How to buy and sell a home through estate agents

Find out what estate agents do, what fees are involved, dealing with sealed bids and other ways to buy and sell.

What do estate agents do?

Shop around

Some estate agents may recommend mortgage brokers, surveyors or lawyers. You can speak to them, but you don’t need to use their services. It’s always worth shopping around, as the savings can be significant.

Estate agents market and sell property. They also deal with paperwork, monitor the chain (of buyers selling their old home and sellers buying their new home), liaise with your solicitor and negotiate with buyers and sellers. Estate agents do not deal with surveys – you will need a surveyor for that, but they might have partnerships in place to recommend a surveyor to you.

Estate agents and fees

If you are buying a property there should be no estate agent fees involved. If you are selling, you will usually pay between 0.75% and 3.5% of the selling price to your estate agent. Again, shop around, and negotiate once you’ve found an estate agent that you would like to work with. Check that the fee includes VAT or you’ll need to add another 20% to the price of the fee.

Buying from an estate agent

Keep in touch

Stay in regular contact with your estate agent so they think of you when the perfect property arrives on the market.

You can register with several estate agents. To choose which will be best, look at the type of properties they offer, ask their fees (if applicable) and speak to friends and family for their recommendations.

Keep on top of the process when you’re house-hunting

Make a note of conversations that you have, including who you spoke to, the date and time. This keeps you in control and is a useful reminder of what’s been discussed and agreed.

Questions to ask

First-time buyers

If you’re a first-time buyer with a ‘mortgage in principle’, make sure you mention this when you meet sellers as it puts you in a strong position to move things forward quickly.

When a property catches your eye, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Bear in mind that asking the right questions now may save you quite a lot of money in the future. Estate agents have a duty to be truthful so grill them for details. This is not a time to be shy. Ask questions such as:

  • How long has the property been on the market?
  • What will be included in the sale? (Curtains? Light fittings? Furniture?)
  • Are there any works expected on the property?

Viewing a property? Read our Property viewing checklist (PDF 2.7MB).

For a full list of questions you should ask read our Who’s who guide (PDF 3MB).

Making an offer

It’s not too late

You or the seller can pull out at any time before the exchange of contracts takes place.

Your offer should be:

  • Subject to contract (STC) – the final sale takes place only when lawyers have exchanged legally binding documents
  • Subject to survey – this allows for the cost of any faults or issues to be taken into account once your surveyor has checked the property out

Once your offer has been accepted, make sure the estate agent has taken the property off the market and is no longer advertising it for viewings. If someone else is interested and views it, you risk someone else coming in with a higher offer, which is known as gazumping.

You should receive a letter from the estate agent confirming your offer. If you don’t receive this then make sure to ask for one.

Money timeline for home buying

For a full list of questions you should ask read our Who’s who guide (PDF 3MB).

What is a sealed bid and how does it work?

Making an offer with a sealed bid, where the price offered is secret, is normal practice in Scotland but not so common elsewhere. Sealed bids are not legally binding.

Outside Scotland sealed bids are usually only asked for when there is competition for a property. Potential buyers will be given a guide price, and it’s expected that their sealed bid will be higher than this.

  • Feel free to ask the estate agent for advice on what to bid, but remember they are working for the seller, not you
  • Avoid rounding up the figure you offer. For instance, if you think the property is worth £250,000, you could put in a sealed bid for £251,500
  • Let them know how quickly you can move

A date is set for sealed bids to be received, either by the estate agent or seller’s solicitor – they are usually opened at the same time. The successful buyer will then be told they have the winning offer.

Selling with an estate agent

Once you’ve decided to sell using an estate agent, choose one by asking questions about their track record in selling properties like yours. Find out how they intend to market your property online, as that’s where many people start their search. And remember, there will be a fee involved.

How to complain about an estate agent

If things go wrong, you have the right to make a complaint. Talk to your estate agent first, raise your concerns and give them an opportunity to respond.

If you’re not satisfied with their response you can get in touch with the property ombudsman who covers your agent.

The Property Ombudsman (formerly known as the Ombudsman for Estate Agents)

Ombudsman Services: Property

Check with the National Association of Estate Agents to see if your estate agent is a member.

Other ways to buy and sell property

Online

There are websites which will help you find a buyer, or sell your property, saving you a considerable amount of money. For sale listing services only, remember you’re responsible for:

  • Erecting the For Sale sign and adding your phone number
  • Taking interior and exterior photographs
  • Providing details and dimensions about the size of rooms
  • Showing potential buyers round your property
  • Organising Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)
  • Negotiating on price with potential buyers

Online selling costs vary between websites, so make sure you’re clear about what you are getting for your money.

Online estate agents must be members of a professional regulatory body.

The Property Ombudsman

Ombudsman Services: Property

Auctions

This can be a popular (and quicker) way to buy or sell properties that may need refurbishment or have been repossessed. You’ll probably pay a 10% deposit with the remainder payable within 28 days so you’ll need to have money ready.

Remember there will be costs to consider such as entry fee for the catalogue and auction, commission, solicitors fees and survey costs. Find out more on the NAVA website.

Your next step

Find the right solicitor or conveyancer