Choose an agent, not a fee.

By Hayden Groves.

Agents often joke that vendors, when deciding to sell want to know only two things: “What’s your appraisal value and how much is your fee?”  The answer to these questions should never form the basis of choosing one agent over another.

Most who ask these questions begin their search for the right agent based solely on the agent’s fee. Sometimes before introductions are made and names exchanged, the caller asks, “What is your fee?” This is a poorly timed question.

Intending sellers ought to contact an agent and begin with finding out about their services. Ask for a market appraisal which, when completed, ought to include (amongst other things) a likely market price, comprehensive details of what services the agency offers, a marketing strategy and a fee proposal.

Since fees were deregulated in November 1998, selling fees as a percentage of the selling price have not changed much and agents are obliged to inform would-be clients that their fees are negotiable. And this is where consumers ought to do just that; negotiate.

When negotiating a selling fee, it is wise to have first chosen your preferred agent. That way, your decision to choose an agent is based on your impressions of their professionalism, conduct, experience, marketing plans and abilities. It is a clichéd parallel perhaps but you wouldn’t choose the cheapest doctor if you knew them to not be as proficient as one marginally more expensive. The outcome of buying decisions based on cost alone is usually a poor one; a result equal to its value – low.

Most agents, faced with the prospect of listing a quality property and working with genuine sellers will be happy to negotiate a fair fee. Importantly, the manner in which the agent negotiates their fee provides an insight into their skills as a negotiator; an important trait when negotiating your property’s sale.

Listing with the agent offering the cheapest fee also diminishes the opportunities for “conjunctional” sales whereby another agent is able to introduce a buyer to a property not listed with their agency and receive a fee from the seller (via the listing agent). The conjunctional agent’s remuneration is limited by a low overall fee, acts as a deterrent to a buyer introduction and, by extension, disadvantages the seller.

Would-be sellers ought to discuss fees with their agent in an honest and candid manner but remember that the agent’s job is to achieve a sale in the shortest possible time for the highest price the market will bear and an attractive remuneration is a powerful incentive to maintain your agent’s focus.

Hayden is Deputy President of the Real Estate Institute of Australia and the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia.
He is also President of Real Estate Employers' Federation of Western Australia