Real Estate Business went directly to members of the public to find out what sort of service they received from their agents – and not all of it was good.
Many people argue that the industry has a perception problem. And it’s true: the public has an unfairly negative opinion of real estate agents, who are generally honest, hard-working professionals.
But there’s also another, lesser-known perception problem – this time involving how agents think of themselves. Most agents are convinced they offer outstanding service; a significant number of customers, though, disagree.
Research from earlier this year proved that customers generally receive good service. According to a Roy Morgan Research survey of 300 vendors, 68 per cent would recommend their agent. That’s a positive number – but almost certainly less than the percentage of agents who would claim they provide referral-worthy service.
With that in mind, REB spoke to four vendors to ask them what they felt their agent got right and what their agent got wrong. To encourage vendors to speak freely, they were assured that only the first name of the agent would be used in the article. However, for the sake of credibility, vendors were told their full name would have to go alongside their comments.
Happy customer #1: Joanne Dilbo
What the agent got right:
- Proved to the vendor that he valued her and her home
- Maintained close contact with the vendor throughout the selling process
- Took all of the vendor’s stress onto his shoulders
We had a four-bedroom house in the Blue Mountains region of NSW and decided in late 2014 that we would sell. We spent about five months doing research, which involved asking around and looking at websites. I decided I would interview three agents, but within 10 minutes of meeting Andrew I thought, ‘I don’t need to interview anybody else – he’s the agent for us’.
What I liked about him was that he was genuine. He wasn’t pushy and he told us that if we were ever uncomfortable we could walk away at any stage. You could tell he loved our property and was excited about the opportunity to sell it. It didn’t feel like it was just about the sale for him; I felt like he really wanted to help us.
It didn’t feel like it was just about the sale for him; I felt like he really wanted to help us
There was no discussion about fees at any point. He charged a flat rate plus GST, which included all of the marketing, so I didn’t feel like anything was hidden. I’ve sold properties in the past where you get a bill for marketing and think, ‘We haven’t even sold yet and we’re already laying out money’.
What I liked about Andrew’s marketing strategy was the way he embraced the internet to reach as many people as possible. It wasn’t a case of just whacking an ad in the local paper. He doesn’t have a shopfront like the traditional agents with their photos in the window, so I felt like his ability to reach people was much greater.
Andrew had a video guy who created an amazing video. When we saw the video, we were just blown away. The professional photographer also did a great job. My house was a beautiful house and he presented it exactly as it was, so to me it was just fantastic. I know Andrew does do styling, but he said we didn’t need it.
Andrew ran an ‘offers-over’ campaign that ended with a private treaty sale in April 2015. We had about 60 people come through over two open houses, which led to probably five serious buyers. I think we got about $45,000 over the initial price and I think it was a record for our suburb, so we were happy.
During the campaign he kept us informed every step of the way. Even on the first day when we got some offers and it would’ve been easy to accept, Andrew advised us to hold back. What he does is work with the buyers and makes them feel emotionally connected to the property, so he maximises the price. Also, selling your house is a stressful experience, but he took all that stress upon himself and kept me and my husband so calm throughout the whole process. I didn’t experience that with the previous three properties I’d sold.
To me, there wasn’t anything that Andrew didn’t get right. I’ve been recommending him to other people and, if I had to sell again, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I’ve been in banking and finance a long time and I’ve had some very negative experiences with agents, and I just think it’s worthwhile calling out when somebody’s been exceptional.
Unhappy customer #1: Cathy Morrissey
What the agent got wrong:
- Failed to maintain adequate contact during the sale process
- Made the vendor believe that he only cared about his commission
- Took a one-size-fits-all approach to the online advertising
I had a home in south-west Sydney that I bought from a fantastic agent, so I went back to him when I decided to sell. However, he was no longer in sales so he referred me to an agent named Sam. I accepted his recommendation, which turned out to be a big mistake.
When I interviewed Sam he told me everything I wanted to hear. What I was most concerned with was the marketing of my property, but Sam reassured me that he had a big database he would market it to and it would be well advertised on realestate.com.au. I think we must’ve had different ideas about what good marketing is because that’s when things started to break down.
Quite frankly, his attempts at advertising were terrible. He wrote an ordinary six- or eight-line ad with no emotion that most people would look past. I probably could’ve got one of my kids to write a better ad than he did. Sam took a cookie-cutter approach with my ad and it was obvious that he hadn’t used a professional copywriter.
Sam took a cookie-cutter approach with my ad and it was obvious that he hadn’t used a professional copywriter
So then I took matters into my own hands and re-wrote the ad with some help from an experienced writer. This time, I made sure it contained emotion and was targeted at the right market. That caused an argument because he said the new ad was too long and wouldn’t fit on the real estate portal. But he eventually put it up and was then forced to apologise because he got a lot of enquiries from my ad.
Another issue I had with Sam was that the moment the contract was signed, he seemed to drop off the face of the earth. He quickly moved on to the next listing and I had to send any enquiries through the office staff. I spat the dummy after emailing Sam several times with no reply, and I said if I’d known he would cut communication after the deal was signed I wouldn’t have hired him in the first place.
