Property: Software for the hard sell

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BY THE end of this year, the estate agent coming to value your house may arrive with a hand-held computer rather than a notebook. The agent will carry the 'palm-pad' around your house, writing down all the room details. Then he or she will draw a floor plan on the computer, take some pictures with a special video camera, plug some wires in sockets and produce an instant set of particulars. You can study the photographs on your television and choose the one you want used. You will then sign to say that this is an accurate description of your house, and an hour later it will be on the market.

Already, four of the major estate agency chains have shown interest in the EasyMove system, designed by IBM. The Halifax is expected to test it in some branches this summer.

For the agent there are numerous advantages. Customers are more likely to give their business to a person whose work is completed after just an hour in their home than to one who engages them in lengthy communication from the office.

At Birmingham Midshires, the estate agency which has piloted the software, instructions rose by up to 30 per cent during a two-year period.

But, for the public, the most useful feature of the technology is the fact that it enables the agent to draw scale floor plans of a house, including alcoves, windows, stairs and any other feature influencing its shape. A few agents already do this, but it involves time-consuming drawings on graph paper. With the pen computer, the estate agent draws the rooms, inputs the sizes and details, and the computer draws the plan to scale.

Speed is an obvious advantage for the customer. But the fact that an agent can produce house details more quickly does not mean he or she is the best person to sell your house. Local knowledge, valuation skills and experience in your market are just as important.

Many agents are wary of putting technology between themselves and the customer. The one feature most likely to convince them this is a tool worth having is the message that flashes up before the computer can be switched off. It says 'financial information not supplied'. This is a reminder to your agent that he is selling mortgages as well as houses. It should be a reminder to you to seek financial advice elsewhere.

AT THE other end of the technology scale is the selling system adopted by Maureen and Phil Rooksby of North Yorkshire. The couple have been trying to sell Midsummer Cottage in the village of Sessay for two years. So far they have not had a single viewer.

Theirs is a red brick, former farm-workers' cottage with its owners' eco-friendly imprint stamped all over it. It has walls done in organic paint, dust sheets dyed for curtains, and cat food tins recycled into candleholders. At the back there is an acre of organic garden.

Most of the villagers in Sessay commute to Leeds, 35 miles away. But agents in the city are not interested in a two- up, two-down cottage in the sticks, and local agents were unenthusiastic about the place.

So the Rooksbys decided to go it alone. They tried national advertising; they offered 'taster' holidays so that potential buyers could try out their home; they put notices in newsletters of green organisations; they even offered a reward for information leading to a successful sale. Their latest wheeze is a collage-style log book of the house.

Could it be, I asked Phil Rooksby, that the price was just too high? 'We haven't put any price on it apart from at the very beginning,' he said, al-

though he admitted he thought it was worth around pounds 140,000, which sounds pretty steep even for North Yorkshire.

The Rooksbys have become accustomed to being permanently up for sale. As they wait, they are learning Spanish and honing their farming skills in preparation for a move to self-sufficiency in Spain. If you want to break their duck, call 0845 501443.