The estate agent strikes back!

NoI’m incensed with yet another round of newspaper articles and TV programmes presenting estate agents as the scum of society. Last Monday evening on Dispatches: The Property Market Undercover was yet another programme portraying wicked and wily estate agents.

I’ve decided to strike back!

First of all, these programmes point the finger at London agents. London does not represent the rest of the country in any business, let alone estate agency. But it would be nice if the presenter would mention that!

Secondly, these cut-and-thrust London agents, because of impossibly-high targets, represent only a tiny percentage of estate agents nationwide. I have been an estate agent for thirty years; most agents I have dealings with are doing a decent job. Unlike corporates who are tied to financial service companies, the independents are not all pushing financial services down gullible first time buyers’ throats; they live in their community and genuinely enjoy helping people to secure their dream house. In my area of Tunbridge Wells I haven’t come across the kind of London agents on Dispatches who refuse to take an offer seriously unless the buyer goes through them for the mortgage. (This, by the way, is an illegal practice.)

Thirdly, the reporter in these programmes does not attempt any balance. I would like to invite one of them to spend a week behind my desk and let him or her have first-hand experience of the general public when they are involved in buying and selling a house. Even the nicest sellers shout at us for problems we have no control over. Occasionally, we get an apology when they have calmed down but not before we, the agents, have been shaken up. And there is a tiny percentage of sellers who are extremely rude, and even threatening.

small_houseUnfortunately, many sellers insist we put the property on the market far higher than our valuation, yet according to the latest headlines in the newspapers it is the estate agent who is forcing the prices up. Why don’t people realise it is impossible for us to manipulate the housing market economy?

Now we come to the buyers. I’m afraid to say they more often than not lie about the position they are in regarding their own property or status. Out of the ones who say they are ‘cash buyers’, there might be one in fifty who has pound notes in the bank. Also, buyers often delude themselves and us about the progress of the sale of their house. They don’t always let us know when it’s fallen through because they are fearful of losing the property they want. Sometimes they tell us theirs is under offer, then we find out they don’t even have it on the market. And what about buyers who lead the seller right up to exchange of contracts and then tell the agent they will not exchange unless the seller reduces the price, anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of pounds?

The seller can use a similar ploy – the dreaded gazumping. A buyer comes along and offers more for a property which has already gone under offer. The seller is tempted to take it, which can be a bad mistake. The original buyer is elbowed out, the new buyer is in. The new buyer has a survey done and comes back with an offer lower than the original one, but it’s too late for the seller to change again and s/he has to swallow it or lose the house s/he wants. But the public are apt to think encouraging gazumping is in the agent’s interest as they will gain more commission because of the higher price. If they cared to work it out they would see the difference amounts to a bag of peanuts.

Occasionally, the seller and buyer try to save stamp duty by putting forward a whole load of expensive fixtures and fittings for separate negotiation. This often involves a substantial figure. Solicitors are now on to this ploy as many of the items such as carpets, curtains and light fixtures should have been included in the sale anyway.

Yet all these points are rarely communicated to the public. Instead, they are brainwashed into thinking estate agents are the pits, though a necessary evil.

The core reason why buyers and sellers are able to work the system is because of the way we conduct property transactions in this country. There is too long of a lead-up to contracts exchanging with no commitment, giving plenty of time for sellers and buyers to do anything, behave in any way, despicable or otherwise, right up until exchange of contracts. And believe me, they do.

Phew!!! I feel much better for that!