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Online vs traditional agency: These are the questions you need to ask your agent

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When you decide to sell your home you may be faced with a very specific question: Do I use an established, traditional real estate brand or one of the new online, low-commission or fixed-fee agencies?

When selling real estate, there is no silver bullet; no magic formula that one agent has over another. The industry debate between which is better for the consumer: traditional real estate brand or fixed-fee, online or low commission is little more than an industry squabble taking place between both sides.

It’s not true that the more commission you pay the better the service and expertise from your agent; it’s also not true that if you go the low-commission, fixed-fee or online route that your home will be seen by a higher number of buyers.

The fact is this: As a seller, you have choices. And regardless of your choice, you need to be sure that the agent, and the agency, you choose to sell your home ticks the right and relevant boxes, and is able to answer your questions.

Here are the questions you need to ask your agent – be they from the traditional camp or the tech crowd (and in between).

#1 What is your success rate in this suburbhomes-on-the-market-fos-sale-and-sold-resize

Ask for the agent’s report card. Do not be fooled by a postbox drop which shows the sales and sale prices in your suburb for the past three or six months. These are not always the sales made by the agency or agent doing the marketing drop. If you contacted your agent as a result of one of these marketing techniques, quiz the agent on his or her direct involvement in these sales. If there was no involvement, keep searching for who is selling the most in your suburb.

#2 What is your marketing plan?mobile-phone-marketing-concept

Bold claims of putting your home in front of five or 10 million potential buyers is just marketing speak for “we’re going to list your home on our website and the major property portals in South Africa”. This is not a marketing plan – this is a basic requirement.

Ask about how they are going to give your home the best exposure they can. Featured listings on the portals, a social media campaign, show houses. In other words: how proactive are they going to be to ensure your home gets in front of the eyes of a willing and able buyer? Ten million potential buyers means nothing when all you need is one!

#3 How do you vet the buyers?sherlock investigate

There has been some talk in the industry with traditional estate agents claiming that online and low-commission agencies do not vet potential buyers prior to a viewing the property. Is this accusation unfounded? In many cases, yes – but not in all. Remember that regardless of which agency you choose to market your home, and their associated business model, their number one priority is to ensure the successful sale of your home – they only get paid when they do.

Why then is there this assumption and accusation that the tech agencies do not vet, qualify and check who they will be sending through your front door to view your home and hopefully purchase it? It would be counter-intuitive not to vet buyers as sellers will not react well to having their time wasted.

But what this accusation should serve to achieve is for you to ask the agent how they qualify and vet potential buyers.

#4 What happens after the buyer signs?Make an offer

No estate agent, regardless of which agency they represent, will just leave you and the deal once a buyer is found who puts pen to paper. Your agent has to help chase documents and information from the buyer, has to communicate any possible issues the buyer has with the property to you, and ultimately broker the deal so both you and the buyer are happy.

The assumption and accusation made by traditional agencies that when selling through a tech agency that the seller and potential buyer are left to negotiate price and contracts is simply ridiculous. This does not happen.

Another word for estate agent is broker – this means they broker the deal. And this is what you are paying them to do.

But, in case you are concerned, ask your agent what you can expect once a qualified buyer has signed the offer to purchase. Things you want to hear here are: we broker or negotiate on your behalf and present any counter offers. We chase the buyer for any outstanding documents and signatures. You can expect to hear from us at least once a week until your home has been transferred and registered in the buyer’s name.

The best thing you can do when you want to sell your property is to do your research, write up your questions and just ask them. If you have certain expectations ask your agent if they are founded or not – an agent worth their salt will be honest with you, even when your expectations are too lofty.


David A Steynberg, managing editor and director of HomeTimes, has more than 10 years of experience as both a journalist and editor, having headed up Business Day’s HomeFront supplement, SAPOA’s range of four printed titles, digimags Asset in Africa and the South African Planning Institute’s official title, Planning Africa, as well as B2B titles, Building Africa and Water, Sewage & Effluent magazines. He began his career at Farmer’s Weekly magazine before moving on to People Magazine where he was awarded two Excellence Awards for Best Real Life feature as well as Writer of the Year runner-up. He is also a past fellow of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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