Sam was a very good salesperson and he did succeed in getting a good price for my home. However, his customer service was really bad. He should have held my hand through the whole process, but all he did was add to my stress. It seemed like he was only in it for himself, not for me.
I haven’t recommended Sam or his agency to anyone and I have no intention of doing so. When you’re selling your home, you need people on your side, and I didn’t feel like I experienced that.
Happy customer #2: Sarah O'Reilly
What the agent got right:
- Tracked the vendor for two years before winning her business
- Built strong rapport with the vendor and her family
- Worked incredibly hard to deliver a good result
I’ve bought and sold a lot of houses over the years, and I was also once a property manager, so I understand real estate. Almost every agent I’ve dealt with has been bad. Scott, though, was the big exception.
We met Scott in Melbourne in 2012 when we were looking to buy a house. We stumbled across him at an open home. I was immediately impressed by the way he carried himself, but most of all by the fact that he followed up.
He basically turned himself inside out to try and find us a house. He was probably touching base with me every second day, telling me that he’d found another home I might be interested in and asking when I might be able to have a look. He’d then work around my schedule, meeting me straight after the phone call, or at night, or after I’d picked up the kids. He spent about seven weeks trying to find us a suitable home. His customer service was incredible. He got to know us as a family and he interacted well with our children.
His customer service was incredible. He got to know us as a family and he interacted well with our children
Unfortunately, Scott couldn’t find us a house, so we ended up buying through another agent. But he kept in touch. He would call about every six months or so for a chat, just to find out how we were going. I think what many agents don’t understand is the value of relationships. I actually had one agent say to me, “Well, most people live in their houses for seven years, so why bother?” However, we turned our place over in two years because of personal circumstances - that’s why you should bother.
In 2014, we decided to sell our place in Melbourne and return to Sydney. It was a no-brainer for us to go with Scott. Had he been at another agency we would’ve gone elsewhere because I’d actually encountered his boss two years earlier at an auction and had been so unimpressed by his behaviour that I’d vowed never to use that agency. But Scott made us change our mind. He then worked himself stupid to achieve a good result for us and ended up selling our home about $10,000 above expectation, so we were thrilled.
Scott used to get so upset with me when I’d say, “I hate real estate agents”. He’d say, “But I’m one!” and I’d reply, “Yes, but you don’t count”. What most agents don’t get is that whoever you're dealing with is a human being, first and foremost. If we’re purchasing a house, you need to treat us with respect, otherwise you don’t get your sale. And if we’re tenants, you need to treat us with respect because one day we’ll be a buyer or a vendor.
I can see why Scott is a high performer because he knows how to build relationships. Agents who embrace the same values as Scott will do exceptionally well in real estate.
Unhappy customer #2: Adam Zuchetti
What the agent got wrong:
- Made a false promise at the listing presentation
- Failed to inform the vendor about buyer offers
- Didn’t tell the vendor she wouldn’t attend the open homes
My agent, Kelly, had some good qualities, but she made some serious mistakes that still stick in my mind months later.
I decided to go with Kelly after four or five appraisals, and initially it seemed like the right choice. Firstly, I connected with her on a personal level. Secondly, I’d actually bought the home from one of her colleagues, so it meant she could recognise the extensive work we’d done on the property. Thirdly, she promised us a good deal with the commission because we were repeat business for the agency.
However, problems emerged when we conducted the first open home one Saturday. The plan was that I would style the house and leave early before Kelly arrived because she had her own key. However, I was running a little bit late, so when I eventually did leave I happened to walk by someone I’d never met before who was holding the paperwork for our property. It turned out to be a junior agent. Kelly never told me that she wouldn’t be conducting the open home herself, and, had I not found out by accident, I would never have known.
To make matters worse, the junior agent who ran the open home never called to say it was finished and that I could return home. The junior agent also failed to tell me there were two offers on my property until the following Monday afternoon. When I raised this with her she said, “I didn’t realise I had to contact you”. I think it’s just a basic courtesy to keep vendors in the loop and communicate any information – especially when there are offers on the table.
Eventually, we had a call from Kelly, who apologised and said it had been a very busy day for open homes. But I don’t think that excuse washes because it would have only taken a 30-second call to say, “It’s finished, we've got two offers on the table, this is what they are, think about it and we'll talk further on Monday”.
By the time I did find out about the offers the whole process was 48 hours behind. That delayed us getting back to the buyers, which meant we could’ve lost them if they’d bid on other properties. Thankfully, when we went back to those two buyers and a few other interested parties and asked everyone to name their best and final offers, one of those original two buyers came up quite a bit higher to secure the property.
The other thing that upset me was that when the commission quote came through it was exactly the same as all the other agents we’d interviewed – in other words, the promised discount hadn’t been provided. We ended up having to meet with the principal to sort it out. It shouldn’t have involved that much hassle. When something is promised, it should be delivered.
The sale happened in November 2014, but these problems still stick in my mind and would make me think twice about ever recommending Kelly and her agency.
These problems still stick in my mind and would make me think twice about ever recommending Kelly and her agency