Selling a house can be one of the most frustrating, stressful experiences of our lives. Unfortunately, estate agents are often one of the main reasons for that.
Estate agents have earned an extremely poor reputation in the UK, and complaining about them is almost a national past time at this point.
In their defence, there are many great estate agents... but if you've bought or sold a house before then chances are you have your own horror story about them. (And trust me, I've got my fair share of horror stories too).
But we wanted to learn why people dislike their estate agents so much. So we asked over 250 home sellers about their biggest estate agent complaints. Let's get straight into our findings.
Why do people dislike estate agents?
Delays, a lack of communication, and shady valuation tactics are the most common complaints about estate agents. Furthermore, if you use an Online Estate Agent you are 7x more likely to complain about lack of market knowledge, and more than twice as likely to complain about poor quality photos.
In this article we'll delve into the problems with estate agents in more detail. I'm no stranger to these...
Over the years I've spent more than £300,000 in estate agent fees, so I've seen the best (and worst) that the industry has to offer. Throughout the article I'll address why some of these complaints come up so often.
If you're here because you've got a property to sell and don't want to deal with estate agents, I can help. Take this free quiz we've designed for you. It'll help determine if alternative selling methods might be suitable for you:
1. Do people really hate estate agents?
First of all, is it true? Do people really hate estate agents?
Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding "yes"
In a survey of 1,154 UK adults back in 2021, we learned that just 1% of people think estate agents are trustworthy.
- This means estate agents are considered less trustworthy than lawyers (3%) and traffic wardens (2%).
- The survey puts them on par with bankers (1%), and narrowly ahead of politicians (0%).
So we have a deep mistrust of estate agents. It's a sentiment that's well-deserved though. Many estate agents even admit it.
And Kenny Bruce, who co-founded Purple Bricks, said the same. "There are some very good estate agents up and down the country but unfortunately many fall into the 'I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them' category."
Sadly, Purple Bricks made the estate agent problem worse rather than better. (I'll have more articles coming soon with thoughts on Online Estate Agents).
1.1 Estate agents compared with other industries
It's not just about trust though. We are seriously dissatisfied with our estate agents in general.
They rank very poorly compared with other professions based on their overall Net Promoter Score. (Net Promoter Score, or “NPS”, is a widely used customer satisfaction benchmark that measures how likely your customers are to recommend your services or products to others).
Based on our research, high-street estate agents have an NPS score of just 8/100. To put this into perspective, this score ranks them well below law firms (32%), which is hardly the anyone's favourite profession.
So we wanted to dig deeper and learn why we all feel so negatively about estate agents.
2. What are the biggest complaints about estate agents?
We asked 291 people who had recently tried to sell their home to tell us about their biggest complaints. We'll start with the results, and then delve into why things are this way.
Let's take a look at the top 5 complaints in more detail.
1. How long it took to sell/delays
According to data from Zoopla, it takes around 25 weeks (almost 6 months) to sell via an estate agent. This is just the average though, meaning that it'll take much longer than that for money.
So the fact 24% of survey respondents said the drawn-out process and delays were their biggest complaints is no surprise.
The longest I've ever waited for a house to sell was 593 days (that's 1 year and 7 months). Why so long? The outdated system of buying and selling homes in the UK is a factor, and the property had a few issues. But the estate agents being unresponsive and uninterested was a huge factor as well. Things could have gone much faster had they been more proactive.
2. Lack of communication
23% of survey respondents listed a lack of communication as their biggest frustration with their estate agent.
I say this from personal expensive: probably 90% of estate agents are awful at communicating.
The problem is actually so bad that we always manage our sales progression in-house! What does this mean?
Well, when you agree a sale there's lots of communication that needs to happen between the seller, buyers, and solicitors. It's the estate agent's job to do this, but most are so bad at it that we used to do the job ourselves... even though we were paying them to do it!
We were better off spending the time doing the job ourselves (and doing it properly) than relying on the estate agent to do it.
Most estate agents just aren't proactive, and aren't that interested in the experience their customer has. They don't feel the need to communicate with you, regardless of how much it would help you.
