Fighting over the crumbs

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The cost of moving house is falling. Fees charged by estate agents and solicitors have dropped a few percentage points over the past 12 months, as firms struggle for a share of the shrinking property business.

The price falls are revealed in the annual "Cost of Moving" survey by the Woolwich Building Society. For a buyer selling a property worth pounds 65,000 and buying one for pounds 80,000, the total cost now varies between a low of pounds 2,794 in the North-west and a high of pounds 4,250 in the South-west. The average cost of moving from a pounds 100,000 home in England and Wales to a pounds 150,000 home is pounds 5,788. In Scotland the move costs pounds 200 more.

The price falls look set to continue as lenders throw ever juicier bait to potential new customers. One of the tastiest comes from the Woolwich, which introduced a pilot "no-fees" scheme last month in certain parts of Lincolnshire, Essex and Nottinghamshire. Anyone selling through the Woolwich pays no estate agents' bill if they take out a standard variable- rate mortgage on their next home.

The Woolwich strategy is designed to tease out some of the 1.2 million home-owners estimated to have too little equity to finance a move. (These are in addition to the 1.2 million who have negative equity - a mortgage larger than the value of their home.)

But movers should do some more sums before they sign up for the cheapest available deal. With estate agents' fees so negotiable, the seller of a pounds 65,000 house is likely to be saving about pounds 1,633 with the Woolwich scheme. They might save more than that amount over the next few years by shopping around for the best fixed-rate mortgage. And they would do better to choose the agent most likely to sell their house quickly and at a good price; without a buyer they will have no need for a new mortgage.

Many properties began life as schools, railway stations, churches or even Knightsbridge broom cupboards before being converted into homes. Now Foxtons in South Kensington (0171-370 5433) is selling a three-bedroom maisonette in what was once a squash court. The central court has been turned into a double-height reception room, with a galleried study where the spectators once sat and a dado rail where the red line used to run across the front wall.

The rest of the premises have been turned into three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen/breakfast room and dining room and the asking price is a hard- hitting pounds 835,000.