Buying or selling your home is likely to be the biggest financial transaction you ever make, so is it time to ditch the high street estate agent for cheaper online alternatives?
Online agents act much like traditional high street brands and can value your property, take professional pictures, draw floorplans and list your home on the main property websites,
such as Zoopla, Rightmove and Primelocation.
The main difference is that online agents charge a fixed fee rather than commission, but you are also left to manage your own viewings and, in some cases, the negotiations.
High street agents typically charge from 0.75% up to 3% plus VAT of the agreed selling price to sell your property, according to property consumer group the
HomeOwner’s Alliance. So if you took the average UK property value of £205,898, based
on the Nationwide December 2016 House Price index, you would pay a fixed fee of £679 with online agent eMoov or more than double with a high street agent at £1,852 based on a commission of 0.75% plus VAT.
However, with a high street agent you only pay if your property is sold. In comparison, online
agents can be hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds cheaper but you may pay upfront and may not find a buyer.
A high street agent can provide a ready book of potential buyers and an expert on hand to help you find the right value, consider offers and provide support through the whole transaction.
But if you are confident in getting the best price and have time to manage your own viewings, then who better to sell their own property than the owner?
Here, we find out how six people got on with their online house move.
“High street agents lacked the flexibility we needed”
Christine and Keith Wood wanted to free up some cash to spend more time together and do some travelling, so they decided to sell their fourstorey Victorian rental property in Cumbria.
The buy-to-let house was split into four separate one-bedroom fl ats that the couple had rented out for 35 years, so they wanted to treat the residents well and sell it tenanted.
But Christine, 50, says she couldn’t find a local estate agent with the expertise to do this who was able to offer flexible viewings around all the tenants, so she decided to use Purplebricks.com after hearing about it through a family friend. Purplebricks offers local property agents that provide a market valuation and help manage the sales process and you can accept bookings, view offers and buyers’ details, and follow the progress of the sale online.
Sellers pay £849 up front for pictures, floor plans and listings on the main property portals, or £1,199 for properties in London. In comparison, Christine says a market valuation and help manage the sales process and you can accept bookings, view offers and buyers’ details, and follow the progress of the sale online. Sellers pay £849 up front for pictures, floor plans and listings on the main property portals, or £1,199 for properties in London.
In comparison, Christine says local high street agents would have charged her 1% commission, so she would have paid £2,500, compared with £849, when the property sold for £250,000 in July 2016 after two months on the market.
“Being able to respond directly to potential buyers and arrange viewings was a real plus,” says Christine. “The property went on the market on a Sunday and we immediately had viewings arranged for the next day.
“There can be a detachment when there is a traditional agent in the middle. Using an online agent meant we could deal with the buyer immediately and there was no waiting around overnight for answers. I would definitely recommend it.”
“You don’t get the feedback with high-street agents”
Former BBC production coordinator Julie Field, 58, was fed up with having to keep to the office hours of high street agents, so she decided to sell online.
She sold her two-bedroom, semidetached terrace in Birmingham on HouseSimple.com in August 2016 for £153,000.
“I had sold property through high street agents in the past and found you don’t always get the feedback after the viewings due to their workload,” says Julie.
“When I came to sell again, I went online and saw HouseSimple had good reviews. Initially, I was nervous about it as I haven’t come through the ranks of the internet generation.”
HouseSimple charges £595 if you pay up front or £695 if you want to delay paying until you sell or six months after listing. There is also a no sale no fee option where the seller pays £195 upfront that is refunded if there is no sale, but you will be charged £1,190 if the property is sold.
Whichever plan you go for, the price includes professional photos, floor plans, listings on Rightmove and Zoopla, as well as support up to completion.
The prices are reduced if you use HouseSimple’s conveyancing or mortgage broking services.
HouseSimple estimates it can save sellers more than £5,000 on average. This is based on average asking prices on its website of £305,648 and users reporting high street agents charging commissions of 1.64%.
Julie says she found the experience scary at first as it is such a big transaction, but admits it is fine once you get over that initial hurdle and is already planning to sell her mother’s property using the same route.
“There is very little difference when it comes to negotiating offers, you have your dedicated agent, and when an offer came through they either emailed or called me,” she says.
“While [traditional] estate agents keep office hours, with HouseSimple you can go online and see if there is interest at any time of day. You can directly contact potential buyers and set up viewing dates and times.
“We had one frustrating couple who were interested and then disappeared. There are always time wasters, which I suppose may be filtered out with a high street agent.”
