Estate agent confidential: what they really think of buyers, sellers and where property prices are heading
Gazumping, gazanging, lowballing, bidding wars, kerb appeal… Buying and selling property can seem so complicated that it has its own language. And while it has never been an easy task, it now seems more labyrinthine and confusing than ever.
he ultimate objective of an estate agent is to get the best sale prices for their clients, and rumours abound, rightly or wrongly, that many of them will deploy a number of tricks and tactics to do just that. We asked a cross-section of them, working in various areas and at differing price points, for the unvarnished, off-the-record truth about the reality of Ireland’s property market.
Derek* is a partner working in a large estate agency in south Co Dublin.
When we came back after Covid, it really was go, go, go because prices had fallen and settled for a little while. The [Ukrainian] war came along and interest rates were coming up, and I think all of that happening at the same time was enough to send a little shockwave through the market to tell everyone: “Maybe we need to be a bit more sensible here.”
I’ve had situations when buyers have said: “I might have offered you €800k on that before, but we’ve had a rethink and we’ll offer you €700k on it.” This actually happened when someone came back during conveyancing [to renegotiate]. We had agreed €790k after lots of different bidders put offers through. The proof of funds didn’t come through. We had to put it back to the underbidder and they didn’t want to pay €790k for it.
We’re now at about €720k with that property now. It’s good news for the buyers — those kinds of amounts might be the difference between getting a house or not.
Greed is something I deal with on a daily basis, usually from the sellers. I don’t mind greed in buyers because they’re just trying to buy for as little as possible.
The only real way to win a bidding war as a buyer is to offer the highest price for the property. Bid in a way that puts off other people from bidding against you. Going up in €1,000 [increments] does not do that.
Some people wait on the sidelines for everyone else to do the dirty work and then they come in with an offer at the end. But they never win it for me. Often I will simply say: “No, we’re not going to take that offer.” More often than not, it’s down to taking not only what is the better offer, but the one that goes all the way.
In an open viewing on a Saturday morning, you’d lose the will to live. During Covid, at least you didn’t have too many people coming down the driveway to have a snoop. The one query I can’t stand is the person who contacts us to say they love the house, but the location just doesn’t suit them. Now, I haven’t changed the location since last week, when you made the appointment. So many people come to viewings and ask, “How many bedrooms does this have?” You have to wonder if they’ve even read the ad.
Do estate agents throw in fake bids to move things along? I would say the answer is yes, although the licensing on this has been in since 2012. If my agency found me doing that, I’m out, regardless of my status in the job, because a good agency won’t let the brand go down like that. I would say, however, that there are bad apples and the people who might do it are still out there.
“People in their 20s want this instant gratification”
Sam* is an estate agent in the south-east. He has been in auctioneering for almost 20 years.
Where I am, the market is reasonably healthy. I’m seeing more potential buyers who — and this might sound a little harsh — might be regarded as tyre-kickers. They want to buy but aren’t ready to make offers yet. They just don’t realise that in the current market you need to be ready to go immediately. For the seller, it doesn’t matter if your place is in Dalkey and worth €3m — if it’s not sold, it’s of no use to you. That’s how it works.
I think the market is almost static, but moving. There are no major new-builds down here. We don’t see as many institutional investors, and the one-off landlords are definitely getting out [of the market]. Ironically, what I’m seeing is that inflation doesn’t seem to be really impacting residential sales. What is impacting prices is the doer-upper, or the property that needs a bit of work. There’s so much more demand for turnkey property. Five years ago, we would have had 20 people bidding on the doer-upper and five on the ready-to-go property. Now we have the opposite.
It’s a generational thing. People in their late 20s want this instant gratification, but they don’t really see beyond the cosmetic. There is value to be gotten in a doer-upper, if you can get a builder who will work with you or you have an ability to do some of the work yourself. I’m impressed with that late 20s/early 30s group; a lot of them have stayed at home and are now coming in with sizeable deposits.
A slightly higher percentage of sales fall through at the end stages, although I would always ask for proof of funds. Maybe the confidence isn’t as good as it was. A few years ago, if a survey showed that if there were a few bits to be done on a property, they’d still go ahead with the sale. Now, people are not as optimistic or confident.
Do we make up bogus offers? Not at all. I can’t speak for anyone else, but we’re obliged to record every bid and we work under regulation. That’s definitely something the public need to be aware of.
