A recent Which? report condemned estate agents for over-valuing property to win instructions only to see those properties later reduced in price in order to sell.
Although their attention-grabbing headline fails to reflect that it’s often the customer who demands the higher price, there are certainly plenty of agents who will go way over the odds to boost their listings, with around one in five properties eventually having to come down in price, according to the Which? research.
This is a false economy that does our profession no good in the eyes of the public. The agent ends up with over-inflated property that costs more to market in the long run, with a disgruntled client who may end up having to accept less money, the longer it takes to sell.
Estate agency is a profession of which we should all be proud, but by adopting a policy of over-valuing, we not only let ourselves down but, more importantly, our reputation will suffer.
I’m told that in around 19% of cases, lenders’ surveyors are valuing properties below the agreed sale price – so lenders won’t lend people the money they need to buy, leading to chains breaking and sales collapsing, worsening the stagnation of the property market. Should we, therefore, be getting properties pre-valued by surveyors?
At the end of the day, a property is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it – and I know cash buyers who’ve been prepared to pay £100,000 more than a property is worth in order to secure the home of their dreams.
The longer we have a shortfall in housing supply, the longer the problem of over-valuing will persist. We need the Government to get on with their promise of allowing more new homes to be built, rather than just empty soundbites.
I’m very clear with all my staff that we must give a true and honest valuation on every property we visit, taking into account local demand. By doing this, the public will maintain their trust in us and our profession, while those who continue to over-value will ultimately damage their own credibility in the long run.
Rules are for the guidance of the wise
For years, estate agents have relied on direct marketing to generate leads from prospective customers, but many thousands of estate agents may be falling foul of the law by not registering with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) under the Data Protection Act 1998 or adhering fully to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR).
Anyone using electronic means such as emails, automated phone calls, fax and text can only target individuals who have opted in to receive unsolicited marketing materials, by ticking a box, sending an email, clicking an icon or subscribing to a service.
It’s critically important that all sales people abide by the law to ensure customers opt in to receive electronic marketing messages. Those making nuisance calls and texts can be fined thousands of pounds or even face enforcement action or criminal prosecution – and suffer reputational damage.
Even if you pay for the services of a third party or marketing agency, you are both responsible for complying with the PECR rules.
You cannot cold call people or send automated messages if they have signed up to the Telephone Preference Service or Fax Preference Service, which means you need to check your marketing lists against the preference service registers first. Nor can you leave unsolicited messages on answerphones. There is no equivalent email or text preference service because you may only send unsolicited emails or texts to individuals if you have their specific consent or to existing customers (provided that you have already offered and continue to offer them an opt-out).
A year ago, the ICO published a report criticising estate agents and lettings agents for not following the data protection rules. Among the issues highlighted were lack of training and awareness about data encryption, security of paper records, password control and keeping customer data longer than necessary. Have things changed? I doubt it.
You need to keep clear records of what a person has consented to and when and how you obtained this consent, in the event of a complaint. You also need to ensure you have robust processes in place so that your data is updated if someone withdraws their consent.
In 2018, the rules on data protection will become even tougher under the EU General Data Protection Regulation for UK businesses offering services to EU citizens – and the UK will have to adhere at least until Brexit occurs in 2019 and maybe afterwards. Such EU law is likely to be transported into UK law and the Information Commissioner is calling for the new rules to stay, arguing Brexit should not mean Brexit when it comes to data protection.
So while it’s important we market our business and the properties we sell, it’s vital we do so in a professional manner that abides by the law, which overall will enhance our reputation and enhance the confidence of both vendors and buyers.
The rules for marketing to businesses are different, but if in any doubt, look at the Information Commissioner’s website at ICO.org.uk.
Focus on your photography
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But when it comes to taking fantastic photos or videos, it’s not just the image that makes a difference but it’s who’s behind the camera that counts.
It’s now very evident in this global mobile world that people are seduced into buying property by the images they are seeing on websites and social media. Around 90% of our traffic in February was on a mobile device so, as the photos are so small, they have to be excellent and decluttered to have an effective impact.
Therefore, while it may be quick and easy to snap and post something on to Facebook or Instagram, it’s not the way to sell property in this fast-growing digital world.
We, at Spicerhaart, are now giving our valuers and negotiators professional advice and new equipment to help them take even higher quality property photos for mobile channels, and this investment is already starting to pay dividends, with more and more people viewing property via our social media channels than ever before.