Online estate agent fees can vary by as much as hundreds of pounds, depending on what service you opt for, according to research by the HomeOwners Alliance.
It says, as a result, 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 and House Simple - a difference of 61%.
The HomeOwners Alliance 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, here's what just two well-known players offer sellers:
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 analysts Hometrack.
It has four different packages on offer, all fixed so you'll pay the same no matter the selling price of your home. 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 property will be listed on Rightmove, Zoopla, Prime Location and other prominent portals. 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 above - 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 sounds extremely cheap at £195 plus VAT (£234 total) and predictably it comes with a big 'but'. The price doesn't include photos, floorplans or listing on Rightmove and Zoopla. What it does include is a basic listing on the Tepilo website. 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 the eMoov charge) and an EPC is £75 plus VAT (£90). Tot all that up and the basic charge is actually £550.80 – still £48 cheaper than the eMoov standard package.
Tepilo's most popular package, according to the HomeOwners Alliance, is Option 2, which is available for one upfront cost of £495 plus VAT (£594 total). This time your listing will be featured on Rightmove and Zoopla but you'll still have to pay extra for the bolt-ons outlined above, leaving the total payable at £910.80. Viewings will be arranged on your behalf and Tepilo will deal with your listing, and assist throughout the sale.
Its third option is a split payment version of Option 2 – this time £195 plus VAT (£234 total) upfront, and £895 plus VAT (£1,074) on completion. Again the bolt-ons still need to be paid for on top, so the full price is actually £1,390.80.