My preferred order of doing things is selling your house before buying somewhere new – looking at what’s on the market while mine is being marketed, of course. This is because until I’ve sold, I won’t know how much money I can spend on my new home – especially in a fast-moving market. And even if the market is slow, selling before looking for somewhere to buy makes sense, because you don’t know how long yours will take to be sold. So, the first step is to find out how much you can market your house for.
How much is it worth?
If you’re in the UK you can use a website called Zoopla to have a look at what your house value might be. It’s (at the time of writing) free to review and uses data from various places including the Land Registry; it has different sections such as homes for sale or for rent, and also usually gives a history of the previous sales (this is especially useful when you’re looking to buy somewhere). Find the section ‘House Prices’ and put your postcode in to select your home and it will give you an estimated value range. You may need to register with them (free of charge at the time of writing – July 2022) to get the exact price, but you can see the range without registering. You may also have some local knowledge, for example if a house was sold recently (within the last few months), the price may not yet be on Zoopla but you might know what it was marketed at and have a guess at the sale price. Knowing a rough sale price will help with selling your house, and also to manage the discussions with your estate agent.
Marketing the house
Next, you need to find an estate agent. I would always say personal recommendation (preferably from more than one person) is the best way to go. I have always found that agent commissions are round about the same percentage, but the way they work and their efficiency can vary hugely. You need to consider aspects such as whether to go online only (can be cheaper but less personal), whether you want the agent to manage the viewings or whether you’re happy to show people round, and the sort of package on offer. Check out their website and see how easy it is to navigate – what are the quality of the photos, and of the written description. This is the way your potential buyers will see your house so it’s important that it looks professional. Make sure the agent lists their properties on a popular house selling website to ensure greater market reach – in the UK that’s probably Rightmove, and also Zoopla.
Do you think they’ll do a good job of marketing your home? Many will have varying levels of marketing – for example they may include a virtual tour on their website, there may be a physical brochure etc.
Check whether you have a minimum contract period – if things aren’t working between you, it’s good to know you can get out of the contract fairly quickly (6 weeks is usually the minimum).
Getting the right agent is one of the most important things to do in the sale process – if they are working properly for you, the whole process becomes much, much simpler!
Choosing an estate agent
Once you’ve got a list of two or three agents to speak to, make an appointment for them to come and value your home and tell you what services they offer. They will look round your home and ask you questions but should also have done some research before that point on local sales prices. Ask questions of them such as what is included in their fee, why they’ve valued your home at that price, have they any knowledge of your area, whether you can approve the photos, whether their admin team follow up with potential buyers after viewings for feedback etc.
You don’t have to make a decision on the spot – take time after you’ve seen all the agents to consider what they offer and then make your decision. Make sure you go back to the agents you decide not to use to give them your decision – it’s polite to do so and anyway they will only chase you up if you don’t! And if things don’t work out with the one you choose you might decide to go back to one of them.
The agents’ role is obviously selling your house, but as part of that there are many things they will do. They should have knowledge of the local area, and may even already have some potential buyers on their database that would be interested in your house. They can advise you on what, if anything, you need to do to prepare your home for sale (I’ve written a blog post about that – here).
The role of the estate agent
They will market your property, and this will be the biggest part of their job. Photos will be taken (you need to make sure these present your house as well as possible whilst being accurate), and they may do a video so that a virtual tour can be done. This is useful for buyers who may be moving into the area but currently live some distance away. Some produce leaflets with your details on (called ‘particulars’), and all should have a website on which your home is presented.
Once they’ve prepared all these details, you should check them and make sure they are correct before they are published. They can also arrange for an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to be issued (at a cost), but you can also arrange this yourself independently, which may be cheaper. EPCs are valid for 10 years, so you may already have an existing one, which you can check here.
One of the key things that the agent will do is check out any potential buyers. They need to make sure they are serious potential buyers; have they got a property to sell? Is it on the market/sold? Are they first time buyers? What is their source of funds to pay for the house? Do they have a mortgage agreement in place (‘in principle’)? This is to ensure you don’t get any time wasters – some agents won’t even let you view a house unless you have sold your own house already or are a first-time buyer with a mortgage agreement in principle.
Most agents will offer to show prospective buyers around your house as part of the service. Where possible, I ask the agent to show buyers round the first time they view, but for any second viewings I prefer to show buyers myself. This is because at second viewing stage, they are more serious (and there’s fewer of them!), and they will often have questions the agent can’t answer – what are the neighbours like, is parking an issue, how old is the boiler etc. It’s important to say at this point you should give honest answers! Don’t say your neighbours are fantastic if you have had disputes with them, for example. You are legally obliged to tell your buyer if you have had a dispute with your neighbour – once you have sold, you have to complete a property information form and one of the questions is about whether you’ve had any disputes.
What else will the agent do?
The agent should be following up with people who’ve viewed your home to get feedback, and to check if they want to put an offer in. This is a vital part of the process, as it can give you objective feedback on what people think about your home – which may not be what you expect them to say!
The agent will also negotiate the best price for your home. You should already have had the conversation about likely sale price (which may not be the same as your asking price). Depending on the current overall market and in particular your local area, this may be below asking price, at asking price or above asking price. It’s true that ‘a house is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it’!
Once an offer has been made and the sale agreed, your agents’ admin team will spring into action. They will be in contact with the buyer to find out their solicitors’ details, who their mortgage firm is, what their position is in the ‘chain’ and making contact with them regularly to chase things up. A ‘memorandum of sale’ will be issued which outlines the sale price, and the buyer and seller details, plus the solicitor’s details for both sides. The agent will also be in contact with your solicitors, chasing them up when necessary.
The estate agent plays such an important role in the process – they are the ones who can be in contact with everyone in the chain – from your buyers and solicitors, to the agents of other properties in the chain. Making things happen smoothly and quickly is key to getting to the different stages such as exchange of contract, and completion, and the agent keeps the ball rolling on this. It’s in the agents’ interests to work as hard as possible as they receive a fee based on what the house sells for (usually – rather than a fixed fee) and they only get paid if the house sells.
Selling your home can be a stressful experience, but having the right estate agent will make it much smoother for you.
The information in this post applies to England and Wales and is correct at the time of posting (July 2022)