House Doctor: 'Is there any way we can sell our home without an estate agent?'

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The Independent Online

Question: Is there any way we can sell our house completely privately? We've had enough of local estate agents who've been, to be frank, utterly incompetent with their service. Do you know of any decent online sites and if we'll save a lot of money? We live in a desirable area near Bristol.

M Cotter, Somerset



Answer: A private sale will spare you suffering at the hands of incompetent agents, and cost a lot less too. Yet you also run the risk of missing out on the one thing you need the most: the house-buying public.

Pick a private seller and you forgo access to the biggest internet property portals used by millions of potential buyers such as rightmove.co.uk, findaproperty.com and primelocation.com. Why? Because these giant popular sites, listing hundreds of thousands of available properties via estate agents, are off-limits to private individual sellers.

By contrast, use one of the roughly 200 private-sale websites – for a small fee, often from little as £50, you upload pictures and details along with a secure messaging service to arrange viewings and price negotiations – and your property will be advertised on smaller internet property portal sites.

For example, on private seller houseweb.co.uk, your details go to a handful of alternative websites including ask.com, yell.com, home.co.uk and, the largest of these, fish4.co.uk, which currently lists more than 233,000 flats and houses, receiving more than a million hits a month.

While this will punt your property to more than three million house-hunters, the starting point for many buyers remains the big property search engines.

"Around three-quarters of homebuyers now search for properties online and many begin at a property portal or search engine. If you're selling via a private sales site, check which portals your home will appear on," says a spokesman for consumer body Which?

With a private sale, you also have to do pretty much everything yourself: compose the description of your property, take photos, handle enquiries, conduct viewings, and negotiate with potential buyers.

It's a lot to take on to reach less of an audience, says Gavin Brazg of property advice website theadvisory.co.uk, so why not try online estate agents.

"Online estate agents are not private-sale websites – instead, they are stripped-back estate agencies subject to the same laws governing the behaviour of traditional estate agents," he says, with most offering a cheaper service on a "capped fee" basis of around £650 or on a 0.5-0.75 per cent basis. More importantly, though, they put your details on most, if not all, of the big online property portals.

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