So with the FIFA fiasco, Libor being fixed, the banking crisis, politicians' expenses, drug doping in sport, footballers diving, affairs, even the winning dog in Britain's Got Talent not being totally honest, the list goes on, it would be easy to lose faith.
Everywhere you turn there appears to be dishonesty and unprincipled actions. In reality, knowing who to trust can therefore be an issue. So when you're looking to commission an Estate Agent, a profession which has seen its fair share of bad press, it can feel a bit like buying a lottery ticket.
So how do you know which Estate Agent to use?
Fees shouldn't be the only marker in the decision-making process. In general terms, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Be careful when comparing agents' fees that you're checking what is and isn't included. Be wary of hidden costs. Try to establish a like-for-like comparison. The quality of service can also vary drastically - you wouldn't expect 5-star treatment when booking into a 1-star hotel.
Mileage under the belt and a deep ingrained understanding of the market can make a significant difference between a good sale and the property sticking on the market. If you want to maximise your sale, someone with experience would be an advantage. However experience on its own isn't enough - they must also keep up to date with marketing trends.
You might think it would be best to look at firms that have won awards. Well, not necessarily, as many firms that are excellent at what they do choose not to participate in the laborious awards process because they prefer to focus their efforts on looking after their clients.
Should you look at firms that are regulated? I think this does give a real steer. Regulatory bodies differ, however. Solicitor/Estate Agent firms for example are regulated by the Law Society of Scotland, and members of the ESPC sign a code of conduct. These firms are run by qualified professionals, and must have a complaints procedure. This all goes to providing a degree of reassurance to the potential seller.
Selling times and success rates
While it might seem logical to look at the firms with the most property on the market, it's actually more astute to establish average selling times, success rates of achieving at or above home report valuation, and the percentage of properties that haven't sold within, say, six months or that were removed from the market.
What about a firm's advertising? This is name and brand awareness only and just because you see the firm's name everywhere, doesn't mean the staff are even equal to, far less any better than, any other firm.
Understanding the firm
Don't rely solely on the Estate Agent's sales pitch. Understand the firm and its history- do they just do Estate Agency or do they provide conveyancing, along with potentially other additional services all under one roof? What is their success rate? Don't be shy and ask the valuers about themselves and their firm. Don't assume that if one valuer gives you a higher figure than another, that the lower figure is wrong. Ask both valuers, why the discrepancy?
Added value, service levels and additional costs
Understand the added value one firm provides over another, and the service levels, along with what, if any, are the possible hidden or unexplained additional costs. Again, don't hold back, ask about the fee structure and what you do and don't get for your money. Also, be clear on your risks. Find out how much you have to pay if your property doesn't sell or if you want to change agent.
Perception vs. reality
It's easy to buy into perception by listening to the positive words from an Estate Agent and relying on press coverage around average price rises - you can always find someone to tell you what you want to hear. So for an Estate Agent, it's always easier to tell a potential client what they want to hear, and talk about how lovely their property is and how they think it will sell well and at a price the client was hoping for. However, you wouldn't keep going to different doctors until one of them tells you all is well, if you're actually very ill.
Sadly for some, reality doesn't always fit with hopes and wishes. If your property is unlikely to sell easily or at the price you desire and sums don't add up, you're better to know where you stand, right at the start before you start paying out for potentially no return. The consequences of distorting expectation to achieve a fee are likely to include delay, frustration, disappointment, added stress, and, often, extra expense to the client all at times for no sale.
While we always strive to achieve the maximum sale price, it's extremely hard to tell a potential client that their home will not meet their expected ask, knowing it may lose you a fee. However, this is the only way. First and foremost, we must have the client's best interests at heart.
Moving home is an expensive game. It's important therefore that a would be seller truly understands where their property sits in relation to the market, both in connection to value and condition and all the costs they will incur whether the property sells or not.
What does this all mean?
Good can still overcome evil and, at times, the cavalry will come to the rescue in the nick of time. There are really good honest Estate Agents who will work hard to get the best result for their clients and not purely focus on the quickest, easiest way to get their fee.
Clear, confident advice with fully disclosed information around all the cost of moving, will make the process smoother and reduce stress levels. At the end of the day, moving house will probably be one of the most expensive and stressful thing you do in your life, so choose wisely, research and don't rush in.