Open day property viewings – the plus and minus points

If a property coming onto the market has a dozen prospective buyers wanting to view it, nowadays, the estate agent involved is likely to set up an “open day” or “open house” viewing. In fact, such is the shortage of housing that in cities like London, some estate agents claim to market most of their properties using open day viewings.

Sought after properties

Let’s say an estate agency takes on a family home located within the catchment of a popular school. The agent knows that the property is likely to generate a lot of interest from prospective buyers. Instead of sales negotiators going back and forth to the property to conduct viewings, the agent will advertise the property stating that an open day has been arranged for a week or two ahead. The estate agent may allocate an hour for the viewing, say between two and three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and ask all interested buyers to attend between those times.

Open day viewings have their good and bad points but personally, as a buyer, seller and former estate agent, I don’t like them.

The plus points

For the estate agent, an open day means the property should get sold after one viewing, eliminating the need for numerous visits by staff to the house or flat. For a seller in occupation, this also removes the inconvenience of having people view your home, at frequent intervals and often at short notice. For buyers, an open day should provide them a fair chance to view the property – it won’t be a case of property on the market; first person to see buys and it’s property off the market.

The minus points

Using the example mentioned above, a family home located close to a popular school has an open day viewing on a Saturday afternoon. Fourteen buyers are pencilled in to attend the property between two and three o’clock. On that basis, it’s quite possible to have half a dozen buyers walking around the property at any one time. Inevitably, such a setting creates a sense of urgency amongst buyers. If they like the property, they’ve got to reach a decision quickly and offer as much as they can afford to. In other words, open day viewings can create auction-like scenarios.

No fixed asking price

A recent trend that enhances the auction-like atmosphere is that of how property for sale is priced. Fixed asking prices are being replaced with either a “guide price” for the property, or one listed as “offers in excess of.” And after the open day, all interested parties will be asked to submit their best offer.

Buyer’s remorse

For a seller, people entering a bidding war to buy your property may get you a higher price for it. However, a buyer making a rushed decision over one of the most important financial commitments of their life may change their mind at a later stage. In fact I recently read, on the forum of a well-known consumer website, interesting advice from one buyer to another on winning at an open day. “Offer as much as you can to beat your competitors as you can always pull out of the purchase later if you feel you’ve over spent,” was their guidance!

The mortgage valuation hurdle

Even when an open day viewing instigates a bidding war in which the winning buyer is fully committed to pay what they’ve offered, the sale can still fall through. If that buyer requires a mortgage, their lender’s surveyor will have to justify the price being paid. And if they can’t, they will down value the property, which can potentially make the sale fall through.

As I mentioned earlier, I personally don’t like open day viewings. I think they work well for properties having speculative potential that are to be sold at auction to professional investors. However, I don’t think the people should have to buy their home this way –  pitted against others and lead to make a rushed decision.

Estate agents and selling the former marital home part three

Divorce lawyers always advise their clients to try and approach matters in the most amicable way they can. In fact many of the country’s divorce lawyers are members of an organisation named Resolution, formerly known as the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA). The organisation states the following on their website, which best describes what they do.

“Membership of Resolution commits family lawyers to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational way.”

“We believe that family law disputes should be dealt with in a constructive way designed to preserve people’s dignity and to encourage agreements.”

You can find Resolution’s code of practice by clicking here.

Every person I’ve known or met, who was getting divorced, was advised by their lawyer not to leave the property they shared with their soon to be ex-partner. Now, I’m not qualified to provide all the legal reasons why a divorce lawyer will give such advice. However, from my experience as an estate agent, I can tell you why leaving the marital home can compromise your position when trying to sell it.

In a particularly acrimonious divorce, when selling the former marital home, the partner in residence can – if they’re that way inclined – cause all sorts of problems and delays for the partner who’s moved out. And while a consent order may prevent them doing so indefinitely, such individuals have been known to push the boundaries.

Instructing the agents

Firstly, disagreement can ensue over which estate agency to select. One example, albeit a unique one, was the former estate agent having to sell his three bedroom semi. Several years prior to his divorce, this chap had worked for a large estate agency as manager of the branch located minutes from his home. As you would expect, his experience of the local house market meant he also knew which estate agents were good and which should be avoided. And he often spoke about this with his wife.

A few years later, when it came to the divorce and selling the former marital home, his wife did not want her husband’s former employer and colleagues involved. This wasn’t an unreasonable request; after all, her husband still had friends working in that branch who may not have been neutral in the matter. So, what did the wife do? Not only did she invite the estate agents whose practices she knew her husband disapproved of, but made sure one of them who attended was an arch rival of his. And when it came time for the husband’s agents of choice to appraise the property, getting his wife to confirm a convenient time for them to visit wasn’t an easy task.

While most sellers will not experience the exact same scenario as above, there may very well be arguments over which estate agents to instruct – even if just to annoy one another. My advice would be to use the guidelines I mention in my article How to successfully sell a property – an insider advises, plus also consider the selection criteria I mentioned in part one, such as age and experience. Now I know that in some cases it may be easier said than done, but try to select one estate agent you both agree on and do not commit to a lengthy contract with them. A six week sole agency agreement is ample time for them to have a go at selling your home. You can always renew an expired contract if you like the agent, but cancelling a contract of one you don’t is a harder task.

Problems with viewing appointments

Ask your estate agent to accompany prospective buyers viewing your home whenever possible. It has been known for the partner wanting to delay the sale, to eagerly point out all the property’s defects to people viewing it.

A classic stalling tactic by the husband or wife in residence of the former marital home is being awkward with viewing appointments in general. A seller cancelling viewing appointments at the last minute or not being available at the agreed time is a common ploy in such scenarios. I remember one divorcee giggling as she told a friend: “When people turn up to view the house, if I’m not in the mood to show it, I’ll pretend I’m not in and won’t answer the door!”

I have also known situations where the agents had to work with just a one hour slot once weekly to get buyers in to view. In such cases, unless they set up an ‘open day’ viewing, inviting several buyers to view during that hour, they’re going to struggle to do their job.

At the point where you instruct the estate agent to sell your former marital home, all three parties – the agent and both partners – must agree on the viewing arrangements. Plus, the agent should keep a log of all the viewings. Should a problem arise (like those mentioned above) there is a record of events to pass on to the divorce lawyer if the matter has to go back to the family court. As mentioned earlier, a consent order stating that the property must be sold, will prevent any fun and games going on indefinitely. However, the task of enforcing a consent order can be costly and time consuming. So, coming back to the advice of the divorce lawyers – always try to resolve matters amicably.

