Home truths: When it's time to break up with your estate agent
A friend of mine contacted me during the week, seeking advice on a house he is selling.
He has had his investment property on the market for over a year with just one single offer at the asking price. That offer fell through and since then, nothing. This seemed odd given that it shouldn't take any more than two months to sell an average home in this market.
So I looked up the property online. It was a nice modern house in good condition, albeit in a cusp area. Importantly, the price also seemed reasonable. But the first problem I noted is that his estate agency of choice specialises in a particular type of property. My friend's house did not at all fit into their usual category. It meant those buyers looking for a house like his had been less likely to look up that estate agent's lists.
Next, I noticed that the photos were likely not taken professionally. They were dark and poorly composed. Worst of all the agent had allowed the occupants to leave debris and rubbish about and this could be seen in the pictures.
This is a big problem, first because the property is in a cusp area and it gives the impression that the occupants don't care about the house, which in turn confirms outdated prejudices that many buyers may have about the locality. Second, it shows that the estate agent doesn't care. I advised him to change estate agent right away. I gave him the name of the agent in the area who I believed was the best match for selling his type of property.
Within days of my friend telling his agent that he was being dropped, a rash of offers magically appeared. My friend decided to reject my advice and stay with this agent to see how these would pan out. Because I have been analysing the property market for more than 25 years, people come to me for advice all the time. But the funny thing is that they all react the same way: they listen, they nod their heads and then they ignore everything. Instead, they do whatever they planned on doing in the first place. People are funny about their homes and tend not to take advice, however obvious it is. Estate agents have to deal with this trait every day and by far the most common reason for unsold property is unrealistic vendors with overly high price expectations.
But back to picking agents. As the first property sales season of the year comes to an end, many will be considering their options. Those who plan to sell in Autumn will wonder which estate agent to appoint, while those (like my friend) who have had their properties on for months and months with no result will be wondering whether it's time to split up with their existing incumbent.
The choices vendors make for this coming Autumn sales season will be vital because the market has been changing, particularly in Dublin where the buyer is now getting into the driving seat. Although mortgage approvals have been increasing, affordability ceilings have kicked in hard. Average homes in Dublin are now priced at around €125,000 to €150,000 more than the average earning couple can afford on a mortgage. Supply has also risen by 20pc in Dublin. So there are more properties about (in particular more overpriced homes) and proportionally fewer buyers about who can afford them.
As a result, properties are taking longer to sell - the recent Irish Independent/Real Estate Alliance survey shows average semis in Dublin now taking six weeks to go sale agreed compared with four weeks in the first quarter; while commuter counties are now seeing average homes taking five weeks rather than four. The less properties 'sell themselves' the more important a good estate agent's skillset becomes.
That means when it comes to picking an agency to sell your home, or deciding whether to replace the agent you have, you should consider the following checklist:
• Don't have (and it's a real Irish trait) an estate agent on the grounds that you are related to them, they are your friend or you know them from school, college, the GAA club, rugby, golf or whatever. Don't pick them because they sold your last house. None of the above is a qualification to best sell your current property.
• Do have an agent with a strong record of selling homes successfully in your area, be they a big network or a small boutique agency. This means that buyers seeking the type of home you are selling will be more likely to monitor their property lists.
• On the other hand question whether it is wise to pick an agency which is already selling more than one similar home on your road or in your estate - their resources and loyalties will be split. This must be weighed up against their ability to attract buyers.
• Do pick an agency that will lay out a clear plan and one that listens to you and and asks you about your timeline for moving and your expectations.
• Do not pick an agency which does not use professional photographers. Look at their properties online and it will show. Bad photos kill buyers at the first online approach.
• When you have an agency appointed check out its performance by getting a friend to act as "secret shopper" and ring up with a query about your home. Ditch them if no one gets back or there are undue delays in doing so. Understaffed agencies with incompetent receptions also kill sales.
Average homes should be sold in three months but bigger properties take much longer. In the Dublin market above €1m, it could take six months to a year. Finally, if your agency is not selling and can't explain why, it's likely that your price is unrealistic and they're too polite to tell you. Get rid of them and take it off the market. You're both fired.