Yesterday I read a very good article on the Estate Agent Today website about for sale boards ( http://www.estateagenttoday.co.uk/511-campaigns-mount-against-agents-signs ) and then happened to receive an update email from the local planning office (also about boards). This combination got me thinking again about the various merits and drawbacks of boards in our own area of operations.
In Bath, we already have a direction in place under regulation 7 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1992 to prohibit agents boards across a wide swathe of the city (inside the designated conservation area) – the council’s stated reason for such is that “sale and letting boards would individually and collectively cause serious harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area and World Heritage site”. This means agents are left with window posters as the only option inside the area.
Outside of Bath’s conservation area, agents are allowed to erect boards in the same fashion as in the rest of the country. This is particularly noticeable in areas of high HMO density (Oldfield Park for example) where, every year at student letting time, the streets sprout a forest of boards for several months. Having been in close contact with the local councillors for several years, Madison Oakley have an agreement to limit our To Let boards to one per road in this season – some other agents have followed suit but not all do.
Boards – do they work?
In my experience, boards do work to sell or let a property and they remain a vital tool in the agents armoury. Every time we erect a new board, we receive calls within hours (or even minutes on some occasions!). I admit some of those calls are just from the curious but others are buyers or relatives/friends of buyers who are eager to learn details of the property before it goes live on various websites. Bath, like many other urban areas, is a hotbed of gossip and news of a new board gets transmitted far and wide very swiftly – a shortcut that is very helpful to potential buyers when stock is low and demand enormous. Of course this depends on the location – boards on main roads or bus routes work far better than one at the end of a residential cul de sac or tucked up a back lane – but you’d be surprised at how many people will spot a board even if it is in an out of the way location.
Boards also beget other boards – potential owners often choose which agents to invite for valuation partially based on the number of boards in their area. Of course, this shouldn’t really form part of their decision making process as you can’t judge the success of an agent by volume of boards (for example, some agents will insist on a board at every property whilst others will judge the merit of the board individually and some agents will leave boards up for the maximum possible time whilst others will take boards away after sales are agreed) but it remains one of the top reasons to call us out.
Boards also help on viewings – even in these days of sat navs viewers, especially from out of the area, will find the property quicker if a board is outside. Given how busy we are and how tight time is in the average diary, boards make both the agent and viewers life easier and thus maximise efficiency for the owner. Boards are also useful if the property for sale is not easily identifiable (examples here include high hedges, the property not looking like the photos from the street, flats on upper levels or at the rear of the building and so on).
Board technology has moved on recently – you can now have a scannable QR code on your board to take passers by directly to the property details via smartphone. Boards can be various shapes, colours and sizes to be the most eye catching and some now include pictures of the property or extra information (price, number of bedrooms, floor level etc) to help buyers decide from outside whether to view.
Students tend not to know which letting agents work in a particular area and boards help them to discover the all of the agents that work in the local market. This also follows for other tenants and buyers who are either unfamiliar with the area, don’t use the internet/newspapers/mailing lists or hadn’t been thinking of moving until that right property came up!
However, owners need to remember that agents aren’t just asking for a board to help with the sale and there are downsides to agreeing to a board – especially if the situation is not carefully monitored. Here are some of the potential negatives;
Boards do tempt people to snoop around the outside of a property and may thus encourage nefarious behaviour (especially on empty homes or tenanted property). They also get regularly vandalised, stolen, broken or moved to inconvenient locations (a bit like traffic cones and shopping trolleys!).
Boards are a very overt way of declaring you’re selling. Some clients prefer to keep their business private or at least low key and a 7 foot post on your front lawn doesn’t help in this regard.
Boards create an impression in the minds of buyers – often a negative one if the board is present and unchanged for a long period of time. Just like properties that stay available on the web for several months, the general comment might be “there must be something wrong with it” and this might discourage potential viewers.
Once a board changes to “Sold STC / Under Offer”, it becomes purely a device to advertise the agent and their success. From that point on, the owner derives no benefit yet still has something obtrusive in their front garden. The average duration from offer accepted to completion is 8-10 weeks. That’s an awfully long time to have something outside your house (and we also receive negative comments if sold boards remain at a property as in the point above) when it isn’t working for you. I know some agents would argue that the board is there in case something goes wrong with the sale and it needs to be changed back but seriously, how long does it take to pop round with a sledge and a post?
Some agents are targeted and rewarded on obtaining the maximum number of boards for their company – wouldn’t you rather have them thinking about accurately valuing and then selling the house rather than hard selling a board?
If there happens to be a lot of boards up in a particular area or road, potential buyers often ask us whether something is wrong with the area or if something has happened to make so many people move. We have also had comments regarding lettings boards when buy to let investors have mistakenly assumed a forest of To Let boards means it is difficult to let property in the area.
Changing boards from for sale to under offer (or To Let etc) is always a buzz for the agent but what happens if the sale falls through? Boards that yo-yo between the two give a bad impression to passers by but then boards that aren’t changed then create frustration when potential buyers call and are told the property has gone. Do you change the board when the offer is accepted or when exchange takes place?
To summarise, agents want a board at your house so they can sell it easier and then benefit from their success. However, as an owner, boards are a necessary evil for the first part of the transaction and an eyesore afterwards.
How about if agents put up a board for the first four weeks only and then took it down – wouldn’t that serve to suit all parties best?