Keeping both partners updated

A good estate agent, experienced in selling properties forming part of a divorce, will know that they should keep both partners updated on progress with marketing and offers. This will double the agent’s work load, especially when having to negotiate an offer between three parties – the buyer and both sellers.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen times when the non-resident partner wasn’t updated as frequently as they should’ve been and received information second hand from their ex. Unless communication between the divorcees is good, both of them should receive updates and notification of offers directly from the agent. If your partner and you are on civil terms, and you’re happy for the estate agent to update either one of you, tell them so at the beginning of marketing.

Once you have decided on which agent to instruct, you will be required to sign their marketing agreement and provide them with a form of identification, in accordance with the Money Laundering Regulations (2007). Use this as an opportunity to pop in to the estate agency and meet the key people that will be handling your sale. Whether you get on with your partner or your relationship is strained, if you reside outside the former marital home, try to visit the estate agency. As I said earlier, in such scenarios, the partner not living at the property will not always be as up to date on progress with the sale as the resident partner. Visiting the estate agency and introducing yourself to the team can go some way toward you not being left out of matters.

Estate agency agreements

Where a property is jointly owned, estate agents will ask that both the owners sign the estate agency’s contract or agreement, prior to commencing marketing. What happens if at the end of the contract, the property remains unsold and one of the owners decides to give it to a different estate agency to sell? What happens if the other owner wants to keep the original agent on?

A divorcing couple instructed one of London’s leading estate agents to sell their former marital home. The house was situated in a sought after road in a popular suburb. Properties in that area were going under offer very quickly and the couple’s home was no exception. An ‘open day’ viewing on a Saturday afternoon returned five offers above the asking price. The sale was agreed but unfortunately fell through six weeks later. The reason provided by the agent was that the buyer reassessed their finances and had a change of heart. This can often happen when buyers get caught up in a bidding war after being thrown together by an open day viewing event.

Shortly after, a second buyer was introduced who offered at the asking price. Even though this buyer’s offer was lower than the five previous offers, the sales negotiator who introduced the buyer suggested the sellers accept. The husband was reluctant. House prices were still rising and when he asked the negotiator if any of the other five people who offered were still around, the agent immediately said they’d all found other properties. The husband told me that he was now a little suspicious; however, the agent kept reiterating that this buyer was in a stronger position than the others they’d introduced. The man’s ex-wife, who was living in the house, had also found a home she wanted to move to, which was chain free. So if the husband agreed to the lower offer, the sale could proceed. His wife urged him to accept the offer.

The husband told me that at this point he became even more suspicious. Previously, his wife had argued that they’d undersold their home when they received five offers above the asking price. Now, seven weeks later, she and the estate agent were pushing him to accept a much lower offer. Even so, he wanted to bring a distressing situation to a close, so he reluctantly accepted the offer.

One week before contracts were due to be exchanged, the buyer decided to revise his offer by nearly twelve percent. There was no justification for this, the survey and legal work had found nothing wrong with the property but the buyer, rather unashamedly, insisted on the huge reduction in the agreed price. This unfavourable practice of asking for a price reduction in the final stages of a property transaction is known as ‘Gazundering’. Both Mr and Mrs Seller declined the request and Mrs also lost the property she wanted to buy.

The man suggested to his ex-wife that they pause, then start again with a different estate agent. Their property had been with the present firm for nearly four months; the sole agency having expired eight weeks prior. Plus, their property was being marketed with photos depicting a garden in full bloom but they were now half way through November. Anyone looking at the property details online would know at a glance that the house had been on the market for months. Strangely, Mrs Seller insisted they keep the same agent.

Mr Seller called the estate agency to ask that they cease marketing and in a calm yet direct manner, explained the reasons for his request. He was told that because his wife wanted to keep them on, they would continue marketing! So, this estate agency had been unsuccessful in selling this property twice in four months. Their contract had long since expired and yet they were trying to hold on to the instruction, essentially using this family’s awful predicament to their advantage.

When I heard this story, I was shocked. Did the staff of one of London’s leading estate agencies really think they were going to force a man to sell his home through them? And complaining to their head office didn’t immediately yield the result the seller had hoped for either. Instead of cutting their losses, the estate agency’s complaints department kept pointing out that Mrs Seller had also signed their contract and wanted to remain their client.

For the estate agency, trying to hold on to the divorcing couple’s property was a pointless exercise. They must’ve realised this, along with the potential for them receiving bad publicity, so they stopped marketing and released the sellers from the contract. Over and above all the other points to consider when signing an estate agency agreement, the above story raises another. So do ask, in writing if needed, what the procedure is for terminating the agreement at the end of the term. Do they require written notice and if so, is it required from both partners/owners?

Unscrupulous buyers and ‘Gazundering’  

In this last section, I wanted to mention one or two underhand tactics used by a small minority of individuals with regards to properties and divorce. Whilst such situations are rare, they have been known to come up from time to time.

The first is that of ‘Gazundering,’ which was briefly discussed in the earlier story. Gazundering is when a buyer lowers their offer from the agreed sale price at the latter stages of the transaction. More often than not, it’s property investors who employ such a tactic and not the average home buyer. Below is an example of Gazundering.

A couple are selling their former marital home, which is a three bedroom house. In turn, the partners are each buying a two bedroom flat. For simplicity, let’s say one of those flats is chain free and the other belongs to a person buying a newly built house that’s also chain free. All offers have been agreed and the chain consisting of four properties is complete. Surveys and valuations have been carried out and so has the legal work of all the solicitors involved who are now preparing for an exchange of contracts. Preferred completion (moving) dates will be relayed back and forth the chain, perhaps with the help of the estate agents involved.

At this point the buyer at the bottom of the chain revises his offer on the couple’s house by £20,000. The agreed sale price was £320,000 but this buyer is now saying he’ll only pay £300,000 – take it or leave it.

Even worse is the fact that many such buyers, when making their initial offer, do so with the full intention of lowering it just prior to contracts being exchanged. If there are other buyers interested in the property – a common occurrence in today’s market – then it’s likely that there will be competing offers. And if those offers are at or around the asking price, the devious buyer doesn’t stand much chance of getting his lower offer accepted. So he offers high, waits until the later stages of the transaction, when all the other buyers are out of the way, and he hits the sellers with a price reduction. So, the sellers, who up until now thought they were close to putting the divorce behind them and moving on with their lives, now have a decision to make. Here’s what might happen.

