Sell the DIY way - the savings could be stunning

Estate agents are costly and often untrustworthy. So why bother, says Rob Griffin
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The Independent Online

Spring and early summer is the busiest time of year for the housing market. But if you are planning on putting your home up for sale, do you need to use the services of an estate agent? After all, it's a business with an unenviable reputation for dubious sales tactics and poor value for money.

Instructing an estate agent may seem like the only option for anyone wanting to sell their home. But those who decide to market the property themselves can end up saving thousands of pounds, not to mention a lot of stress.

Not least, you won't have to worry about whether you're being conned. An investigation conducted earlier this year by the BBC's Whistleblower team uncovered a host of dirty tricks being used by agents working for Foxtons, one of the best-known firms in London.

It was accused of deliberately overvaluing some properties in order to secure instructions, helping clients to hoodwink their mortgage lenders and straightforward forgery, with fake signatures on lettings agreements.

According to Toby Pocock, the founder of www.eureka247.com, a free property sales portal, disillusionment with traditional ways of selling, coupled with concerns over fees, has encouraged sellers to seek alternative methods of attracting buyers.

"Our research also shows that homeowners want more control of the sale process," Pocock says. "This includes being involved in all aspects of the marketing and showing people around their homes. As more people are searching the internet to find a property, it seems natural for sellers to tap into that market rather than relying on buyers looking in the windows of agents."

The housing market is predicted to remain cool, so competition to find buyers is also set to increase over the next year.

Agents are already gearing up for a mini-boom in demand from sellers over the summer. Many people will be rushing to get their houses on the market before the controversial home information packs come into force.

From the beginning of June 2007, it will be compulsory for sellers to supply a detailed report on their property, which experts estimate will cost in the region of £1,000 to compile.

As a result, sellers are keen to offload their properties sooner rather than later - good news for estate agents this summer.

However, there is no legal requirement to use an estate agent to sell your home. If you think you're up to doing the job yourself, there's no reason not to have a go. So what are your options? Save & Spend has taken a look at the pros and cons of shunning your estate agent.

SPECIALIST PROPERTY INTERNET SITES

How it works: A plethora of websites dedicated to selling homes without the services of a conventional estate agent have been launched in recent years. Homes by Web ( www.homesbyweb.co.uk), for example, has been established for a number of years.

Homes by Web charges a one-off fee of £100, for which a seller can have up to four photographs and a 300-word description on the website until the property is sold. Additional options, such as professional photography, virtual tours and downloadable files, can also be added to the listing at an extra cost.

Sellers will usually post their telephone numbers or e-mail addresses on the website as a point of contact for prospective buyers. Buyers get in touch directly, which cuts out the estate agent altogether.

Pros: Your property will be on the website 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has the potential to attract visitors from other countries, as well as locally. You are in charge of how you describe your property and how it is presented, though you must comply with sales-description laws.

Cons: The number of people visiting the website will be crucial, so it is important to find out how many "hits" you get on a daily or weekly basis. Many of these websites are not included on the big internet property portals such as Rightmove, which may limit the number of people who get to view details of the property.

Costs will also vary. While some are free, others will charge a sliding scale of fees, so do your homework. That said, this is a much cheaper way of selling your home than using an estate agent.

SET UP YOUR OWN WEBSITE

How it works: Another option is to set up your own website, rather than relying on an established player. You will need to acquire web space and register your website's name (the costs can range from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds). Then you can start designing it in the way you want.

This was the route chosen by Peter Melling to help sell his stunning house ( www.jacksonsbarn.com), which he'd converted from two farm buildings.

With the help of a friend who works in website design, he put together a website that enabled visitors to download a glossy 12-page brochure full of pictures and information that he'd produced himself.

"I could see the potential for this to be a new way of advertising your house to buyers," Melling explains. "The main reason for using all these different methods is to sell the house and not to save on commission - that's just part of the deal."

Pros: You don't have to pay fees to someone else's website. You will be in total charge of design and there's no limit to the amount of information and pictures you can put up. It's also possible to link to specialist property websites. You could also put an advert in a newspaper, from which you can direct people to your website.

Cons: Unless you are experienced in putting a website together (or know someone who is), it could look very amateurish. Most importantly, you will need to find ways of directing people to it - potential buyers are very unlikely to stumble across the site by accident, so no-one may actually see your home.

TAKE OUT ADVERTS IN PRINT MEDIA

How it works: It's very simple. You supply a picture and description of your home to a local or national publication, along with the relevant fee. The advertisement will then appear in a pre-agreed number of issues.

Pros: It's relatively inexpensive (depending on the publications), and allows you to target specific audiences. For example, the local paper will often be the first port of call for people looking to move house.

Cons: The advert could be overlooked. Big estate-agency chains usually take out two or three pages to showcase the properties they have for sale. Your adverts also have a limited shelf life compared to the internet, which is available to buyers at all times for as long as yoy want

SELLING YOUR HOME AT AUCTION

How it works: Instructing an auction house to sell your home follows much the same route as putting it on the market with an estate agent. A representative will view the property and discuss its value and how much you are prepared to accept.

