28 December 2017

Is an online estate agent the right way to sell your house?

With a new year just around the corner, many of us will be looking to make a change in our lives in 2018, whether that's a new job or even moving house.

If you're thinking about moving, it's more important than ever to get the best possible price for your home as prices continue to rise. And that means choosing the right estate agent.

In the past, it was simple - most of us would just go for an agent with an office on the local high street. But with the rise of the online estate agent, we've got more options open to us.

So how are online estate agents different from the agents you see on the high street? And how do you work out which is best for you?

It's all about the fees

The big difference with online estate agents - indeed, the main selling point - is the fee. Online estate agents generally charge flat fees and can work out much cheaper than going with a high street agent.

For example, online agents might charge you £300-£1,500, but a high street agent will charge a percentage of the price you get for your property. So you could pay a more substantial fee to a high street agent for a higher-value property.

However, it's not quite as simple as it might appear. A high street agent will only charge a fee if they actually sell the property, but an online agent often charges fees that are payable up front. Critics argue that this removes the incentive for online agents to actually do whatever they can to sell the property.

What's more, some online agents charge extra fees for services that you might imagine should be included; for example, some charge extra for including floorplans or photos.

It still might work out cheaper for you to use an online agent, but it's vital that you understand exactly what you're paying for from the start. All agents offer slightly different packages.

Are you happy handling viewings?

Another service online agents charge an additional fee for is accompanied viewings. If you go with an online agent, you'll either have to pay the extra, or handle the viewings yourself.

This is an important consideration. Do you feel comfortable taking on the role of salesman, showing strangers around your home, and hearing their criticisms? You'll also need to make sure you're free in the evenings and weekends, when most viewings take place.

Another important benefit to using a high street agent is the local knowledge they can offer, in terms of what is most important to buyers in the area and what prices are most achievable. This is not something that you will be able to tap into with an online agent.

Can you trust an online estate agent?

There's no doubt that for some sellers, using an online agent rather than a high street firm delivers big savings on fees. But it's worth noting that online agents have repeatedly been pulled up by the  (This link will open in a new window)Advertising Standards Authority for potentially misleading claims in their advertisements.

These have ranged from exaggerated claims about the size of the saving compared to a high street agent to not being completely transparent about their fees. This has even led the  (This link will open in a new window)consumer champion Which? to issue a warning, urging homebuyers to be wary of the claims made by online agents.

This all highlights the importance of doing thorough research in advance, so you understand exactly what you're paying for and what level of service you can expect.

Online vs high street

There is no right answer on which type of agent is best; ultimately, it comes down to your personal circumstances, how important reducing the fee is and how comfortable you feel about handling some of the legwork associated with selling a property.

If you're happy taking a hands-on role and want to keep costs as low as possible then an online agent may be the option for you. But some people will always prefer the expertise and knowledge on offer from high street agents.

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About the author

John Fitzsimons

John Fitzsimons is an award-winning financial journalist who has written for publications including the Sunday Times, The Mirror, Forbes, Moneywise and loveMONEY.

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