If the sellers decline the buyer’s revised offer and he withdraws from the purchase, the chain will collapse. In turn, they will probably lose the flats they were hoping to buy and the owner of one of those flats may lose out on the new home they were hoping to buy. Each will have to put their property back on the market and start again. There’s every chance that a new buyer may be found and the chain stays intact. Equally, there’s a chance that the flats and the new home in the chain are sold to other buyers, which is more likely.

The sellers may firmly decline the buyer’s revised offer and he decides to proceed at the original price – quite possible, but unlikely. Either party may come back with a counter offer in an attempt to keep the deal together – the buyer still gets a reduction and the sellers still get their flats. I’ve seen this happen but not often.

The buyer may maintain his ‘take it or leave it’ stance in the hope that the sellers will absorb the £20,000 loss so as not to lose their connected purchases and prolong the misery of their situation. On very rare occasions, the entire chain, including the estate agents, may make up the loss in order for all the sales to go through. Each seller reduces their price a little and the agents do the same with their fees. In 12 years of estate agency, I only ever saw that happen once; however, market conditions were very different and the requested price reduction was due to a down valuation and not Gazundering.

There is no foolproof way to circumvent scenarios like the one mentioned above. A person in the advanced stages of buying a house might see a similar property that they prefer, leading them to change their mind. If that property is £20,000 cheaper, the buyer isn’t going to worry about losing the £1000 they’ve spent thus far on survey and legal fees trying to buy the first house. They may decide that if they can get the existing property for £20,000 less, they’ll stay with it. If not, they’ll simply drop it and go for the other one. Not as nasty as setting out to Gazunder intentionally, but not nice just the same.

Protecting your interests

Taking into account what I’ve just said, there are steps you can take to guard against a buyer intent on exploiting your situation.

Firstly, ask yourself if your home, at its current marketing price, has investment potential? Now, this may sound like a silly question, given that property prices have been on a constant increase for several years now! What I mean is the profit margins that professional property dealers look for; make the vast majority of properties on the open market financially unviable for them.

So let’s say your home is on the market at the highest asking price suggested by the three agents who appraised. After a few viewings, perhaps even an ‘open day’ viewing, you have three buyers battling it out with offers at and around the asking price. If one of those buyers claims to be a property investor, ask yourself: what profit is there for him? When discussing the offers with your agent, raise your concerns.

A colleague of mine, when dealing with a similar scenario, just came out with it and said to the buyer: “I don’t see that there’s any profit in this house for you.” The buyer then claimed he planned to rent out the house for a couple of years and move into it at a later time. As this man’s offer was the highest and he was chain free, the sale was agreed to him; however, my colleague told the seller of the conversation he had with the buyer.

The sale moved along slowly and after three weeks the buyer had yet to instruct the survey or his solicitor (both are warning signs). My colleague pushed the buyer for the survey to be carried out and told him that the sellers were concerned over the delay. The survey was carried out some 10 days later and the legal work had also commenced. Shortly after, the buyer told my colleague that he felt the market was cooling and that he’d seen similar properties for less money. So, even though the property had been removed from the market for this buyer to proceed, he was still viewing others (another warning sign).

Some would say that at this point, a good estate agent should advise the sellers to put the property back on the market and start showing it to other buyers. It was a tricky decision to make because the buyer had shown at least some commitment by paying for a survey, plus the solicitors were moving ahead with their work. In fact, the seller’s solicitor said he’d answered all enquiries raised by the buyer’s solicitor. And the buyer’s solicitor confirmed that he would be reporting to the buyer and asking him to provide the exchange deposit and sign the contract. As a result, my colleague and the sellers decided to hold back from marketing, after all, they were nearly there.

A week later, the buyer had yet to respond to his solicitor. When my colleague finally tracked him down, the buyer said he still wanted the property but as he felt the market had slowed, he was revising his offer by £50,000. The seller declined, and quite rightly so. One of the sellers was buying a cottage with her proceeds from the divorce but lost the property when her own sale fell through. A minor consolation was that we eventually sold their property to another buyer for £8,500 more than the first buyer had originally offered.

Renegotiating the sale price

The only time a buyer may be justified in requesting a reduction in the previously agreed sale price is when there has been an adverse survey or the solicitor finds a problem with the property’s title. In such cases, your estate agent will need to obtain proof. For example, your buyer’s mortgage valuation may have returned a figure £10,000 less than the sale price. If the buyer is seeking to renegotiate, first and foremost, your agent should ask to see a copyof that valuation report. This of course should only happen if you are willing to renegotiate your sale price – you don’t have to. While a lender’s valuation is significant, it is the opinion of one surveyor. Another surveyor may not have a problem with the value at which the property has been agreed.

On another note, you may not be in a position to renegotiate. Reducing your sale price may leave you short of the figure you’ve agreed to pay on your connected purchase.

Where an unscrupulous individual senses an opportunity to exploit a situation like a divorce sale, they will try, regardless of how careful you or your estate agents are.

The illicit proposal

When a professional man asked if he could view a house, he came across as a polite honest individual who was in a strong position as a property buyer. At the viewing appointment, he asked the owner, a female divorcee, to convince her ex-husband to accept £20,000 less for their home. Assuring her that in return, he’d give her £10,000 in cash. The only person benefitting from such a proposal was the buyer. Plus, what were the chances of this man honouring the deal, even if it did go through? What if, after contracts had exchanged, he denied all knowledge of the illicit agreement he’d struck with the divorcee? There would be nothing she could do about it. Luckily, this lady declined and told her estate agent about the incident who immediately removed the buyer from their register.

In England and Wales, our house buying system is such that nothing is legally binding until contracts are exchanged; prior to which, buyers or sellers can pull out of a transaction at any time. And as we’ve seen, it’s not always easy to distinguish an honourable and committed individual from one who ends up being dishonest and a waste of time.

A good estate agent can pick up on the tell tale signs of a house sale that isn’t going to go the distance, early on in the process – sometimes even before it starts. Online estate agencies aside, your choice of traditional estate agent may lie somewhere at or between two extremes. There’s the large estate agency whose management structure provides you the assurance of recourse (eventually) if something goes wrong at branch level. And then there are the small independent firms; often run by mature and experienced estate agents who are quite knowledgeable of their local market.