“We were just testing the market and ended up selling”
Retirees Peter and Helen Lech only put their four-bedroom Somerset property on the market in June 2016 because their daughter was selling hers and they wanted to see how much theirs was worth.
But Peter, 65, was put off by the commission charged by a local agent, so after seeing an advert for YOPA, he listed the property through it.
YOPA charges £780 to photograph, list and market a property, which can be paid either upfront or within six months. The fee is increased to £1,140 in some London postcodes.
Sellers have to pay extra for a premium listing on Rightmove and for accompanied viewings. All viewings and offers are then managed by the seller through the YOPA website.
For Peter, the £780 fixed fee was much cheaper than the 2.25% he was quoted from a local agent to sell his £280,000 property. Using the high street agent would have cost him £6,300 – £5,520 more than selling his home online.
“My wife got itchy feet and wanted to put our property on the market to see how much it was worth,” says Peter. “Our local agent was charging far too much and our biggest bugbear in the past has been a lack of communication from estate agents. “I am usually dubious about doing things online, but had seen YOPA advertised and decided to give it a try.
“An agent from YOPA called me back within half an hour and photos were arranged that weekend with viewings booked for the Monday.
There was no hard sell and I had researched local values that we both agreed on. “I was able to manage viewings and set my availability online and we quickly got an offer that we accepted. It was amazing how fast it went,” he adds.
“It was nicer to see the properties being sold without estate agents”
Newly engaged Mark Williams and Lili Jenkins purchased their first home together using Purplebricks. They paid £415,500 for a two bedroom flat in Islington, London and Mark, 25, who works in public relations, believes he paid less as the seller was paying lower fees so could take a cut-price offer.
He found it less stressful and more personal dealing directly with the seller.
“The properties that were being sold online were shown to us by the owners, whereas high street estate agents’ properties were shown by estate agents with a much harder sell,” says Mark.
“Generally, it was much nicer and more personal to view the property with the owner to show us around. We found the properties we were viewing with high street agents were more expensive. ”We had a really positive experience of viewings hosted by the owners of the property rather than an estate agent who didn’t necessarily know the answers to our questions.”
Mark says the viewings were set up quickly through the Purplebricks website and it was easy to make offers online and check if it was accepted.
”The negotiation all took place via the online offer tool. Once we offered, we had it accepted within hours,” he says.
“For us, there were no cons. However, I think some people need to be reminded constantly by an estate agent calling you. Purplebricks didn’t do that to us. This was good, as we
were being proactive but I imagine some people need the nudge.”
“We wanted to be in our first home by Christmas”
Laura Gichohi, 34, and her husband Joe, 32, had been saving for their first home and were keen to move in before Christmas.
The couple lead busy lives as Laura works full time as a social worker while Joe works for a charity, so they had little spare time to search for properties.
They were searching online in September and found a four-bedroom house in Swindon,
Wiltshire being advertised on Rightmove through online agent Settled.co.uk.
After discovering they were dealing with an online agent, Laura completed the website’s buyer questionnaire, which asks if you have a property to sell and if you need a mortgage and then shows which dates the sellers has available for a viewing.
You can then liaise directly with the seller about further viewings and making an offer.
“With a high street agent, you have to call them and then wait for them to call the owner and call you back, “ says Laura. “We both work full-time, so it is hard to be flexible and communicating direct with the sellers made it easier. We saw the property and made an offer through the site after a few days, which was accepted at 10pm that night.”
Settled, which charges sellers £399 to pay up front or £499 to pay three months after listing, does offer to help with negotiations, but Laura was happy to manage this herself.
“I felt confident liaising directly with the seller, that may not suit everybody, but this seemed more straightforward than the going back and forth with a high street agent,” says Laura.
They paid £250,000 and completed by mid-November, in plenty of time for Christmas.
“Buying online was a great, stress-free experience,” says Laura. "I would definitely do it again.”
“It’s good to be in control of such an emotive purchase”
Financial adviser Martin Stewart was an early adopter of online agents and came across HouseSimple when trying to buy a family home in 2010.
He found a three-bedroom property in Tunbridge Wells, Kent that was listed on Zoopla and found it easy to deal directly with the seller.
“We sourced the property via usual online portals and viewed the property directly with the owner who was able to confirm all we needed to know about the property and the local area,” says Martin. “The owner was very accommodating and allowed us to roam and rummage where we wanted to and time and space to explore.”
Martin, 47, says he didn’t miss having a middleman. “I’ve always felt the home-buying process was flawed by vendor and buyer not being able to liaise closer together,” he says.
“On such an emotive purchase, a degree of paranoia always seeps in when you get information through a third party which is not always easily validated,” he adds.