The good, the bad and the lazy

If you believe everything you read, we are on the brink of ruin: The world’s financial markets are in turmoil. The pound is as jittery as it’s ever been. The domestic property market is dead, or at least dying. Pick up a tabloid and it seems that just about everybody who has moved abroad over the last ten years has moved back to the UK and has very little to show for it, save a handful of grim experiences. The end, it seems, is nigh. As usual, such shrieking headlines don’t tell the whole story. Yes, the market isn’t as strong as it was a few years ago and, yes,…

If you believe everything you read, we are on the brink of ruin: The world’s financial markets are in turmoil. The pound is as jittery as it’s ever been. The domestic property market is dead, or at least dying. Pick up a tabloid and it seems that just about everybody who has moved abroad over the last ten years has moved back to the UK and has very little to show for it, save a handful of grim experiences. The end, it seems, is nigh.

As usual, such shrieking headlines don’t tell the whole story. Yes, the market isn’t as strong as it was a few years ago and, yes, some people who do move abroad run into financial or cultural problems and have to return home. But no, not every estate agency is going to the wall – many are doing well, and some are even doing exceptionally well.

So what’s their secret? Well, there isn’t one really. Let me explain: for two years I swanned up and down the country visiting hundreds of estate agencies and spoke on the phone and emailed many hundreds more. This wasn’t some masochistic tendency, but work. I used to review estate agencies for a living, and although not as glamorous as being a food or a film critic, the work was interesting and revealing. What was perhaps most interesting and revealing, was that a favourable or unfavourable review had little to do with glitzy shop fronts or high-tech websites, but more to do with employing common sense. In short, the estate agents who shone were the ones who very much bucked the stereotypical image. Here then, are three key factors that I think makes a good estate agent stand out from a bad one.

Politeness
You would think that all agents would do their best to create a good impression from the beginning. You would be wrong. Once, while attempting to buy a place in Turkey, an agent answered the phone with a laconic “Yeah?…”. Not good. I’ve lost count of the times when an agent has promised to call me back or send me details of a place and simply not bothered. I’ve had agents who have started to get shirty when I’ve tried to get off the phone to them. Yet at the same time I’ve had agents offer to call me back to save my phone bill, who send me personal, non-generic emails and make me cups of tea. These are the agents who got good reviews and, presumably, good sales.

Professionalism
Many buyers’ first port of call when looking for a place abroad is the Internet, yet during my previous career I was amazed at the amount of shoddily written and aesthetically unpleasing websites there were for agencies. Images lacking in inspiration and copy littered with errors is unlikely to inspire confidence. The websites that impressed had oodles of property and were clean, uncluttered, error free, and tastefully done. The websites that really impressed had all of the above and something extra – usually something to keep the prospective buyer coming back: news, the prospect of property being added daily, a lively blog or forum, or case studies being updated regularly. On the phone or in person too, it was the professionalism of the agents that often won me round. For many, buying a house abroad can be a pretty scary experience and the buyer has to feel in safe hands.

The ability to tell the truth
Honesty really is the best policy. By all means talk up the good points of a particular area, development or house, but don’t tell outright lies. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection is able to find out any information very quickly, so if you start hamming up (i.e. lying about) growth, yields, facilities, potential and so forth, you’re likely to come unstuck and considered untrustworthy.

For some, the above might seem rather pedestrian advice, but it’s amazing how many agents don’t incorporate such simple rules: at least half of the hundreds of agents I’ve spoken to have slipped up on at least one of the three key points. By sticking to the above success won’t be guaranteed, but it will be far more likely. Assuming, of course, that the world doesn’t end tomorrow…

Tagged Buy, Expert Opinion

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