Regardless of which estate agent you select to sell your former marital home, understanding the process and having an awareness of the market conditions in which you’ll be selling, can be invaluable. And above all, if your instincts tell you something isn’t quite right, don’t ignore them.

Once again, you can read my article: How to successfully sell a property – an insider advises by following the link. For more in-depth information on how estate agents operate and buying or selling residential property, read my book, which is available in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.






Estate agents and selling the former marital home part two

In part one we looked at various reasons why the marketing of a property in a divorce scenario differed to that of a standard house sale. We then discussed why this would bring additional consideration for selecting the right estate agent for the task – namely their age, experience and interpersonal skills.

Here, in part two we’re going to look at some additional points for consideration when selling a former marital home.

If you would like to get a better understanding on the more general aspects of using a high street estate agent to sell your home, please read my article How to successfully sell a property – an insider advises. Some of the topics discussed there include how to select the right estate agent, sole and multi-agency contracts, setting the asking price, negotiating fees and offers, and agreeing the sale. You can read How to successfully sell a property – an insider advises by clicking here.

Should you tell estate agents about the divorce?  

A seller once told me that her solicitor advised against her telling estate agents that she was selling because of divorce. And the solicitor’s reason for such a recommendation was that if the agents know the property’s being sold as part of a divorce settlement, they’ll under price it for a quick sale.

Perhaps the divorce lawyer above had, at some point in their career, witnessed such a scenario. And yes, unscrupulous individuals – which in this context could be the estate agent, the buyer, or even the joint owner of the property – are not above taking advantage of another person’s misfortune for their own gain. I mentioned this briefly in part one and will do so again in a moment. However, taking into account what I’ve just said, I’d still disagree with the divorce lawyer’s advice, and for many reasons.

If your divorce isn’t acrimonious, your soon to be ex-partner and you communicate well; you both live at the property and will not be connecting a purchase to your sale, you don’t have to tell agents it’s a divorce. And they may not find out. However, anything other than the above and they will know the reason you’re selling.

Firstly, an estate agent handling the sale of a former marital home will, in essence, have two clients. Whenever they update Mr Seller on progress, they must immediately do the same for Mrs Seller. This is something they should do regardless of the civility between the divorcing couple. In my 12 years as an estate agent, I only dealt with one such sale where Mr and Mrs truly got on well enough for us not to have to update both of them.

Checking the chain

Next, estate agents must have information on any and all property transactions connected to the one they’re dealing with. They need to know how many other properties there are in the chain, both above and below them. If the sellers are buying a flat each with their share of the proceeds from the sale of their house, and if they intend to connect their respective purchases with their sale, this will show in the chain. The exception to this is where the sellers offer their home for sale as chain free. They sell it, go their separate ways and buy the other properties at a later stage. In such a scenario, no one need know the sale was part of a divorce settlement.

Watch what you say!

So, were the concerns of the solicitor mentioned above unwarranted? Not entirely. If you tell estate agents that you need a quick sale because you’re getting divorced, then yes, they may suggest a lower than market value asking price. But that’s more so because of the ‘quick sale’ bit rather than the ‘getting divorced’ part. However, combine the two in the same sentence and anyone may be forgiven for thinking that your matrimonial issues are linked to financial problems – or vice versa. Now, tell that to the wrong estate agents and the vultures of the property industry (a very small minority) might interpret your words as an opportunity to exploit your misfortune for their gain. But even then, they’re still unlikely to under price your home when they carry out their market appraisal and I’ll explain why.

The ongoing shortage of housing means demand will continue to outweigh supply and competition between estate agents for property instructions will remain fierce.

In some cities, it’s not at all uncommon to have over a dozen estate agencies covering the sale of property in a single postcode. And let’s say that three of those firms are active in your neighbourhood. Would you only call one of them in to provide you with a market appraisal?

Please note: when an estate agent provides a homeowner with a recommended asking price for selling their property in the current market, this is known as a ‘market appraisal.’ The term ‘valuation’ applies to the service provided by a chartered surveyor which is chargeable, whereas a market appraisal is usually carried out free of charge and obligation. When I first joined the industry, my employer was part of the largest group of estate agents in Europe. On my first day of training, the tutor said: “Surveyors value properties and estate agents appraise.” I explain the reasons as to why that is in my book; however, here I just wanted to briefly clarify my use of ‘market appraisal.’

Competition between estate agents

Nowadays, most sellers will invite several estate agents to inspect their home for sale. And in such circumstances, estate agents are more likely to overprice properties rather than under price them. In fact providing a prospective seller with an inflated appraisal of their home is often a reliable tactic for winning instructions over their competitors. Let’s say you’ve invited three local estate agents to appraise your house. Two of those estate agents have recommended you set an asking price of £325,000, whereas the third is saying you should ask £340,000. All three estate agents have presented themselves well and are confident of selling your home at, or very close to the figures they’ve quoted. Their fees and terms of business are the same – no sale, no fee, which means you only pay the agent once they introduce a buyer who contracts to purchase your home. Which agent would you instruct?

Pricing high

There are several reasons as to why an estate agent may provide a seller with an inflated appraisal of their property. As mentioned, they may do so in order to win the instruction over a competitor, whom they suspect will be doing the same. They may get the price wrong simply because they’re not up to date with what properties have sold for on that particular street or in your apartment block. In contrast, they may have just achieved a record price for a similar property in your neighbourhood after having several buyers battling it out. As they have a ready list of buyers who lost out on the other property, they will be optimistic of getting a similar offer on yours.

In my experience, the most common reason for the majority of estate agents pricing high is that they want to ensure they get the instruction and get the best price for the property. And in most cities in recent years, every estate agent will have seen erratic price increases on certain properties in pockets of their catchment area. This makes providing an accurate appraisal a bit trickier. Rather than risk losing the instruction by recommending a low figure, agents will go in suggesting a higher asking price. Once again, more on this subject is explained in my book and also in How to successfully sell a property – an insider advises.

Foul play

Back to the concern that was raised by the divorce lawyer. Let’s say you’ve told all the estate agents appraising your home that your partner and you are divorcing and want to bring an end to the matter as soon as possible. Let’s also say that, unknown to you, one of those estate agents is a rogue. Any skulduggery on his part would be to knowingly introduce a property developer/dealer who tempts you with a cash offer, below market level, in return for a quick sale.

