area. In the event you wish to buy, an estate agent will relay your offer, and advise you on moving forward.

Check out the best performing estate agents in your area with our data-backed comparison tool.

What is a hybrid agent?

In theory, a hybrid agent offers the full range of services you’d expect from a high street agent but with the convenience of being able to book valuations and manage the sale online.

Hybrid agents distinguish themselves from online-only companies by offering a more complete service. This includes conducting viewings as standard, and having a ‘no sale no fee’ policy as standard - like a traditional high street agent.

In practice estate agents offering a hybrid service aren’t able to offer the same level of expertise as a local high street agent. They are usually not large enough to have ‘local experts’ to cover every area. This means hybrid agents are also usually handling a larger number of properties than a local estate agent, so selling your home will not always be their top priority. But because of this, hybrid agents are likely to be cheaper.

What is an online agent?

An online agent operates completely remotely. This means the seller will need to take control of the majority of the selling process. This can include taking photographs of their home, arranging floor plans, and creating the property advert. For a fixed-fee, payable even if the property does not sell, an online agent will place your listing on the main portals. The seller then handles enquiries from buyers, viewings and negotiating offers. Some online agents will offer these services for an increased upfront fee.

How good are online estate agents?

Research by The Advisory compared the performance of online agents who rely on internet listings, with that of high street agents. The difference in performance was striking. They found that home sellers using an online agent could be missing out on: up to 48% more viewings, 64% more offers, and an extra 5% on their final sales price. They also found that high street agents were able to generate a more secure buyer 73% of the time.

‘Based on this research, good high street agents could charge up to 4% commission plus VAT and still achieve for their clients a better ‘walkaway figure’ compared with an internet only listing service’. - Gavin Brazg, The Advisory

Some online agents are able to achieve good results. But the best high street estate agents will consistently outperform online agents.

Can you have two estate agents selling your house?

The most common agreement is a sole agency agreement, which instructs one agent to help sell your home. But, it is possible to have more than one estate agent selling your home at the same time, using a multi-agency agreement. This type of agreement allows you to hire as many agents as you like. But, you’ll usually have to pay a much higher commission rate.

A multi-agency agreement can be a good option for a hard-to-sell property. Each agent will have a database of interested people in the area, providing a larger pool of potential buyers. And, because the agents are working in competition for the higher commission rate, they are likely to be very motivated to sell your home for a good price.

Who regulates estate agents?

Estate Agents are regulated by the Estate Agents Act of 1979. This act stipulates that agents work in the best interests of their clients, and that both buyers and sellers are treated honestly, fairly and promptly.

Most reputable agents are also members of NAEA Propertymark (National Association of Estate Agents) or RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). As members of these organisations, agencies agree to follow a set of regulations. They can be penalised for not following these rules.

Redress can be sought from the Property Ombudsman, but they are not a regulatory body. They are able to negotiate and provide compensation to consumers who have been treated unfairly by an estate agent. But, they are not able to take regulatory or legal action.

Does changing estate agents make a difference?

A government research paper found that nearly 1 in 5 sellers changed agent before they eventually completed their sale. Experienced sellers were more likely to change agents to achieve a sale. The main reason they gave was that they were not getting enough viewings.

If you feel your agent is not working in your best interests, and your sale is taking longer than average for your area, you might want to switch agent.

Invite at least 3 other estate agents around to your home to perform a valuation. This will be your chance to find out how they would market your home differently to your current agent. If they suggest marketing your home at the same price with the same photos, you’re unlikely to get a better outcome. But, if an agent appears enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and comes with lots of ideas on how to improve your listing, you’re likely to see improvements quickly.

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