The Times went to town with an all-out attack on estate agents at the weekend.
On Saturday’s front page, the story was run under the headline “Estate agents dupe sellers”.
The sub-heading was: “Owners misled into paying higher commission after properties overvalued”.
The story accused agents of routinely over-valuing “by up to a fifth in a practice that can mislead sellers into paying higher rates of commission”.
It said that the practice is “rife”.
The front page story went on to say: “The properties then sell at lower prices, but the agents take big fees.”
As well as a front page story, The Times devoted a leader to it, and there were pieces by property editor Anne Ashworth and from the anonymous agent who writes the ‘dodgy London agents’ blog.
The story specifically picked out Foxtons, saying that nearly two thirds of its properties had price reductions.
Second behind Foxtons was Express Estate Agency, which sells homes quickly.
The ‘top ten’ price-slashing agents out of a list of 45 were named as:
Express Estate Agency
Cubitt & West
Fox & Sons
NAEA chief executive Mark Hayward was quoted as saying that not all price reductions were due to over-valuing, although some unscrupulous agents would win business by quoting a higher asking price.
Hayward said: “It may be the seller requires a quicker sale.” But he added: “These figures do not put the industry in a good light.”
Anne Ashworth’s comment piece appeared under the headline “Desperate agents and vain owners need reality check”.
The anonymous agent – quoted for the second week running by The Times – claimed that agents “will often over-value a property and allow it to languish on the market for months and sometimes years”.
He claimed that agents are “happy for the price to be too high for the first eight to ten weeks” of marketing where they have exclusivity for 12 to 16 weeks.
The Times also on Saturday launched an interactive tool based on 200,000 homes sold subject to contract on Zoopla in December.
The database is searchable by postcode, allowing you to see which local agents have reduced houses the most.
When EYE searched our local postcode, we found that Waterfords’ “average price change” was a reduction of 14.3%, followed by Purplebricks with an average reduction of 9.1%.
In both cases, the firms’ “average” price reduction was based on the sale of only one property.
The damning coverage by The Times – with its central claim that owners are misled into paying higher commission after their properties are over-valued – may have partly backfired.
Comments included some showing utter incredulity.
One poster questioned: “Why isn’t commission paid only on the price the property sells for?”
To which another responded: “It is paid on the actual selling price. The article is misleading, over-valuing does not increase commission, but it does induce some sellers to go to one agent because he is suggesting a higher selling price than another. The answer is to get say three valuations and compare.”
One poster said over-valuation was driven by “human nature – on the part of sellers”.
Another said the accusations by The Times were “wildly inaccurate, sellers only pay commission on the achieved sale price, not the asking price so they are not overpaying anything”.
However, there were also a number of comments damaging to the industry, calling agents ‘spivs’ and similar, with one suggesting that estate agents go on training courses on “how to fleece their customers”.
A spokesperson for Zoopla told EYE: “We can confirm that we did not work with The Times on their investigation.”