This brings me to part three of this article where we’ll look at some of the common pitfalls of selling the former marital home and how to avoid them.

Estate agents and selling the former marital home part one

Moving home may be considered to be one of life’s more stressful events; however, when the property being sold forms part of a divorce settlement, the process can be a little more trying for those involved. In this three part article, we’re going to look at the additional challenges of selling the former marital home compared to a standard property sale. So, if you’re in the position of having to sell the home you once shared with your husband or wife, what you read here will hopefully make a difficult situation less stressful.

Before we move on, you may be interested to read a guest blog that I wrote for The entitled: How to successfully sell a property – an insider advises. The article provides advice on the various aspects of selling your home using the services of a high street estate agent and its content also serves as a good baseline of information for the subject of this article. You can read How to successfully sell a property – an insider advises by following the link.

Legal matters

A property being sold as part of a divorce settlement is usually subject to a consent order. A consent order is a legal document that is voluntarily and jointly agreed to by a divorcing or divorced couple to finalise all financial obligations arising from their marriage. This can include details of how the couple are going to divide up assets such as the former marital home. Once both parties have agreed to the terms detailed in the consent order, the document is then sealed by the court.

If the terms of the consent order dictate the sale of the former marital home, then that property must be sold. And the owners of such a property can’t simply change their minds about selling, at least not without a good reason, more legal work and a judge’s approval. However, even where there is a consent order in place, the sale of a former marital home isn’t always straightforward, as we’ll see in a moment.

Finding the right estate agent for the job

One of the points I discuss in The Guardian piece is how to select the right estate agent to sell your home. And what I say in that article applies equally to the subject of this one; however, there are some additional points to consider.

As a former estate agent and a property seller, my selection criteria for an agent to sell the former marital home would start with their age. And my personal preference would be for a mature estate agent.

Whether I chose a large estate agency with branches nationwide or the small local firm with one office, the person handling the sale of my property would, ideally, be around 40 years of age or over. I’m not saying that younger sales negotiators are not up to the task. In fact, I worked with a few whose families went through divorce and so these young people were able to relate to the situation and approached it appropriately. The point I’d like to make is that dealing with the sale of a property in a divorce settlement requires certain interpersonal skills along with both vocational and life experience. Established estate agencies know this and so where their sales team consists of personnel of varied ages, a more seasoned member of staff is usually chosen as the main point of contact with the seller.

Staff structure and operational procedures

In many firms it will be the director, partner, office manager or senior negotiator who visits the property to appraise it and present the company’s services to the prospective client. Next, assuming they are instructed as selling agents, the senior member of staff will prepare the marketing material – property description, measurements, floorplans, photos and adverts.

The sales team are then provided with details of the property along with the viewing arrangements; in turn, they start contacting buyers who are registered with the estate agency for that type of property. It will be at this point where any younger members of the team will have contact with the sellers and their role will be limited to introducing suitable buyers for the property. In such a set up, it’s often the younger sales negotiators who get the sale agreed, perhaps aided in negotiations by their manager or a more experienced colleague. From this point forward the office manager will take over and the sales negotiator will get to work on achieving their next sale.

Typically, it’s the larger estate agencies that are structured in the way I’ve outlined above, although many smaller firms operate in a similar manner. And for the seller of a property in a divorce, instructing such a company could work well for you; dynamic young negotiators, keen to win sales and impress, coupled with the backup of directors or managers possessing years of experience. But, as a seller, how do you get to know the way a particular estate agency operates prior to signing up with them? Well, if the person they send along to appraise your home is in their early 20s, then this is a warning sign. Especially if you’ve already told the estate agency that the sale forms part of a divorce settlement. And whether or not you should tell them is something we’ll discuss in part two.

Ask questions

Once the estate agent visiting your home tells you what they can achieve for it. And once they’ve discussed their terms and confirmed their fees, ask them a few questions about how they operate. For example: how quickly can they commence marketing and what’s the plan? How many people in their sales team? Who will be the main contact? Will the other sales negotiators need to see the property? Will prospective buyers be accompanied by estate agency staff when viewing? A good estate agent will have covered much of this information in their presentation or they’ll provide clear, direct answers to any questions you have. If they don’t, you’ve got to decide if they’re the right agent for you.

Difficult situations

In my role as an estate agent, I dealt with the sale of many properties that formed part of a divorce settlement. Emotions run high in such scenarios and I saw people break down and cry in front of me; either when I visited their properties or when they were sat across the desk from me in our office. I’d attend an appointment to measure and photograph a house and be met with hostility and anger by the partner who didn’t want to sell but was forced to by the divorce. There were situations that were unfair and that I didn’t agree with, but I had to put my own thoughts aside and get on with the job I was being paid to do.

Manipulative sellers

There were also occasions where divorcees would attempt to influence or manipulate the estate agent. One example was the very attractive woman in her late thirties, who would flirt with the younger male negotiators. When the guys tried to arrange viewing appointments, she’d very sweetly ask if they would suspend viewing appointments for a few days as she was feeling a little down. One naive young negotiator, who was a little smitten, claimed he felt sorry for her. The following evening, one of his colleagues saw the woman in a local wine bar being intimate with a male companion and looking anything but depressed.

And it wasn’t just the boys who were swayed by the antics of manipulative divorcees. Two female staff – a sales negotiator and the office administrator – would get rather flustered when dealing with the male seller of a former marital home. When visiting the agency, this chap would ensure his shiny BMW convertible was left within view of the office, even if it was illegally parked. His aftershave was so strong that the scent remained for a while after he left. Not only did he ask the female negotiator out on a date (an invitation we later learned she accepted) but he also asked her to bend various rules. For example, he requested that offers where communicated to him in advance of that information being passed to his soon to be ex-wife. He then attempted to negotiate, directly with a buyer, an illicit deal to cheat his co-owner out of thousands of pounds.

In both of the above examples, the office managers took control of the sales and the properties were eventually sold and at the right price.

As mentioned earlier in the article, handling the sale of a former marital home appropriately takes an experienced estate agent with certain interpersonal skills. Effective communication and the ability to demonstrate empathy for their clients’ situation while maintaining focus and discipline with the task at hand.

In part two, we’re going to look at some additional points for consideration when selling a former marital home.

Estate agency tales – First-Time Buyer Parental Assistance Gone too Far

I looked up from my desk and noticed the smartly dressed middle-aged couple poised to enter our busy high street estate agency. The man, touching the door handle while pointing with his other hand to the flat advertised in our window display, was discussing the property’s specification with his wife.

