Property: If the agent fails, why not sell it yourself?

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The Independent Online
WHEN she decided to sell her renovated West Sussex farmhouse, Ali Large went the normal rounds of agents. She soon realised she could do a better job herself. Within six weeks she had a cash buyer.

A background in marketing - 'I have sold everything from nappies to business services' - helped her to plan the campaign of brochures, advertising and negotiating. 'But I also learnt a lot,' she says. 'For instance, I went to a local printer and found that just by putting staples in brochures you do not have to pay VAT.'

A little imagination also went a long way. She got a mention of the house in a renovation magazine, which attracted the eventual buyer. She had to cut her price of pounds 650,000 by 15 per cent, but this was offset by savings of pounds 17,000 in agents' fees.

Friends with properties that they could not sell were impressed; so were complete strangers caught in the same trap who had heard of her success. So now she and a partner, Anne Irwin- Brown, have committed their wisdom to paper in a 40-page booklet for DIY sellers. It covers everything from valuing to public relations and costs pounds 15.75.

They have also set up an advice service called the Property Advantage (0243 513438). 'The major advantage is that we charge pounds 30 an hour rather than a commission like agents,' says Ms Large. 'People can have as much or as little of our time as they wish. We know many people would like to have a go at selling for themselves. All they need is the confidence and a little expertise.'

GET READY for another barrage of homebuying incentives: the big lenders have apparently been called in by ministers to spur them to new efforts to kick-start the market.

You would not think it was necessary, listening to the cheerful noises coming from many agents and builders. Even before interest rates began falling, one Essex homes show was overwhelmed with visitors. One exhibitor, Chris Crook of Countryside Homes, announced he had taken more than pounds 1m the previous week. In Scotland, CALA Homes boasted a record month; Richard Hurley, of the agents Hurley Lloyd, says viewings in the Cotswolds soared within hours of rate cuts; Simon Agace, head of the Winkworth chain in London, adds that many who pulled out on 'Black Wednesday' came scurrying back only days later.

Methinks, for once, that they do protest too little: getting viewers to put their money on the table is not easy. 'Why buy today if you can hang on for a better deal tomorrow?' asks Richard McManus of First Europe, the housing finance analysts. Lenders are right to be thinking about even more bribes.

Owners trapped in homes worth more than their loans may be thrown a lifeline in the next batch of special offers. Lenders could allow such people to carry debts to new properties in an effort to free up their homes. The builder Charles Church is already showing the way by offering a five-year interest-free loan, half of it to cover the shortfall on a mortgage and the rest for a deposit on the new place.

But many owners are so disillusioned that they would prefer to rent rather than buy, even if they were allowed to carry 'negative equity' around, says Mr McManus. (In fact, he adds, the cheapest alternative to defaulting on a mortgage nowadays is to let your home and rent another.) Lenders may be forced to take an even more revolutionary line and fund renting rather than buying. That way they at least hold on to customers who will return to the buying fold one day.

IT IS ironic that, in the middle of its apparently terminal financial crisis, the giant Municipal Mutual Insurance should win what it saw as a battle to improve home-buyer protection. It ran into flak from the building establishment a couple of years ago by launching a 15-year warranty against faults in new homes - 50 per cent longer than the one provided by the National House-Building Council. Builders should be able to choose their insurers, it said. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission agreed and now the High Court has thrown out NHBC protests.

But the council says buyers will suffer rather than gain. At the moment you cannot get a mortgage without an NHBC warranty; in future the quality of a house's insurance may be another thing to worry about when you are reading the small print of a purchase.

THE IRISH mile is well known as being as long as a piece of string. Now the Scottish acre, it turns out, is just as a flexible. Angry Scots claim a third of their country is up for grabs as absentee landlords dump vast estates bought in the boom.

Guy Galbraith at Savills punches his pocket calculator into revealing that nearly 30 properties, adding up to almost 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares), are looking for buyers. Even after cutting out the cities, this actually constitutes only around 2 per cent of the Highlands, for Scotland as a whole covers about 19.2 million acres (7.8 million hectares).

But this still leaves a large slice of the country in agents' windows - twice last year's figure and the highest level since the boom, says Robert Balfour at Bidwells. One group of crofters is so exasperated that it aims to invoke an ancient law enabling it to buy out the land from the receiver appointed for the bankrupt foreign owner.

Absentee landlords are not the major sellers: most of the estates have been in the same families for decades. The owners are hard-pressed by such problems as the crisis at Lloyd's and the general recession. But they cannot sell, even at prices 50 per cent down on the boom, so a backlog is building up. If values continue to fall, maybe the Scots can forget about devolution and simply buy back their country.

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