Are estate agents trustworthy?

Chris Burton Director at Grosvenor Billinghursts ClaygateChris Burton, Director at the Claygate office

Estate agents often come under fire for being untrustworthy, but is it justified? Furthermore, what can estate agents do to build trust - not to mention their own reputation - within the communities they serve? Chris Burton, Director at Grosvenor Billinghurst’s Claygate office, explains that without trust, estate agents don’t have anything.

An Ipsos MORI poll*, which took place a few years ago, revealed that professional footballers are trusted by only 26 per cent of the public, putting them on par with estate agents, who managed to just nudge past them at 27 per cent.

Given how the areas that Grosvenor Billinghurst covers are home to many talented sportspeople, many of whom are professional footballers, the irony was not lost on me.

So, what lies behind this negative perception? There are a number of reasons. However, before we tackle those, it's important to establish that estate agency is as much about change management as it is about property.

Whether you're trading up in order to accommodate a growing family, or trading down due to an unforeseen life event, moving home, regardless of the property's size, is a major change. Interestingly, in the corporate world of big business, companies invest huge amounts of money into change management programmes for their employees. Yet, when buying and selling a property, the change management aspect - not to mention the high level of emotion attached to it - is all too often overlooked. Unfortunately, as is the case with many estate agents, the focus tends to be on the more transactional components: bricks and mortar.

Estate agents that recognise the role of change management in estate agency, and who recognise that property is merely the vehicle for change, tend to be successful. After all, if you are mindful of the emotional toll that buying or selling a property has on your clients, are empathetic to how stressful it can be, and are able to provide the emotional support required over and above good property-related advice, you naturally tend to be able to build trust.

The reality is that many estate agents, particularly those at the corporate end of the spectrum, overlook this. Rather than taking a long-term view, and one that takes into account the emotional aspects of moving home, many take a short-term view that focuses on another transactional component – the fee. Of course, the fee is important; estate agency is a business. However, the process that gets you to the fee is every bit as important as the fee itself.

Another factor that compromises trust in estate agents is ego. During my time in the profession I've seen instances whereby estate agents have let their ego rule. By this I mean that they have lost sight of their responsibility to give good advice even when it doesn't match their own interests.

To compound this issue, it's often apparent that many estate agents find it very difficult to balance the needs of the seller, their ultimate client, with those of the buyer. The end result can be a sense that information is being withheld, which only reinforces any negative perceptions around estate agents and trust.

In my view, estate agents should never feel that giving a good service to buyers is somehow compromising their commitment to a seller. Both parties are instrumental in making a deal happen, and both need to be communicated with openly, transparently and honestly at every stage of the process.

I'm proud to place my colleagues across our three offices and myself in the trusted estate agency camp. In fact, feedback we often receive highlights how trustworthy we are. Our low failure rate of sales when compared against the national average of a third is also testament to this.

A few years ago I moved a local Claygate family from Common Road to Elm Road. For various reasons, one of which was financial, the deal lost momentum and was at risk of falling through. To expedite the process and ensure that the young family was able to move, we halved our fee, a decision that the client was hugely grateful for and one that ultimately secured the sale. In reward for our transparency and being honest throughout the process, both the buyers and sellers recommended us to friends and family. We've also since taken instructions from these families again.

The 'take away' point; today's buyers are tomorrow's sellers. With that in mind, it pays to be honest and transparent with everyone at every stage, and to take a long-term view. As the saying goes, what goes around comes around.

Would a similar survey in 2021 still place us on par with footballers? I'm not sure. One thing's for sure, though – our pay certainly isn't.

Looking for a trustworthy estate agent in Cobham, Claygate or Hinchley Wood? If so, contact our team to arrange a valuation.

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*Ipsos MORI Veracity Index 2017

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