My initial thoughts were that the couple were part of the growing army of buy-to-let investors we estate agents seemed to be registering on a daily basis. As the door opened we were about to find out.

“Hello there, how can I help?” asked my colleague, greeting the couple and offering them a seat at his desk.

“We’re looking for a flat for our son,” replied the woman, seeming grateful for a chance to sit down. Seconds into the conversation and it was apparent that this first-time buyer’s parents had already visited several local agents on behalf of their son’s property search.

My colleague began to jot the prospective buyer’s contact details and property requirements while our office manager joined the conversation injecting his usual light-hearted banter.

“He’s a fortunate young man to have mum and dad out there looking for a flat for him,” joked our manager.

“We said we’d help him with the deposit, but we never expected to have to find the flat for him too. The lazy little sod!” replied the mother, whose patience with the whole property search and interaction with estate agents thing was clearly running out.

“Just change the locks at home madam, it’s far cheaper!” replied the office manager.

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Estate agency tales – Selling the flat above the girl band’s

About ten years ago, I was working as the branch manager of an estate agency based in an affluent part of north London.

Within our office catchment was an exclusive development made up of plush apartments converted from an old Victorian psychiatric hospital. In fact, the Ordinance Survey map of the area from 1898 described the rather imposing building as the ‘county lunatic asylum’!

Anyway, the properties that I saw were very grand – high ceilings, huge windows and many ornate period features. Set in beautiful grounds and having 24-hour security, the flats within this suburban development had price tags to match those located in more central parts of London. And adding to the air of exclusivity, of the residents who’d purchased the conversions brand new were pop stars, TV producers, sports personalities and the business elite. There were also a significant number of retired people who’d traded down; selling their detached homes to buy these luxurious but more manageable apartments.

I was called to appraise a lovely second floor flat in the development, the sellers of which were moving to a similar property they owned in central London.

While measuring the lounge and jotting down its features, I got chatting with my prospective client. The middle-aged business woman was talking about the development, mentioning several of its celebrity residents when she suddenly started giggling. She then told me a story which explained her chortling.

A famous girl band occupied two of the flats on the floor directly below. Apparently, they were hardly ever home and very discreet when they were, except for when going to and from their limo to the flats. My prospective client said the retired lady who owned the flat across the landing from hers had noticed the girls leaving and returning home ‘provocatively dressed’.

When the two flat owners met on the landing, the elder of the two said: “I don’t mean to alarm you dear, but I think we have a group of prostitutes living downstairs!”

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Making Progress

How much involvement should an estate agent have in a property sale after the price has been agreed and solicitors instructed?

This question can attract a varied response from people within the industry. Over the years, I have heard conflicting opinions on the subject at both extremes. One seasoned colleague felt that we only needed to contact the conveyancer when it was time to send off the commission account! Another experienced chap thought nothing of calling a solicitor several times a week – believing his input influenced the pace of a transaction.

Will the fate of a running sale be determined regardless of an agent’s efforts to guide it to exchange? Is a proactive approach to after sales service expected from our vendors? How often should we be calling solicitors for updates and when will they get fed up speaking to us?

Much of the above I could answer from my own experience and that of my colleagues, but to find out what the solicitors thought, I sent out questionnaires to several of them asking for their comments. I’ll reveal the results of my research a little later!

Some years ago, I was working for a busy high street branch of a large estate agency. Our company was taking over the local office of a subsidiary within the group and it was decided, at boardroom level, that my team would handle all of the existing running sales.

As the senior negotiator, I was tasked with ensuring that the transactions went through to exchange of contracts and with the lowest possible abortive rate. Over the next three months, my role was to be just sales progressing. All other activities were put aside; no selling or financial services targets, which I didn’t mind! I still had to work on Saturdays though, which I found strange until I learnt that my absence would’ve conflicted with my manager’s aspirations for a lower golfing handicap!

In the days that followed my assignment, my to-do-lists were concentrated on speaking to as many relevant parties as possible to familiarise myself with all of the sales and begin clearing the sizeable backlog.

A sale had already exchanged and others were preparing to do so. Several of the solicitors I called advised me that they were in receipt of signed contracts and were reporting to their clients. On one file, the chain had broken down, while another had already aborted for the same reason. What became evident to me was that the vendors and purchasers, along with their legal representatives, had not been spoken to by an estate agent for weeks and yet the transactions moved along regardless – some in the preferred direction, others not.

Understandably so, announcing my involvement, mid-way through these neglected sales, met with some mild hostility. This was the initial reaction; however, once people began to receive the attention that dedicated sales progressing could provide, most were very happy with the service. In fact, I received a couple of thank you cards and a very decent Chianti!

The above situation was unique to its circumstances. An office was closing down and handing all of its existing business to another company so some files were bound to be in bad shape. We needed to concentrate resources on sales progressing in order to reverse a negative position – people had instructed one agent and overnight, got another! We managed it and the set up worked so well that from thereon, all newly agreed sales were passed to me while the rest of the team continued bringing in more business.

Now, match a motivated purchaser to an equally inspired vendor and if you’re blessed with a short chain, updating your file should take no more than a few minutes a week. Whilst scenarios like this still exist, we all know, nowadays, they’re rare. More commonly though, events will occur that will serve to dampen the enthusiasm of your client, their buyer or both; chains that suddenly develop an extra two levels, down-valuations, re-negotiation, adverse searches, bad surveys and one of the all-time greats: “further reports prior to legal commitment to purchase.” Some solicitors will roll up their sleeves and do what they can to assist, however the estate agent is usually the first line of communication in such scenarios.

Vendors expect us to chase up progress on the sale of their home and many purchasers I dealt with told me that they felt more at ease contacting the estate agent for a quick update rather than calling their conveyancer.

My experience with solicitors has been generally quite good and over the years some have been very patient and extremely helpful. One in particular, whom our office used to recommend, even took time to explain certain legal terms which gave us a better understanding of conveyancing, which in turn, meant we’d only call his office when absolutely necessary. Not all were the same however; another solicitor would send his confirmation of instruction letter with a warning not to contact him for updates as each instance would incur a fee of £20 for his client! It is with the above extremes in mind that I decided to conduct a bit of research. I prepared just four questions with multiple choice answers and asked numerous solicitors that I’d spoken to over the years, if they’d kindly participate. My aim was to get 10 replies and to do so, I had to send out considerably more questionnaires! Anyway, listed below are the results of my study:

How important do you feel an estate agent’s involvement is in the progress of an agreed sale?

