Maybe a better question is: “What do you think an estate agent is paid for?”.
Unfortunately, an estate agent is sometimes seen as a glorified tour guide or someone who is paid to open a few doors. To me, what you pay a professional estate agent for is mostly his knowledge of pricing and of the market. And this experience and knowledge could be built over many years. So to judge on whether an agent is deserving of his/her income based only on the work you see him/her physically do is not completely fair, I feel.
Second, some do forget that an agent’s compensation is purely success-based, and not time-based. So it becomes easy to equate an agent’s fees to the time or effort spent by that agent to sell or let a property listing. Unlike some other professions, agents simply do not get paid if they do not succeed. In comparison, you will still have to pay a lawyer if he/she loses your case in court. And you will still need to pay your doctor if he/she is unsuccessful in curing you. But not for an estate agent.
Third, it is important to realize how long it can take to sell or let out some properties. For example, I have taken a listing that took three years to sell. When an agent takes a listing, they immediately have to spend time and money to market it, with zero guarantee of compensation. And when you do manage to fight off all the competition and close the deal, it could be another few months before an agreement is executed and the agent finally receives his fees. If you then divide the agent’s income by the time it can take from listing the property to completion of transaction, you will quickly realize that the fee is not excessive. How many contractors or professionals do you know who you can engage to do work, without any deposit, and is happy to be paid three years later?
So my short answer is yes. I think agents deserve their fees, if you acknowledge that you are paying not only for their effort but their valuable professional advice, and if you consider the risk and time that they have to potentially endure to provide you with their best services.