Death of an estate agent

Does the future of the property market belong online?

It's no secret that estate agents, alongside journalists and politicians, are among the most hated professionals. So it will come as good news to many that the extinction of the high street estate agent is looming. A new website founded by TV presenter Sarah Beeny lets vendors advertise and sell their homes online without the intervention of estate agents.

In the last two years, one in four estate agents have closed down. In addition to the financial climate, this is also a direct hit from the booming online property market. Google has reported a 35 per cent growth this year in the number of property searches.

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Just four days after giving birth to her fourth son, TV presenter for Channel Four's Property Ladder, Sarah Beeny is back at work. She doesn't need much sleep, she assured me last week from her office at the bottom of her garden in Streatham. Her latest brainchild is the website Tepilo.com which lets vendors market their own property online and avoid the need to pay estate agents fees. Launched in August this year, the startup property portal is dubbed "the smarter way to buy and sell a home".

Why the new venture? "Now, more than ever, is a time when people need to save money when selling their home," Beeny said. "Only estate agents can use the main property portals like rightmove or primelocation. In this day and age, I felt it was amazing that there wasn’t an option for sellers."

Beeny is a serial entrepreneur – although she cringes at the term. At just 24, she set up her own property development and investment companies and later founded dating agency mysinglefriend.com, which has over 180,000 users.

There was a gap in the market; when selling a house through an agency, we pay them between 2-3 per cent of our property's value but there's no reason why we can't do the marketing ourselves. "If you don't want to pay an estate agent and would rather save money, there are other sites offering a similar service but they're badly built. We felt there should be an option for people to sell their house. Many are scared how to go through the process, there are lots of words that people don’t understand." Tepilo aims to "hold people's hands through the process" and acts as a communication port between buyers and sellers. Users can negotiate through the site without sharing their personal details.

Within ten days of going live, Tepilo had its first sale. "I was amazed and really excited that it's actually working. We've now sold ten properties and a couple of dozen are now in negotiation," says Beeny. "One of my main worries was that you'd need critical mass to be a useful property site but it doesn't seem to be a problem. In fact, the less properties in a postcode means each property gets a better look-in."

It is early days to judge the success of tepilo but the news that high street estate agents might become a thing of the past is welcome to many. "The truth is you never really hear people who've sold or bought a property praising their estate agent," says Beeny. Estate agents' fees (usually 2-3 per cent of property value) are out of proportion with the solicitor's fees (estimated £900). "Estate agents get a lot of bad press and sometimes deservedly so." In reality though, estate agents - hated as they often are - provide a much-needed service for many. "There will always be people who are too busy or big estates, farms and grand houses that need an estate agent," explains Beeny.

Perhaps it's time for those hated estate agents to leave the high street. The internet can offer people the same service for no fee. Just as we buy our own holidays and mortgages online, why not sell or buy a house online. So if we feel that we are capable of doing the jobs ourselves, maybe we don’t need estate agents in person?

Annie Deakin is Editor of mydeco.com

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