Cutting out the High Street Estate Agent

HOMEOWNERS looking to sell their homes have traditionally hired estate agents to find buyers and ensure the sales go smoothly.

However, with households tightening their belts, more and more vendors are contemplating the DIY route to finding a buyer, which could save them thousands of pounds.

In fact, new findings from Propertydatingagency, an introduction agency for buyers and sellers, suggest that one in five people considering selling their homes over the next six months are looking at alternatives to the traditional estate agent.

“The property market slowdown and house price falls means it now takes almost seven months to sell a property,” says Stephen Foden from Propertydatingagency. “This is prompting sellers to look for other ways — and cheaper ways — to sell.”

Those who are considering shunning the traditional route have a number of options available to them.

These include private sales, selling directly to friends or family, advertising in the local newspaper, putting up a “for sale” sign outside the property, and going online.

Selling over the internet is one of the most popular alternatives and classified ad sites such as Gumtree.com and Craigslist.co.uk enable vendors to cut out the middleman.

It is up to you to decide how much detail to provide in your advert but you can improve your chances by adding photographs and in some cases even a YouTube link to help you market your home to potential buyers.

Yannick Pons from Vivastreet.co.uk, another site that provides free classified ads, says there has been a marked increase in private sale ads on the site and also home swap ads where sellers try to swap their properties with other interested sellers.

According to its figures, the number of new home swap ads in the third quarter of 2009 was double the number in those months the previous year. “A growing number of sellers are bypassing estate agents altogether to sell their properties privately,” says Pons.

“The advantages of using home swapping to sell a property over the traditional estate agent are twofold. Sellers can save thousands of pounds on estate agent fees and are also guaranteed to be entering into a chain-free purchase.”

The increase in the number of people prepared to cut out the estate agent has given rise to a whole host of new dedicated property-selling websites.

Propertydatingagency, for example, puts sellers in contact with buyers and allows them to talk directly to each other.

Sellers pay a registration fee of £10 that entitles them to contact a set number of buyers to gauge their interest, while buyers registering on the site state exactly what they are looking for in terms of property, price range and whether or not they are cash buyers.

TV presenter Sarah Beeny has also launched a new property website called Tepilo, which aims to “hand-hold” vendors through the home-selling process.

Sellers can personalise their descriptions and there is no charge for uploading details. You can also sort out professional floor plans and home information packs via the site.

“It seems bizarre that it could cost you around £10,000 to hire an estate agent to sell your house when you could do this yourself for free,” says Beeny.

“There is a general perception that selling your home is daunting and incredibly complex but this isn’t the case. All is required is a little bit of work and effort — and you can make some big savings.”

But not all agree that DIY home-selling is plain sailing.

“Going it alone can be a lot of work and hassle,” warns Melanie Bien from mortgage broker Savills Private Finance. “You have to do everything yourself including setting the price, marketing the property, and showing people around.”

She also warns that it could end up costing more if you don’t get the price right and fail to negotiate hard with the buyer. “Estate agents are experienced at selling homes and are trained to get the best possible price for a property,” she says.

“They will have a better idea than you as to what the property is worth and will have a high-street presence and website to assist with marketing the property. They should also have potential buyers on their books who may be looking for your type of property.”

Bien urges potential sellers to think carefully before cutting out the middleman. “Many people who go it alone put a ‘for sale’ board outside the property, but this only works if there is good foot-fall past your home, or if it is on a busy main road,” says Bien.

“Others advertise on websites or in the local paper but it is difficult to get your advert to stand out compared to an estate agents’ slick website. Taking photos to use in your advertising may also be difficult as you are not a professional photographer — so you may fail to do your property justice.”

Sellers who still want to stick with the traditional method of hiring an estate agent to sell their home can expect to pay an average charge of between 1.5 and 2 per cent for sole agency — this means that only one firm is allowed to market your home.

If you want more than one firm to help you sell, you will probably pay the successful agent around 3 per cent of the sale price as a fee.

When you employ an estate agent you are signing up to a set of standard terms and these state that the agent will try to sell your property with a certain period of time.

This agreement is legally binding so it is important to ensure you understand the terms and conditions. You also need to check with your estate agent as to what would happen if you have your home on the market with that agent but end up selling your home some other way, for example to a friend of a friend via word of mouth.

“This can be a bit of a grey area,” warns Melanie Bien from broker Savills Private Finance. “It depends on the wording in the terms and conditions and your rapport with the agent so make sure you read the small print.”

Richard Tuck from turtlehomes.co.uk recommends a “half way house”, by using an online estate agent you can combine the cost savings associated with private selling whilst still having a full estate agency service. The only catch is that you will have to do the viewings yourself. But as Richard explained “”the vendor knows their property the best and therefore is the best person to show people around”.

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