The truth about why nobody understands what estate agents really do

The truth about why nobody understands what estate agents really do

By Charlie Wright, BestAgent Founder


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I have often wondered why some of the most clever, successful and intelligent people I know seem to turn into idiots when it comes to understanding what Estate and Lettings agents do.


“They just chuck it on Rightmove and open the door for viewings.”


This popular misconception is the only reason that online agents ever stood a chance of winning any business. But 95% of sellers don’t think this. They prefer to choose an agent who is available when needed, actually knows their local market, and doesn’t get paid a penny unless the property sells or lets.

So, in the end, according to reports in the media, only 5% of sellers choose the pay-anyway option. I heard a friend refer to online-agents as a “stupidity tax”.

But even those who instruct full service, no-sale no-fee agents don’t understand the true value they get.

When asked in person, even the best agents struggle to accurately describe what it is they do. You never get the same answer twice.



Little else is as complicated as residential agency.


Why do people who spend their entire career in the same profession find it so difficult to describe it in a way that people can actually understand?

Here’s the answer:

It is by far the most complicated process of any consumer-facing business, service or industry. By miles.

It is at least 32 steps, each of which requires skill, experience, knowledge and wisdom. Because if you get one wrong, the opportunity to tie up a deal and make a move happen disappears in a puff of smoke, along with the chance of any fee or commission.

Thirty-two steps! Some of which need repeating many times.

But that’s not all. You can then add in the following uncertainties, which no other industries have to deal with:

  1. Irrational behaviour by customers, beyond the control of the agent.
  2. The requirement to interact with multiple other parties, just for one transaction, any of which has the power to destroy a deal.
  3. Impossible customer expectations.
  4. Shockingly bad treatment of agents by movers.


Here’s what agents really do.


So, you could describe what agents do as follows:

“Whilst being perpetually mocked, abused, distrusted and criticised by the public and the media, agents attempt to complete some 32 different processes, some involving legal requirements, many involving knowledge of legislation, regulation and contracts, in the right sequence, on time, each of which requires skill, knowledge, judgment and an ability to deal with multiple irrational people, whilst other parties try to undo these processes, all for the chance of maybe being paid at the end of the process, IF no one changes their mind, lies about their situation or intentions, or attempts not to pay a fee that was due. Oh, and the owners of these businesses are paying out their overheads at all times, whether a fee results or not.”

You can also add in the fact that around 50% of all calls received by agents are from suppliers constantly trying to sell them “unique solutions” to problems, many of which the agent didn’t even know they had. Which brings me to the point of this article:

Estate and lettings agency is such a complicated process that unless you have a basic understanding of what’s involved, you are likely to choose the wrong agent to sell or let your home. Suppliers without a basic understanding will pitch a product or service that they think will revolutionise an agents business, but it won’t. It may well be a great product or service which might make a big difference, and maybe even transform aspects of their business. But you will have a better chance of being taken seriously by a prospective agency customer if you can demonstrate a better understanding of what they do, and how your product fits into the bigger picture.


Agents are tired of being told what they’re doing wrong, by people who aren’t agents.


BestAgent’s view is that agents are among the most misunderstood, unsung heroes of any industry. Everyone is always lecturing agents about what they are doing wrong, why they aren’t doing better and what they need to do to thrive. Yet despite this wealth of expertise, agency remains as difficult a business to run as it has ever been. Agents are tired of being told that if they buy something else, it will solve all their problems.

Our view is this:

Every single agency is unique. It’s a unique combination of the character of its owner, its manager, its staff, its location, its customers, its instructions and its reputation.

Therefore no one is qualified to tell an agent how to run their business, no matter how successful they have been.

Our view is that the best way to make a difference to the industry is to make it easier for each and every agent to operate exactly how they think it best for them, without judgement.

One of the (many) challenges facing agents is how to choose the right selection of suppliers for their unique agency business, and that’s where we hope to help.

We have come up with a diagram in the hope that it will help Clients and Suppliers of agents to better understand what they do, and the context of how a supplier product might fit into their business.


A diagram for any agent to use, to show what they do.


This diagram is intended to disarm a seller or landlord who thinks that agents just “chuck it on Rightmove”, and make it easier for agents to explain and justify (not defend) their chosen fee.

It’s intended for an agent to show to a possible supplier and say “this is where your product might fit into the overall process”, in such a way that the supplier can better appreciate the context of how their product might (or might not) help.

Finally, it’s intended for Suppliers to look at and consider how best to position their product offering to agents in a way that demonstrates respect and understanding of what agents do.

We have broken these 32 steps down into three main sections, Listing a property, Finding the right Mover, and Completing the Deal.

Please feel free to use this diagram if you think it may help your customers understand better the extraordinary service you perform for them.


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