Beware online agent fees for 'added extras'
Online estate agent fees can vary by hundreds of pounds, depending on what service you opt for, according to research by the HomeOwners Alliance (HOA). So sellers should conduct their own careful research before choosing which firm to sign up with.
The fees and services offered vary greatly between agents. For example, the fee for providing an energy performance certificate or EPC (a legal requirement when selling your home) varies from £59* plus VAT (£70.80) with eMoov to £95 plus VAT (£114) with House Network - a difference of 61%.
The HOA points out that you could use your knowledge of this kind of disparity to your advantage by haggling with the companies to negotiate a better price.
"They won't want to lose your business because you want a cheaper EPC, and asking could save you money," says HOA chief executive Paula Higgins. Or, she adds, you could save even more by organising your own: "You can find a local energy assessor to undertake an EPC for as little as £40."
When it comes to comparing the online agents' charges, things become even more complicated as most offer a variety of service levels. To illustrate the complexities, we've looked at what's availabe from some of the biggest players.
One of the most well-known companies in the market, it has sold around 2,700 homes over the past five years. Its sales performance so far in 2014 shows that on average it has achieved sold prices of 99% of the asking price (rising to 103% in London), compared to the national average for all estate agents of 96%, according to property analyst Hometrack.
It has four different packages on offer, all fixed so you'll pay the same no matter what you are selling your home for. The most popular is its standard package, charged at £395 plus VAT (£474 total) upfront. For that, photos and a floorplan are included and your home will be listed on Rightmove, Zoopla, Prime Location and other prominent property sites.
Your home will be given a valuation based on online data (rather than someone visiting the property) and viewings will be arranged.
It will check buyers aren't timewasters, negotiate sales prices and handle the sale alongside your solicitor until completion. However, notable exclusions are: a 'For Sale' board, which costs an extra £45 plus VAT (£54), and the EPC – as mentioned previously – at £59 plus VAT (£70.80). So the total amount payable for this package will be £598.80.
An upgrade of the standard package is available, called the Premium service. For £599 plus VAT (£718.80), you get the For Sale board thrown in, a premium listing on the property portals and a personal account executive, so you can talk to the same person each time. Add in the EPC and that's a total payable of £789.60. But at £190.80 more than the standard package – once you add in the for sale board – the extras that come with the Premium offering are by no means a guarantee your sale will be any more successful.
For sellers not wanting to pay a hefty upfront fee, there are a further two packages that offer exactly the same level of service as the standard package but allow you to spread the payments. But be warned, the price you'll pay for the convenience is hefty. In fact, you'll end up paying significantly more than the price of the premium package but only receive the standard service.
The Balanced package allows you to pay £199 plus VAT (£238.80) upfront, and £399 plus VAT (£478.80) on completion. Again, add a for sale board and EPC to that and you'll pay a total of £842.40. That's £52.80 more than the Premium package and £243.60 more than the Standard package.
The other option is the Traditional package, at £49 plus VAT (£58.80) upfront and then £999 plus VAT (£1,198.80) on completion. Again, add in the for sale board and EPC and you'll pay £1,382.40. That's more than double the Standard package.
This formerly private sale site has been re-launched as an online agent and has TV star Sarah Beeny steering the ship. Like eMoov, it charges fixed fees rather than taking a percentage of the property sale price. It has three price plans.
The first, or Option 1, is £495 plus VAT (£594 total). While the deal comes with listing on Rightmove and Zoopla, online tracking of how your property sale is progressing and access to trained advisers, the price doesn't include photos, a floorplan, a for sale board or an EPC.
The cost of adding photos is £99 plus VAT (£118.80), a floor plan is £40 plus VAT (£48), a for sale board £50 plus VAT (£60 – so £6 more than eMoov charges) and an EPC is £75 plus VAT (£90). Tot all that up and the basic charge is actually £910.80 – some £312 more expensive than eMoov's standard package.
