Net gains for homes

Dido Sandler assesses the benefits of selling via the World Wide Web

With the property market firmly on the upturn, it seems, and some houses even going for above the asking price, could it be time for sellers to consider dispensing with the services of an estate agent altogether?

With such strong demand in some areas you could be paying as much as 3 per cent of the selling price for the agent doing little more than picking up the phone to a buyer on the books.

Increasingly, the Internet, as well as aiding the hunt for a property, could offer access to buyers and help you cut out the agents. House sales via the Internet are a small but rapidly growing phenomenon.

Woolwich Property Services - part of the building society - has been running an Internet site for sellers (www.wps-property-seeker.co.uk/) for the past six weeks. So far, only 10 properties have been sold by this route, but Roger Ham, Woolwich marketing communication manager, claims that in five years' time between 15 and 20 per cent of house sales in the UK will be made via the Internet. "Once people get used to selling houses through the Internet, they will ask why they do it any other way," he says.

In the US, an estimated 10 per cent of homes are sold this way. Advocates argue that since publishing privately on the Internet is cheap, sellers can post muchmore detail about the property than would be possible by conventional means. You can put up as many colour photos as you wish, together with the most personalised text, or even video clips. To sell higher-value properties in the US, people are even constructing "virtual houses", where visitors can get the feel of actually touring the property.

One Bristol-based homeowner has put his home for sale on the Internet, priced in dollars, apparently wishing for a specific type of American purchaser (www.wintermute.co.uk/users/pingu/cg-house.htm). The text that accompanies the picture of the house explains how this was the home of the youthful Cary Grant before he went to Hollywood.

Creating your own site will allow you to sell your home with maximum personal style and flair. Free software is available on the Net to help you build a site - it will take you half a day if you know what you're doing. But the difficulty is persuading people to visit your site. You can register your offering with Internet "search engines" such as Yahoo or Alta Vista - which allow searches by particular words - for free. But you cannot always guarantee the correct search criteria will be used for your site. Nor can you be sure that the browsing public will have the patience to look through a mass of sites on the off-chance they might find their dream home with you.

Instead, you could register with an estate agency site - but this will normally mean paying commission. Alternatively, there are sites for classified- type sales.

The Moneyworld UK Personal Finance Directory (www.moneyworld.co.uk/ukpfd) has "hotlinks" - direct connections - to a range of agency and classified sites. Loot, the classifieds newspaper published in separate editions in larger cities across the UK, is also on the Internet (www.lootlink- com). You can list your home for free in the small ads section of the newspaper - call 0171 372 7262 in London - or e-mail the details. (If you do the former the ad gets listed both in the paper and electronically; if the latter, then it appears on the Net only.)

For pounds 59.95 Loot sells a Private Sale package, with a "for sale" board to go outside your property, a sales pack including advice on selling your home, a free legal helpline, and three months of daily advertising with a picture of your home, in the paper and on the Net. The on-line version will soon offer extra services like colour photos and e-mail links for buyers to contact sellers.

Housenet (www.housenet.co.uk) is another service for both private advertisers and estate agents, with a free classified ads section, and a more detailed service with a photo of each property costing pounds 29.95, and pounds 15 for each extra photo. Coverage is mainly in the south of England.

Dido Sandler works for 'Financial Adviser' magazine.

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