It's never been easier to sell without an estate agent
With the internet at our fingertips, we can save that commission and do everything the professionals can do. Or can we? Felicity Cannell investigates
Sunday 18 April 2010
This is the season to be selling. The number of new sales instructions is on the increase – this month the number is the highest for three years – according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).
Estate agents can breathe again, those that are still in business, as the listings come in thick and fast. But it remains a buyers' market. Supply is outstripping demand in some areas, giving agents a strong hand, with less negotiating power for vendors over that poisonous percentage.
Or maybe not. With the explosion of the internet, cutting out the commission has never been easier. For many, surfing through the sites has replaced a Sunday stroll, looking in estate agents' windows.
The web is usually the first port of call for any purchase, be it a garden gnome on gumtree or ebay, or a three-bedroomed house on Rightmove or Primelocation. Property listing sites are invaluable, but these big boys are restricted to estate-agent adverts only. Consequently, a number of sites are now dedicated to private sellers, offering services from simple classified ads, such as those on Homes on Sale, to a comprehensive hand-holding exercise on TV presenter and property developer Sarah Beeny's brainchild, Tepilo.
It is free to list on both sites, unless you want professional pictures, floorplans and advertising boards, but these can be done yourself. "Most people have a digital camera; it's easy to upload photos," says Ms Beeny. "By using the net there's not really anything an estate agent can do that a seller can't."
Yes, most people have a digital camera, but those wide-angled professional photos come in handy. Plus, estate agents are ostensibly providing an experienced, professional service. Trevor Kent, from Trevor Kent & Co Estate Agents, is unperturbed by the competition from "for sale by owner" sites. "Homeowners have always had opportunities to sell privately. In most cases they resort to using an agent eventually."
Miles Shipside from Rightmove, the biggest property website, says: "A good agent can earn his fee through professional presentation, local expertise, a wider audience and the experience of dealing with buyers."
The reason Rightmove and the other major players don't accept private listings is the Property Misdescriptions Act. Estate agents have to comply with consumer protection legislation, whereas private sellers don't.
One long-standing private sales site, My Property for Sale, has circumvented the inability to access the premier sites by moving into the estate agent business, but solely via the internet. Professionals take care of the visit, valuation, measurements and photographs, and details are listed for £299 plus VAT, on the professional sites. There's also an advertising board with a freephone number. "We upped our service because everyone wants access to Rightmove," says Trevor Gillham of My Property for Sale. "We have a network of surveyors and photographers. If we get a job in Edinburgh or Cornwall, we can get it listed by the next day."
So how much money does a private sale save? Several thousand pounds, says Ms Beeny. "On a £350,000 house, for example, at 2 per cent commission, and VAT, that's £8,225. If I say, 'OK, how would you like £8,000 for taking a few photos, and showing people round your house on a Saturday', I reckon you'll say 'yes please'."
High-street estate agents still have their uses. One is safety. You can insist on accompanied viewings, although professional key-holding services can do this for you if you go down the DIY route. Agents claim to know the local market, but a surveyor can also provide a professional valuation.
Gazumping and other deal-breakers are not eradicated by using a middleman, but an experienced agent can gauge the commitment, from buyer and seller. Potential "buyers" have always included day-trippers and dreamers. Are free websites the equivalent for the vendor? "It's true, people can just list their homes with us, without any real intention to sell," says Ms Beeny, "but I'm assuming people aren't that bored. We check out all the properties. We did have one ridiculous listing – a one-bed flat for £7m, but in general people are committed. It's not a 10-second process. To do it justice takes a while, with photos and floorplans."
Also, residential properties require a Home Information Pack, which includes title deeds, planning permissions or building consent, searches, including water and drainage, and an energy performance certificate. A HIP costs £350 or so. You can do it yourself, for half the price, but searches must comply with government regulations and are better done by specialist firms.
Cutting out the middleman may save money, but beware. "Sellers are not prepared for how hard buyers can haggle," says Mr Kent. This is where agents can earn their keep, by holding fast. And if the agent isn't up to scratch, weeks may lapse before you can exit the contract and do it yourself, so check how the property is being marketed. It may be little more than a listing on the internet.
Sarah Beeny, TV presenter & property developer
"The internet has changed the market drastically. Estate agents traditionally put together property buyers and sellers. They provided a service you couldn't get elsewhere – a shop front in a high street. Buyers would visit the area and register with every agent, or seek out for-sale boards. Now 99.9 per cent first go online. If buyers head straight online, then sellers should have the same opportunity."
Independent Partners: Get fee-free expert mortgage advice and find the right mortgage deal for you.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
Mark Dampier: A safe harbour if the market recovery has overreached itself
'Scrap the trap': calls for change grow as banks are told to play fair with loyal savers
Bargain Hunter: Eurostar offers child fares for £1 each way to Paris, Brussels and Lille
Relaxed pensions rules: Guide to what they mean to you
Moment of truth for payday lenders: Watchdog plans to curb cost of short-term loans
- 2 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
- 3 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
iJobs Money & Business
£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...
£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...
£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...
£40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF,...
Day In a Page
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar
A newly refurbished one-bedroom flat in the heart of Mayfair, close to Grosvenor Square