Property: How to get them knocking at your door - minus the estate agent

selling privately
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ever thought about cutting out the estate agent's commission and selling your own home? It is possible, Fiona Brandhorst finds, but beware - there are as many pitfalls as there are advantages for the novice.

When Pam Price decided to put her house on the market back in July she had no idea what it would be worth. Not only was she pleasantly surprised by the local estate agent's valuation but she was also not prepared for his optimism at being able to "sell it in a week".

Not one to turn down a challenge, Mrs Price decided to have a go at selling her house herself - if the house was that saleable she could save herself over pounds 2,000 in commission and she felt she would be more in control. She chose to advertise in Loot, the free ads paper, which cost around pounds 60 for a nine-week slot and included a sale board outside the property in a leafy street in Bromley, Kent.

"I made it obvious when people rang that I was only interested in serious buyers and I felt I could vet them more than an estate agent. I didn't want people who were just out for a ride on a Saturday afternoon." Viewing times were civilised. "I wasn't pressurised by anyone - if I knew my house was tidy I was happy, if not, I gave myself a couple of hours to clear up."

Twenty-five phone calls and 15 viewings later though, Mrs Price still hadn't had an offer and the ninth week was almost up. Then on the day she reluctantly instructed an agent, who claimed to have three serious buyers on his books, she had two offers from Loot readers. "The people the agent sent round didn't even have their properties on the market," she says.

Negotiations with the Loot buyers were held at different times over coffee. "I enjoyed the personal contact and could judge their intentions more than I would have been able to if the agent had been in charge. We agreed on a price just under the agent's suggested asking price."

Perhaps estate agents would argue that they could achieve more than the asking price, if there was more than one interested party, thus covering the fees a vendor would have to pay. Certainly Peter Blades, a partner in Barringtons estate agents in south Buckinghamshire, believes estate agents' experience within the market can't be beaten. "We know the best price a property can command and how to get it."

Private sales are also more likely to fall apart when the two sides become stressed and don't have a third person to act as a go-between. Mr Blades cites this as one of the biggest problems with private sales. "The vendor and purchaser are open to misunderstandings; an agent can act as a buffer to smooth things over."

Without an agent in the wings vendors may turn to their solicitor to seek advice. If so, Peter Sibley a legal executiveof with Taylor Willcocks, sees potential problems. "It's not part of a solicitor's fee structure to enter into negotiations between the buyer and the seller."

Solicitors are also as defensive about legal hold-ups as estate agents are about commission charges. Mr Sibley suspects that most vendors and some estate agents do not fully understand what's involved in conveyancing and can make unreasonable demands on solicitors.

He should know - he used to be an estate agent and is "embarrassed" by some of the things he expected to happen. He admits that, when the pressure's on to exchange and complete contracts, having an agent working for you can be helpful. "If lenders require surveyors' reports on timber, damp or structural work, it's the estate agents - not the solicitors - who have the time and contacts to get things done quickly."

Keith Rudling did not try the hard sell when he advertised his two Hertfordshire artisan cottages through his local paper last year. He opened the front door to viewers and said with the curtness of Victor Meldrew: "What you see is what you get."

His first foray into DIY house-selling some years ago fell foul of the law on misrepresentation when he drolly described the house he was selling as having a funeral-like parlour, dripping taps and broken stairs. The local newspaper refused to run the advertisement.

This time he advertised via a box number in the Hertfordshire Mercury and was surprised at the number of people who bothered to write to him for the handwritten property details. However, he was puzzled that most inquirers did not follow up their initial interest with a viewing. He eventually sold one of the cottages to the writer of the first letter.

A trip abroad hastened the need to sell the second cottage, so Mr Rudling turned to a local agent to find a buyer. Three potential purchasers came to nothing before the sale finally went through. Although Mr Rudling achieved a higher price with the agent, his solicitor charged him more for the extra work involved with the abortive sales.

Even in today's housing market where demand has outstripped supply for several months, the private seller needs to keep abreast of changes in case the sale falls through after several weeks. What may have been a rising market three months previously can change due to seasonal or other economic factors. Private sellers may find themselves with an overpriced property and the cost of re-advertising.

For vendors going it alone, Loot has plenty of marketing advice including the cautious use of the welcoming aromas of coffee and freshly baked cakes. Strangely, though, there's no mention of personal security. Stephen Smith from Bushells estate agents in south London is concerned about the safety of his staff and clients. "I was working nearby when the estate agent Suzi Lamplugh went missing so I'm constantly reminding my staff to be on their guard." The majority of Bushells' viewings are accompanied by a member of staff and the firm will not arrange a visit without full details of the prospective purchaser.

Pam Price often showed couples around on her own with just their telephone numbers as a reference. "A couple of people knocked without an appointment, but I just told them to go and buy Loot for the details. They didn't come back."

Peter Blades is confident that DIY selling is only for the tough-skinned minority. "If you have an Al house, in an Al position that's gorgeous throughout then you'll probably sell it yourself, but if it's anything other than that, you'll need an agent." But Pam Price would do it all again with one proviso. "My house sold quickly because the market was right. I'd think twice if the market was dead."

If you want to sell your own home:

l Research the market well and have your home valued professionally.

l Advertise to the people most likely to buy your property.

l Instruct solicitors as soon as you decide to sell.

l Find out about the buying and selling process.

l Keep a cool head when the pressure mounts.

Loot (0171-372 7262); Barringtons (01753 892100); Taylor Willcocks Solicitors (0171-498 2244); Bushells (0181-299 1722)

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