“If you’re a first-time buyer, this small window could be a good time”
Chris* is an auctioneer in a mid-sized agency in Dublin city centre. He has been working in the industry for almost two decades.
Right now, we’re having a tremendous time of it trying to explain to sellers who have seen houses similar to theirs selling at a really good price for the last few months that those prices just aren’t there any more. Buyer interest is strong, but we’re just not at that peak we were at in July. You can make an argument that prices will drop further because of interest rate increases and energy prices but then there’s an argument to say there’s still a serious lack of properties in the market, even though there are 30pc more properties now than this time last year. I can see that prices have dropped 10pc in the last while — maybe that will stabilise over the next few months.
How do we feel about institutional investors? If you say to me, “There’s a first-time buyer on one hand and an investment buyer on the other willing to purchase at the same price,” most people would love to sell to the first-time buyer. At the end of the day, my job is to get the best price for the owner, and take a calculated view on who is the more certain buyer to complete. Investors have certainly cooled off in their purchasing over the last few months. They seem to be taking stock at the minute and taking instructions from abroad. They maybe feel there could be better value in the new year. If you’re a first-time buyer and ready to go, now could be a good time to buy, in this small window.
“If you can’t take an hour off work to see a house, you’re not serious about it”
Catherine* works in a small estate agency in the north-west.
The huge thing here is the lack of supply. There’s been nothing built here the last ten years and because of that the second-hand market is always going to be buoyant. Here, Airbnbs would make up 90pc of the rental market. I needed to look for a rental a couple of years ago because I was doing work on my house and for six months I couldn’t find anything. That said, Brexit probably had a positive effect on the market here. With sterling being strong, people [from the North] would have better buying power.
Tyre-kickers are easy enough to spot. They’re the people who are only requesting to view a property on Saturday. If you can’t take an hour off to see a house, you’re not serious about it. If people aren’t flexible, they’re just going to come have a look at it, and they’re not invested in making a serious offer.
People come who don’t have their mortgage approval lined up, and they’re also very hard to take seriously. They go to the back of the list. No-one is going to take an offer seriously from you if you’re just window shopping.
Clients are getting harder to deal with, to be honest. Originally, you’d be sort of nursing the buyer across the line — now you’re nursing the seller. There is a certain level of gazumping [sellers accepting a higher offer after agreeing in principle to sell to another] in this business, but we really try and not deal with that. It’s definitely something we advise against.
Some sales can fall through with older houses, especially ones with extensions that aren’t clean-cut. Everyone falls in love with your typical old cottage in this area — the next thing, a survey report shows all sorts behind the walls or roof. That’s when the real trouble starts.
“Many estate agents are saying that the first six months of 2023 are going to be flat”
Michael* has been an auctioneer for almost 40 years. He works primarily in south Dublin city centre with properties at the higher end of the market.
I definitely advise people to get their house dressed for sale, but without going overboard. Don’t rush up the paint for the sake of it, as people will see right through it, but showing the property off at its best possible condition will work. Furnished houses are much easier to sell than unfurnished ones. I think a lot of people looking at a house would like to see what kind of furniture fits where.
If you have a BER rating of F or G, the reality is that you’re not going to get the top of the market.
I’ve been talking to other agents, and many of them are saying the first six months of 2023 are going to be flat. In terms of price changes, we were looking at a 10pc or 12pc increase [in prices] for the first four months of this year. At the end of June, that figure was about 3.4pc. I think for the end of the year, it could fall to about 2pc. More stock will always come on the market when the market starts to slow down.
“A small degree of power pretty much blows sellers’ heads out”
Phil* is an estate agent working in the west.
Sellers are getting greedier and greedier. I’m seeing it more and more all the time. I’m dealing with a number of housewives who have never sold a house in their life, and a small degree of power pretty much blows their heads out. They’re determined to say they got 10 grand more for their house than next door. I’m forever having to tell people that there are very strong reasons why they should accept a reasonable offer as recommended by their auctioneer.
It’s time to get with the programme. It’s winter now, lads. The sun is gone. Buyers will have less spending power than before, but for many sellers the penny still hasn’t dropped.
My heart goes out to a young buyer just trying to get a place to live and putting their heart on their sleeve. If they come up against an investment buyer, they don’t have a hope. They don’t have the savvy that an investor would have. They tell me how much they love the house, while an investor will say, “I don’t care where I buy, it’s all the same to me.”
*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity
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