The estate agent is never your buddy if you're buying
OSCAR Wilde's observations from his grand 1880s tour of the American wild west included details of a sign he noted hanging above a saloon piano.
It read: "Please don't shoot the pianist ... he's doing his best."
Wilde liked to cite it as an example of the ultimate critiquing of the arts. The saloon keepers simply felt the need to make the point that it's not the piano player's fault if you don't happen to like the tune – even if he's playing it badly. He's just doing his job.
Which brings us to estate agents.
As a profession, estate agents are unpopular. According to a recent survey in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, estate agents are the (joint) 3rd least trusted profession alongside bankers (the honour of 'number one least trusted' goes jointly to politicians and journalists).
So if estate agents were wild west piano players, there probably wouldn't be any of them left – the good ones anyway. But like the piano player, estate agents have a job to do and most of them do their best.
So why is the profession so disliked?
First there is so much at risk for us when we deal with them. They sell us the biggest investment we're likely to make in our lives and also manage the transaction which controls a huge lifestyle change.
So given the risks and emotion involved, there's always a heightened concern over every nuance in our dealings.
For vendors they represent the key to a whole new life and for buyers they are the gatekeepers that stand in the way – a pesky obstacle to be negotiated in order to make that big progression. And the better they are at their jobs, the peskier they seem to us.
The more relaxed and casual they are the more we hate them...because at this point in time WE ARE STRESSED.
There's also an inherited memory we seem to share that says 'estate agents are out to shaft you no matter whether they're working for you or against you'. Again, not true. But like any profession, there is both good and bad and most are just doing a job.
Contrary to belief, neither do they gather en masse to plot strategies for 'hyping up' property prices (this is a bit like blaming the postman for an increase in the cost of stamps).
They just sell the houses, we decide the rest. Prices rise because of demand and the availability of money to buy.
Like Nostradamus, estate agents never discovered alchemy.
Which brings us back to our wild west saloon and the need to realise that when you deal with an estate agent as a prospective buyer, you are playing a game of poker – a game of bluff and of strategy, and with thousands, sometimes tens of thousands at stake.
The problem is that most of us prospective buyers play our hand extraordinarily badly. As potential buyers who have just viewed a home we have just realised we want to purchase, we immediately tell the vendor's estate agent just about everything they need to know in order to play us, wind us in and to squeeze the last penny out of us.
We don't do this with any other type of salesperson.
For some reason, more of us than not take the vendor's agent as a confidante and we tell them why we're moving, how much we have to spend, why we need to be in a new house within two months because junior is back at school, and we have mortgage approval for another €10,000 more if need be. That we really, really love this house.
That's an unbelievably stupid thing to do.
But we can't help ourselves. Why?
We encounter them just at that vulnerable moment when we believe we have found our dream home and we feel the need to share the euphoria.
But that's exactly why they're standing there beside you instead of the vendor who hired them.
Why does society in general – and Irish society in particular – seem to judge estate agents by a very different criteria to those who are flogging anything else other than houses?
You'd never tell a car salesman your upper budget limit and how badly you need this particular motor.
Estate agents seem to be the only people we blame for using their sales skills on us. Do we blame a car salesman when we later realise we have paid too much?
We blame ourselves.
But the wannabe house buyer who tells all feels aggrieved later in the process when this same information is used against them – when the agent persuades another buyer to bid higher by proffering the blabbers as the lure.
Finally when the deal is dusted and we move in, we hate the estate agent who failed to highlight faults in the house we just bought. "Damned estate agent shafted me – never said a thing about the dry rot."
But no one expects a car salesman to highlight the underside rust that's out of view.
Or the life insurance lady to stress the weaknesses of the policy she is flogging. When did you last hear an ad for a soft drink stating: " ... we're brim full of harmful e-numbers and we'll make you fat."
While it sounds obvious to state it, estate agents are the sales professionals hired by the person selling the house. Dictionary.com: "Selling: to persuade or induce (someone) to buy something." And then add "for the most money possible".
So if you're viewing a house, remember that the estate agent is not your buddy. But they are simply doing their best. And keep the hell quiet.