Tepilo's self-proclaimed best-value package is Option 2, which is available for one upfront fee of £795 plus VAT (£954 total). It includes all the bolt-ons mentioned above, except the EPC – which would take the overall cost to £1,044. For the extra £133 when compared to Option 1, the only notable advantage is a premium listing on Rightmove and Zoopla.
Its third package is a split payment of Option 1, only this time you pay £195 plus upfront, followed by £895. Once VAT is added, the cost is £1,308 and that's before the usual bolt-ons have been paid for. So add on the for sale board, photos, floorplan and EPC and the total payable rises to £1,624.80. So the price you pay for the convenience of split payments is £714 more than the one-off upfront payment of Option 1.
This online agency has been trading since 2006 and its customers have the reassurance that it follows the Property Ombudsman code of conduct and is a member of the National Association of Estate Agents as well as the Association of Residential Letting Agents, both of which offer redress schemes.
Hatched says online agents save sellers 85% of the cost of using a high street agent and it says sellers of homes worth £200,000 would save more than £6,000 by using its services instead of a high street agent charging 3% commission.
But that statement should be taken with a pinch of salt: a recent Which? survey found the average high street estate agent fee is actually more like 1.8% plus VAT of the selling price. On a selling price of £200,000, that's a fee of £4,320.
Nonetheless, Hatched also boasts of being "the only online estate agent in the UK to split our lowest fee, so we have the incentive to actually sell your house, not just get it on the market".
With this it is referring to its 'Option 3' sales package that has a charging structure of £270 (including VAT) upfront and £270 on completion. This includes photos and floorplans, a valuation, and arranging viewings and listings on Rightmove and Zoopla.
At £540, it's not a bad price but once you add in the £85 cost for an EPC, £45 for the for sale board (installation and post not included), the package ends up costing £670. That's just over £70 more than the eMoov offer.
That said, Option 3 remains the most popular of its three options. The other two take a fixed percentage of the sale price on completion as commission: Option 1 comes with no upfront fee but a 0.6% stake of the completion price and Option 2 an upfront charge of £150 followed by 0.3% of the sale price.
On a sale price of £200,000, Option 3 is the cheapest at £670, followed by Option 2 at £750 and then Option 1 at £1,200. (A minimum commission fee of £600 applies for Option 2 and £1,200 for Option 1).
Other 'added extras' are available with all the options, including unlimited accompanied viewings for £399, social media adverts for £99 and a dedicated account manager and sales progression for £199.
This online agent is 10 years old and has sold around 8,000 properties. The HOA says its services seem good value and the sales packages are easy to compare. The 'essential' package has a one-off upfront cost of £594 (including VAT).
For that, you get photos and floorplans, a valuation, a dedicated account manager responsible for 'sales progression', viewing arrangements and listing on the big property portals. A For Sale board adds £60 and an EPC £114 (including VAT), taking the overall cost to £768.
However, for an extra £66, the Star Buy package bundles together everything offered in the Essential package, plus the for sale board and EPC, as well as bumping up the portal coverage to premium listings.
It's also worth noting that the Basic package, which costs £649 (including VAT) upfront for all the above except the dedicated account manager, may sound significantly cheaper enough to be tempting but sales progression will cost an extra £354 and take the total spend to £1,003. So unless you'd be confident to handle the negotiation, stick to the 'essential' package.
* Prices correct as of 12 November 2014
Invented by a Frenchman in 1954 and ironically introduced in the UK on 1 April 1973, VAT is an indirect tax levied on the value added in the production of goods and services, from primary production to final consumption and is paid by the buyer. Its levying is complex, with a number of exemptions and exclusions. For example, in the UK, VAT is payable on chocolate-covered biscuits, but not on chocolate-covered cakes and the non-VAT status of McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes was challenged in a UK court case to determine whether Jaffa Cake was a cake or a biscuit. The judge ruled that the Jaffa Cake is a cake, McVitie’s won the case and VAT is not paid on Jaffa Cakes in the UK.
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