When I decided to sell my one-bedroom flat in Xemxija, I called several estate agents. They duly valued the property then hit me with the price; 3.5 per cent for sole agent and five per cent for multi-agency sales… plus VAT. I went with a sole agent for a month, during which time we had one solitary viewing. I broadened the sale out to multiple agents, wincing at the thought of what that would cost. One or two more prospective buyers dribbled in through the door. It was time for drastic action.
I had a sign printed and hung it on the balcony of the flat. I took out a classified advert in the Times of Malta and, I had a simple website designed cheaply by a student. I included on it fabulous pictures, a detailed description of my cute and cosy maisonette-of-character (antique tiles; sandstone walls; 1950s doors with stained glass windows; a brand new kitchen; air conditioning; oblique views of the sea; a terrace overlooking the beautiful Is-Simar Nature Reserve), a description of the attractions of Xemxija, my direct contact details and of course, the price.
Three months later I met with the buyer in the office of his bank and concluded the sale. I got just slightly less than my asking price, minus, of course, what I would have had to pay an agent.
If I can do it, you can too. But, as estate agents are at pains to point out, you need to understand exactly what the pros and cons are of going solo.
Joseph Lupi, Managing Director of Frank Salt Real Estate explains why, when it comes to sealing the deal, you need him. He says: “A professional estate agent backed by years of experience in the business will provide invaluable advice. And he can promote the property to a much wider market.”
Robert Spiteri Paris, a senior associate for Perry Limited, echoes these sentiments. He says: “Vendors can benefit from our negotiators’ years of experience, and our thorough knowledge of both past and present market trends. The property will be marketed by experts to the right target market, a service which is impossible to attain independently.”
It’s certainly true that for many buyers, estate agents are their first port of call. Their office windows are strategically located and filled with pictures to entice buyers in. They pay for major advertising in newspapers, complete with photos. These marketing methods are undoubtedly going to reach a larger market compared to a single classified ad and a homemade website. And agents also offer a personalised service, even driving potential buyers to your property and showing them around if you are not in.
However, buyers are on the look out for a bargain these days and they are prepared to trawl the internet and the smaller ads in the paper to find a deal where the price has been reduced by several thousand just by cutting out the middle man.
Buyers also tend to spend time in the area where they are intending to purchase. A large, good quality, printed For Sale sign will reach more people than you think, especially when you throw in the word-of-mouth aspect of a small island.
As for negotiating, who better to secure a good price than you, the vendor, the person with the greatest vested interest?
Of course, there are potential pitfalls to not using an agent. The Federation of Estate agents of Malta (FEAM) says: “You have to make sure that you do not over-price or under-price your property. Exposing your property in the market at the wrong price would greatly delay the sale of the property.” And estate agents can potentially smooth out the selling process. FEAM says: “The agent will be able to advise you of the procedures and steps to ensure a smooth transfer, from the sale of your property to the purchase of another property. ”
They note that agents work hard for their money. “Estate agents’ daily activities include taking out a substantial number of clients to view properties and registering hundreds of properties that are processed and marketed throughout a network of offices. These efforts do not always result in a successful sale. However, these activities still have to be paid for.”
Ultimately, it boils down to personal choice. Estate agents have dozens of potential buyers on their books and can reach a large market quickly.
A website is cheap and easy to set up
If speed is of the essence, they probably have the upper hand over a private sale. But if you can take your time, it’s not difficult to carry out a little market research to find out what properties like yours are going for.
A website is cheap and easy to set up (the keywords are critical to ensure that your property appears when people search online) and printing a For Sale sign or putting an ad in the classified couldn’t be simpler. If you don’t mind doing a little leg work, you’ve nothing to lose by trying to sell by yourself first; withpotentially, thousands of euros to gain which you can use to sweeten the deal for a buyer, or pocket yourself as a reward for using your initiative.