You will then have a day of viewings for prospective buyers once the property has been listed in the auction house's brochure. Finally, your home will come up at auction and be sold, subject to meeting your reserve price (the minimum you're prepared to accept).

Pros: You can guarantee the sale of your house - as long as the bids meet your reserve price. You won't have to spend months in the property chain waiting for other purchases to complete. Auction houses are good for unusual properties - an estate agent may struggle to market an idiosyncratic home.

Cons: Many buyers see auctions as a way to pick up property on the cheap. They are best for selling run-down properties or ones that the seller is will to let go cheaply.

Also bear in mind that the auction house will take a cut of the sale value achieved. It may be cheaper than using an estate agent, but it is more expensive than via the internet or a newspaper.

How to find a buyer as quickly as possible

Estate agents may not have a great reputation, but the best firms will at least advise you on how to maximise the chances of selling your home. If you're going it alone, you need to prepare carefully.

* Start by valuing your home realistically. Check out what other properties in your street have sold for. Also consult www.propertypriceadvice.co.uk, an independent valuation website that uses data from a very wide range of sources. You can even ask estate agents for valuations - most offer this service free of charge and with no obligation.

* Valuing your home is also a tactical exercise. If you need to sell quickly, you may be prepared to advertise a lower price. If there's no rush, you can be more aggressive and set a higher price.

* Be prepared to negotiate with buyers, but have a minimum price in mind. Your valuation may need to reflect this.

* Be as open and honest as you can. Make it clear what is and isn't included in the sale price (what about carpets and white goods, for example?) and never withhold information. Problems will come to light later and may cause buyers to pull out of the deal.

* Make sure your home looks as good as possible before viewings. You don't have to spend thousands on a makeover, but a new coat of paint will improve the look of many properties. Simply cleaning your home and clearing out clutter will help.

* It is worth removing evidence of your pets if you can - hide bowls, beds and definitely bones out of sight. While you may love your animals, many people will be put off, particularly if your home is covered in pet hair.

* Consider a few inexpensive props, such as a pair of roses in pots outside the front door, new house plants inside and the odd rug to cover up any tired-looking carpets.

* Try to give rooms a definite purpose. If viewers can't tell whether it's a dining room, home office or playroom, they won't be able to imagine themselves in the property, or work out if they're getting value for money.

* Don't forget about the garden, which can be a deal clincher for many buyers. Tidy it up and put some cheap but colourful flowers into beds to make it more attractive.

'I never even considered paying an estate agent'

When Anna Haste decided to sell her house and move to Spain, she was adamant that no estate agent would be involved in the process.

The married mother- of-five had been surprised by the poor quality of agents when she bought her six-bedroom home in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, nine years ago.

"I'm not impressed with how estate agents work in this country and decided I could do a better job myself," she says. "I knew from the outset that I would do it myself and never considered doing anything else."

Anna's feelings about estate agents are in line with research conducted by the home insurer More Than. It reveals that Britons place estate agents in the top three least-trusted professionals to be left alone in our homes. In fact, only window cleaners and builders/decorators have a worse reputation, More Than says.

More than 13 million adults claim to have had a bad experience with an estate agent and 94 per cent of people believe an agent would manipulate the truth to secure a sale, according to a similar survey by the website www.eureka247.com.

The site is one of several that advertises free of charge to people who are buying, selling or renting property, one option for people such as Anna, who are keen to avoid estate agents altogether.

In practice, Anna is exploring several options. She has already put adverts into local and national publications, in order to attract buyers from all over the country.

In additon, Anna, 52, who works as a translator, has listed it on the website Homes by Web (at www.homesbyweb.co.uk) where it has been featured as "property of the month".

"I have produced particulars on the house, taken lots of photographs, styled the house myself and carried out any work that needed doing," she says. "I then had a 'For Sale' sign made, which I put in the drive each morning. It has my telephone number and I request that viewings are by appointment only."

So far, the marketing costs have set Anna back £1,650. But when you consider that a basic 1.5 per cent commission plus VAT on the £625,000 selling price comes in at over £11,000, it's a gamble that's worth taking.

Some estate agents charge even more - up to 4 per cent in the worst cases, particularly if you employ more than one firm to sell your home.

On a £200,000 property, the cost of selling could therefore vary from £3,000 to £8,000. By the time you've added VAT at 17.5 per cent into the mix (equating to an extra £525 and £1,400, respectively).

The question, of course, is whether the DIY route will result in a sale - for Anna, the jury is out, though she says she is not worried.

Anna's house has only been on the market for six weeks, but she has already had plenty of interest, with several viewings, and she is confident of finding a buyer soon.

"I've found in the past that, even when you instruct an agent, you end up showing people around yourself," she adds.

"You still need to use a solicitor at the end of it, so what is the point of paying a hefty fee to the estate agent? I'm not sure what you're actually paying for when you shell out all those thousands of pounds."

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