Sam Dunn: 'Can we use today's gloomy market to save on agent fees?'

House Doctor
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The Independent Online

Question: We're about to try to sell our first home, a one-bed flat, but are shocked by the fees some estate agents want. One wants 2 per cent: nearly £4,000, plus VAT. Can't we use today's gloomy housing market to cut the fees? Neil A, Northants



Answer: Estate agents really can't win: we resent their money-making in the boom years, and continue our loathing in the lean times. Regardless of the house price hiatus since 2008, many will still charge what they can to sell a property."Expect anything from 1.5 to 4 per cent of the house price, and don't forget to add VAT to that at 17.5 per cent," says a spokesman for Houseweb.co.uk, the online property agency.

However, a spokesman for www.home.co.uk, the property portal, says today's average fee hovers between 1.5 and 2 per cent and you should be able to take advantage of the chill in the market.

Gavin Brazg of the advisory.co.uk, an online property guide, says: "Your goal should be to get them down to as close to 1 per cent plus VAT as possible." While for properties worth more than £500,000, you should try 0.75 per cent +VAT.

He adds you must take two vital steps: "Firstly, make a huge effort with the presentation of your home inside and out for the estate agents' valuation appointment – well-presented houses are simply easier to sell." Secondly, be "ultra-realistic" about the price at which you advertise your property: "A realistically priced house is easier to sell and also shows that you are a well-informed and realistic vendor."

You must also be prepared to haggle, a trait that is still sadly all too un-British. Simply asking for a fee reduction won't work, especially if you approach a national chain instead of a smaller independent agent. To start, compare at least five agents' fees and use the cheapest one as a benchmark when you find the agent with whom you're most comfortable.

With just a little persuasion and charm – and especially if you're happy to price very competitively – you should be able to secure a reduction of at least a quarter of a percentage point.

It will also be worth watching out for recent estate agent fee tricks that can also trip you up. During the past 12 months, a number of readers have noticed agents valuing their property and then setting the fee as a percentage of this value. However, in today's inclement climate, properties often sell for less, leaving their fee as a higher percentage of the sale price.

Keep an eye out too for extra charges – they are usually buried deep in the small print – for advertising or appearing on a website.

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