A. Important – two

B. Some importance – one

C. Depends on the individual case – seven

D. The sale will proceed regardless of an agent’s involvement – none

How often do you deem it acceptable for an estate agent to contact you regarding an update on a case?

A. Once a week – two *

B. Twice a week – none

C. More than twice a week – none

D. Depends on individual case – eight/ten*

* Two solicitors that answered (A) also found (D) to be acceptable.

How far up or down the chain will you provide updates to agents?

A. Only speak to the agents that my client is buying or selling through – two*

B. One level up or down the chain – one

C. More than one level up or down the chain – one*

D. Depends on the individual case – eight*

*One solicitor that answered (A) also found (D) to be acceptable
*One solicitor that answered (C) also found (D) to be acceptable

Have you ever requested an estate agent’s assistance during a transaction?

A. Never – none

B. A few times – three

C. Whenever circumstances warrant – seven

One solicitor said that whilst she didn’t mind taking calls from agents, a pet hate was having the same information that was provided to the agent, being relayed back to her incorrectly, either by the client or the other solicitor.

Estate agents cannot ultimately control the outcome of a property sale at the conveyance stage – no one can. Too many circumstances within the house buying process are out of anyone’s control – structural issues, chain breakdown and changes in people’s circumstances. What we can do, however, is provide a service that makes the overall home moving experience a bit smoother and less stressful. We should keep people updated instead of keeping them guessing; as when buying a home, the latter tends to thwart pessimism.

What seems to remain constant is that methodical sales’ progressing is a definite must for both the corporate and the independent agent – our clients expect it of us. How much time we spend doing it, however, depends on the individual case.

For a complete picture of an estate agent’s role, read Inside EA – A Behind the Scenes Look at How Estate Agents Operate
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Take One Seasoned Estate Agent and Add a Pinch of Salt

It was early 1998 and the media were reporting the end of the ‘Blair honeymoon’. In London we’d seen the back of the housing market slump that started a few years prior and were yet to encounter the buy to let boom that crept in ahead of the new millennium.

The level of instructions and sales had not picked up following the seasonal slowdown of Christmas and an element of uncertainty existed among buyers and sellers. It was as if people didn’t want to commit themselves; a sentiment reflected by the activity in our high street estate agency – short-staffed for the incoming enquiries, over-staffed for the amount of business that converted.

One afternoon, as we saw the area manager depart in his new five series, off to crack the whip at colleagues in the neighbouring branch, we put the kettle on. Jaffa Cakes were the democratic choice of purchase on the office expense account and we got chatting over tea.

“What do you think the market’s doing David?” I asked a senior colleague (not his real name and he was senior in years of estate agency experience as well as age). I was naive to think this property industry fountain of knowledge would give me a straight answer. Instead, I got a bricks and mortar stream of crap.

“Well, it depends who I’m talking to really. If you’re a buyer, there’s never been a better time to purchase your new home and you’d better do it quick because prices are set to boom. And if you’re a property owner, there’s never been a better time to sell. Prices have peaked and we fear the bubble’s about to burst!”

Now, several things went through my mind after David’s reply. Was I receiving valuable training on some profound level, designed to stimulate lateral thinking? Or, was this seasoned estate agent trying to tell me that I was too honest for my chosen line of work? Was I over thinking stuff again? Absolutely!

“Are you winding me up?” I asked, but David was serious. And as he was top of the sales negotiator performance tables, someone out there took him seriously too.

Years later, David was spearheading the opening of a new branch office for a different employer. Announcing the new estate agency, the local press also quoted Dave as saying: “For first-time buyers, there’s never been a better time to get on the ladder.”

The following week, reports were released by various respected house market commentators; all concluding that affordability for first-time buyers was at crisis level.

Nice one Dave!

More stories of estate agents’ shenanigans inInside EA – A Behind the Scenes Look at How Estate Agents Operate
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Property Buyers – How the Internet Can Let You Down

As a trainee sales negotiator, I got a little despondent with phoning prospective buyers and call after call, having to leave messages on answering machines. Back then few people had mobile phones and email was several years away. And as we were in a buyer’s market (yeah, such a thing did exist) not everyone wanted to be bothered on their work number by estate agents.

Unable to speak to many of the buyers on our register, I began stuffing envelopes with sales particulars of the flat we’d just taken on to the market; ready to send out to my prospects.

“What are you doing?” asked my manager, gesturing at the pile of manilas on my desk. Not pausing for my answer, he went on: “Selling houses is about talking to people. That’s what my manager told me when he saw me doing what you’re doing. Get back on the phone.”

Fast forward over 20 years and even with technology expanding our methods of communication, my manager’s words hold true. Here’s an extract from my book to highlight the point.

Buying property and the Internet

Imagine the following scenario: a house hunter goes online and registers their details and property requirements with a well-known property website. They’ve also set up alerts to receive an email or SMS message when a suitable property comes to the market.

At 9.45 on a Monday morning, the buyer receives an automated email alert to say that a house matching their requirements has just come onto the market with an estate agent they’ve registered with. The buyer has a brief look through the property’s specifications and immediately calls the estate agency to request a viewing. At 9.53, the estate agent tells the buyer that the property is under offer and no longer available for viewing. The prospective buyer, quite understandably, is very puzzled. Are they expected to believe that in the eight minutes since the email alert was received, another buyer has been to view the property and made an offer, which the estate agent put forward to the seller and got the sale agreed, and the property has been taken off the market?

I’ve encountered such scenarios countless times. In fact the one mentioned above relates to a family home that we brought to the market on Saturday lunchtime and agreed its sale before the end of the day. The owner telephoned us that morning to ask if we could fit in an appraisal that same day. They’d found a property they really wanted to buy and so needed to get theirs sold as soon as possible.

Our manager rearranged his lunch break and went along to the property where the owner gave instruction. We began phoning prospective buyers, many of whom weren’t available for viewing that day, and some we couldn’t reach. Of those people we did speak to, the first one to view the house made an offer, which the owner accepted.

Later that day, our manager, while chewing a chicken Caesar wrap, began preparing the property particulars for the administrator to type up when she was back in the office on Monday. When the office administrator prepared the property particulars on the Monday morning, as soon as she put them into the database, they were automatically uploaded to the websites we advertised with, which in turn triggered the buyer alerts.

