Trust us. You can trust estate agents.

Trust us. You can trust estate agents.

Estate agents and letting agents get a bad rap. According to Ipsos, the well-known market research and public opinion specialists, estate agents are the fifth least trusted profession in the UK. Only politicians, government ministers, journalists, and advertising executives are trusted less. That’s not exactly esteemed company.

Research also shows that estate agents are less popular than traffic wardens, lawyers, local councillors, and everyone’s favourite (or should that be least favourite?) villains of the financial crisis, bankers. Even professional footballers, who declare their lifelong loyalty to a particular club only to jump ship as soon as a shady oligarch waves a cheque under their nose, are trusted more. And that’s saying something. 

But is estate agents’ undesirable reputation deserved? Whilst nobody would expect estate agents to be as popular as NHS nurses, or as trusted as high court judges, surely professionals that find people their next home, where they often spend years of blissful contentment, can’t be all bad? After all, many estate and letting agents have been fixtures in their local community for decades. So do the good eggs outnumber the rotten ones? We whisk through the arguments and boil down the salient points below…

Why people don’t trust estate agents

Some estate and letting agents do, occasionally, stretch the truth with their silky smooth sales patter. What’s more, there’s no hiding from the fact that agents aren’t the most regulated businesses. Steps have been taken in the right direction, and respected associations have been forged, but the truth remains that some agents enter the sector with little in the way of formal training. This means that some, how can we say, less scrupulous agents, have set up shop without too many questions asked about their lack of formal qualifications. 

Agents are also known for certain tricks of the trade: exaggerating interest in a property, over-valuing properties to get an instruction, persuading vendors to accept a low offer just to get a property off the books, and even, in extreme cases, making up the existence of other offers to push the price up. Whilst we don’t believe these sharp practices are common, it would be naïve to suggest that they never happen at all. 

Customer service can be a problem, too. Whilst many estate agents offer a stellar service and genuinely care about their customers, you’ll often hear vendors complaining about tardy feedback or agents losing interest if their property doesn’t sell in the first two months. You’ll also hear rumours that agents prioritise customers that take up their other services, such as conveyancing. Some estate agents even promise vendors that they have a list of ‘waiting buyers’ that fails to materialise once the new instruction is won. The cheeky so-and-sos. 

Finally, we can’t deny that estate agents sometimes get a bad press for a reason. For example, in 2020, four Berkshire agents found themselves in hot water - not to mention in the national media - for fixing commission rates. What’s more, prominent agents like Countrywide (not to mention a host of smaller companies) have been fined for failing to observe HMRC’s stringent anti-money laundering measures. These stories don’t exactly increase public confidence. However, as mentioned above, we shouldn’t let a few rotten eggs sour the soufflé.

The case for the defence

The truth is that these horror stories aren’t really representative of the industry as a whole. Why? Because research shows that customer satisfaction levels with estate agents are actually pretty high. This suggests that agents’ bad rep is due to a PR problem more than anything sinister.  

Whilst it’s true that some estate agents and letting agents exaggerate a property’s good points while glossing over the gorier details, isn’t this what you’d expect from any salesmen in any industry? After all, agents work for (and are paid by) the seller. It wouldn’t be fair to the vendor if their agent simply focused on the mobile phone mast at the back of the property rather than bigging up its spacious living room. 

What’s more, accusations that agents invent interest in a home simply to bump up its price (and therefore increase their commission) don’t add up. Agents’ commission is typically between 1% and 1.5%; so raising a sale price by £10,000 is only an extra £100-150 in the agent’s pocket. It’s simply not worth risking the deal or prolonging the process for this amount of money. And as for discriminating against buyers that don’t take up other services, there are pretty severe penalties for this. So, again, it’s simply not in the agent’s interest.

But what about tales of poor customer service? Some will undoubtedly be true. But perspective is always needed. For starters, buying and selling homes is an emotive process - perhaps more emotive than any other transaction we make - so expectations are incredibly high. And when things go wrong, people understandably get upset. However, research shows that complaints against estate agents are actually low. In fact, according to figures by the Property Ombudsman, there were only 5,122 official complaints last year - that’s a tiny fraction of the total amount of homes sold or let.  

Other studies back this up. When the Office of Fair Trading investigated the sector a few years ago, they discovered that just 12% were dissatisfied with the service they received from their estate agent. And a more recent survey by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that satisfaction was impressively high with 81% of buyers and 84% of sellers feeling content with the service they received. 

It’s also worth mentioning that all estate and letting agents have to register with government-approved Ombudsman schemes these days. This means they have to follow codes that uphold certain standards and make fees transparent. Fly-by-night agents that take off with your cash are therefore slowly being grounded. 

Summing up

So if satisfaction levels are high, and the number of complaints is relatively low, then how come estate agents are about as popular as a rat in a restaurant? Well, for starters one could argue that they’re not; it’s just the usual stereotypes giving a false impression. Thanks go to the likes of Gavin and Stacey for that - although we have to admit that their writing was hilarious.  

It’s up to agents, therefore, to change the narrative to a more accurate one. They should shout from the rooftops that they’re performing a valuable service, offering expert insight into the local property market, whilst dealing with buyers and sellers who all have different needs but the same sky-high expectations. They also need to keep delivering an excellent service, too: getting to know customers, understanding their wants, and making lives easier. 

We believe that new technologies will help this process. Things like digital tenant referencing and our own free Home Setup Service - which handles all movers’ arduous admin in just a few clicks - undoubtedly ease the stress and deliver a better moving experience. Alongside all the good things that estate agents traditionally do, such as helping with negotiations, managing chains, and shepherding deals over the line, it should be eminently possible to turn public perceptions around. 

It’s also worth remembering that every complaint made is actually an opportunity for agents to shine. Mistakes happen from time to time in every industry. It’s what happens next that determines the narrative. If there’s a good complaints procedure in place, and complaints are handled sensitively and fairly, then it’s amazing how quickly an unhappy customer can turn into a mollified customer (and eventually an impressed one).

It’s also worth stressing that all agents follow the Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice nowadays. It’s hard for cowboys to operate when there’s an independent body acting as sheriff. And that, perhaps more than anything else, should persuade movers not to jump the gun when judging estate agents as a profession. They’re usually the good guys. 

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