3. Valuation tactics (overvaluing/undervaluing)
One of the dirtiest and most prevalent estate agent tactics is overvaluing properties.
This is what I always say to people: When an estate agent comes to your house to give you a valuation, they aren't there to give you a valuation. They're there to give you a sales pitch. They want to seduce you with a higher figure to improve their chances of winning your business.
The estate agent will then backtrack over the course of several weeks to get you to reduce your asking price down to a level where it can actually sell. (This is one of the main reasons properties take so long to sell... the estate agent has misled the seller into setting an unrealistic asking price).
I've got a lot of personal experience with this.
Remember the property I mentioned above - the one that took 593 days to sell? The estate agent originally valued that property for around 40% more than it sold for!
What do you think happened to the estate agent? ... Nothing, of course! Remember that estate agents have no accountability for the valuations they give.
Takeaway: Be careful when you get an estate agent's valuation. Chances are they're giving you a sales pitch. There's nothing on the line for them if they're wrong, but it'll just waste your time.
No wonder so many people shady valuation tactics as one of their major complaints.
4. Ignoring your best interests
The fact is this: Estate agents have one job, which is to hit their sales targets. They have targets for:
- Booking valuation appointments,
- signing up new sellers,
- booking a certain number of viewings,
- and tying a certain number of sales up.
Sadly, it's easier for estate agents to mislead someone in order to hit their goals than it is to do it the honest way. I'm not saying they all fall into this trap, but many of them do. They say what needs to be said to inch them closer to their goals.
This means estate agents will often ignore the best interests of the buyers and sellers they work with in order to hit their goals.
5. Poor quality marketing/photographs
I've always been baffled by the approach some estate agents take to their photography. I would have thought the photos are the key to getting people interested - especially now that most people start their property search online.
But estate agents have sent me so many photos for my own properties that are just horrendous. Some estate agents seem to point their phone at the corner of a room and take a picture, and think they've done the job.
There's even a whole website dedicated to comedically bad estate agent photographs.
Bad estate agent photos can be funny, but when you're making the biggest transaction of your life it's no joking matter. All too often the estate agent you've recruited specifically to help you navigate that sale is returning these types of shocking photographs.
Unfortunately, you're 7x more likely to complain about poor marketing or photographs if you use an online estate agent.
3. Can you sell your house without an estate agent?
So, what can you do if you're down on estate agents and you want to sell your house without one?
If you really don't want to face dealing with an estate agent, you have some options.
There are two main ways you can sell your house without an estate agent. You can sell your home via auction, or you can sell directly to a genuine house-buying company. These are both faster than selling by estate agent, but you'll usually have to compromise on the price you ultimately achieve.
You can also sell your house privately, but it can lead to a worse outcome overall and I never recommend it.
3.1 Selling to a house-buying company
Selling your home directly to a genuine house-buying company is, without doubt, the fastest way to sell your house.
A genuine house-buying company can make you a formal offer within 24-48 hours, and can buy your home in as little as 2 weeks. They're the fastest option, but they come with a serious compromise on the price. This means they aren't right for most people.
Check out the quiz below to learn whether or not you're a good match for a sale to a house-buying company.
3.2 Selling via auction
Selling by auction also usually means selling your house for less than its full value, but you get a faster, more certain sale.
3.3 Will estate agents ever get better?
Estate agents have had this poor reputation for a long time. So why do most sellers still sell their house with an estate agent?
Well, selling by estate agent is almost always the best way to get the highest price for your home. This is why selling via estate agent is still the option I'd recommend for most home sellers.
But don't despair. One final point I really want to make is this: Not all estate agents are bad. In fact, in our survey 25% of home sellers scored their estate agent 10/10.
There are loads of talented, passionate estate agents out there who'd do anything for their customers. I'm proud to have benefited from dealing with many of them.
But there are a lot of flaws and challenges with the property industry that have led to the typical estate agent we have today. Unfortunately, the industry as a whole isn't changing any time soon, so don't expect the reputation of the average estate agent to improve either.
By Matthew Cooper, Co-Founder of Home Selling Expert