Why prepare particulars and advertising if the property is already under offer? Firstly, when a sale is agreed, the estate agent will notify the buyer, seller, and their respective solicitors in writing and will also include a copy of the particulars of sale. As for the advertising, estate agents might not use up a paid slot in the local newspaper for a property already sold, but they will upload its details to their website. This allows whoever it may concern–prospective clients or competitors—to see that the estate agent is active and has gained another success. And while they may not be fully marketing the property, the estate agent will display its details on the website and have particulars ready just in case the running sale falls through. What they should do, however, is indicate that a sale has been agreed by marking the property as sold subject to contract (SSTC).

Inside EA – A Behind the Scenes Look at How Estate Agents Operate
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Estate Agents – acting in the client’s interest or their own?

I wasn’t too far into my career before realising just how poor the general public’s view of estate agents really was. Don’t get me wrong, before getting into the business, I knew full well the boys and girls of the property world were never going to receive nominations for the good citizen awards. However, a year or so in the industry and I developed a reluctance to tell people at dinner parties what I actually did for a living.

Strangely though, announcing that I was an estate agent would often bring me popularity amongst my fellow guests at social gatherings. And it wasn’t just the charisma I’d inherited from my mother’s side that did it. Joe Public is fascinated with the subject of property and house prices. Okay, there were the usual jibes about estate agents’ integrity, or lack of, but more often than not, people would offload their gripes against agents on me.

Generally, property buyers and sellers disliked the idea of a twenty-something estate agent, who still lived at home with his parents, pontificating over their most important financial decision to date. And it wasn’t an ageism thing either. When an arrogant sales negotiator kept insisting a buyer instruct his solicitor to ‘take a view’ over certain outstanding enquiries, the middle-aged businessman snapped. “When you’ve raised a £300,000 mortgage and are running up a huge legal bill buying this house, YOU pick up the phone to my solicitor and dictate his job to him.”

Double standards and manipulating situations for their own benefit are quite typical of estate agency’s sharp operators. I’ll give you an example of two identical real-life scenarios, dealt with in very different ways.

Mr and Mrs X have their three bed semi on the market for sale. Their sole agent, Dark Ops Realty, send along Mr and Mrs Y to view the property, who absolutely love it and wish to offer the asking price. Even better, both couples get on really well; with the Xs delighted to see their cherished family home go to the Ys. This has the makings of a perfect deal except for one snag. The sales negotiator at Dark Ops Realty learns that Mr and Mrs Y have agreed a sale on their garden flat to Miss Z, who is yet to find a buyer for her one bedroom conversion. In other words, there’s an incomplete chain. And the Ys need the equity from their flat to buy the Xs’ house.

When the sale sales negotiator calls Mr and Mrs X to present the offer to them, the conversation may go something like this:

Dark Ops: Hello Mr X, how are you today? Mr and Mrs Y who came along to view your house last night, really, really liked it.

Mr X: Oh yes, my wife and I thought they were a lovely couple. They did say they were very interested and that they’d talk to you about making an offer.

Dark Ops: Well, they have made an offer and it is at the asking price; however, there is a slight problem. They need to sell their own property in order to buy your house, and while they do have an offer on their flat, their buyer has yet to agree a sale on her flat. So, I’m afraid Mr and Mrs Y have an incomplete chain.

Mr X: Oh dear, that’s a shame. We rather liked them and would’ve been really pleased to see our home go to them. Isn’t there anything we could do? Could we wait for them? What would you advise?

Dark Ops: Well, unfortunately, as Mr and Mrs Y aren’t yet in a position to proceed with purchasing your home, my advice would be to continue marketing the property for the moment. We’ll keep in touch with Mr and Mrs Y and should the bottom of their chain come together, we’ll notify you and we can assess the situation again. If you stop showing your property while you wait for the Y’s position to improve, you risk missing out on stronger buyers.

This is sound advice and the estate agent is acting in his clients’ (Mr and Mrs X) interests.

Now, same scenario except that this time Dark Ops are sole agents to both the Xs and the Ys. So come the day of contracts being exchanged, the agent gets a double commission. How do you think the sales negotiator will handle this one?

Dark Ops: Hello Mr X, I hope you’re well. Mr and Mrs Y who viewed your house last night, really, really liked it and they have come to us with an offer. They have their mortgage agreed in principle and a large part of their deposit is coming from the equity in their flat, on which they have a buyer. And the offer they’ve put forward to us is at the asking price. How do you feel about that?

Mr X: Oh that’s great news; my wife will be very pleased. We thought they were a lovely couple and we’d really like for them to have the house.

Dark Ops: Yes they absolutely loved the house and spoke very highly of Mrs Y and yourself. I think we have very motivated buyers here Mr Y; however, there is one minor point that I should mention.

Mr X: What’s that?

Dark Ops: Well, we have on offer on the X’s property from a lady, who is extremely keen to get moving, but needs to find a buyer for her flat. The good news is that we’ve spoken to the lady’s estate agent and he assures us that her flat is in a very sought after location and should go under offer very soon.

Mr X: I see. What do you suggest we do?

Dark Ops: The fact that Mr and Mrs Y are so enthusiastic about buying your house is a real positive point. As I said a moment ago, they’re very motivated buyers, which in our experience is half the battle in a sale going through. The other positive point is that with us being sole agents on both properties, we can keep a close eye on things and minimise the chances of the chain falling through. So with the above in mind, and as Mrs X and yourself like the Ys; how do you feel about giving them a couple of weeks to sort things out at their end? Perhaps withdraw your property from further viewing giving Mr and Mrs Y’s chain a chance to come together. Of course, we’ll keep you updated on a daily basis.

Mr X: Well, I suppose waiting two weeks won’t do much harm, after all, we’re yet to see a property we really want to buy. I’ll discuss it with my wife and come back to you later today.

The sales negotiator may end the telephone conversation on a light-hearted note, saying that he’s sure Mrs X will be pleased at not having to rush around preparing for people viewing her house at short notice! A perk of withdrawing the house from the market, giving Mr and Mrs Y a chance to proceed and putting that double commission within the agent’s reach.

The estate agent is now acting in his own interests!

To learn more about the tricks of the estate agency trade read Inside EA – A Behind the Scenes Look at How Estate Agents Operate
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