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.
Pension mortgages: 'The advice I was given was wrong and now I face losing my home'
You'll need £220,000 for a minimum wage in your retirement
Questions of Cash: I checked in with Air France in time and still missed the plane
Minister's pension promise to firefighters challenged
Mark Dampier: Maybe boom, maybe bust, but we'll probably just muddle along
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader
iJobs Money & Business
Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...
£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...
Day In a Page
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
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