The pros and cons of online estate agents
Selling your house is stressful and expensive but if you could cut your fees by using an online estate agent would you?
Homebuyers, sellers and prospective renters are increasingly turning to the internet to make their move.
Online estate agents work in a 24-hour world, catering to people who can’t visit an office during the week.
They also offer substantially lower fees for pretty much the same service so could they be the final nail in the coffin of traditional estate agents?
Online estate agents
The largest low-cost online site is eMoov, with more than 1,000 properties on its books. It was set up four years ago by Russell Quirk who says people no longer need the traditional “hand holding agents” and are ready to forfeit this service for lower fees. Figures from the Property Ombudsman show that we paid out over £2 billion in fees to 'traditional' estate agents in 2012.
Most online companies will offer a flat fee for a package which includes: an advert, professional photos, managed listings, 12-months of marketing, a floorplan image, valuation and online and phone assistance. Along with this, the property will also be listed on all the leading property websites, such as Rightmove, FindaProperty and Prime Location.
How much does it cost?
There is no set fee across estate agents, as they are largely unregulated, but most online fees lie around the £300 mark.
eMoov charges £395, for example, while My Online Estate Agent is cheaper at £325. There is also an option to pay a smaller amount upfront, and then more on completion, but this generally ends up being more expensive.
There's also lettingaproperty.com, which charges even less - £79 including VAT for its tenant-finding services per property. It also offers energy performance certificates, gas safety certificates, rent collection and a rent guarantee.
Some online estate agents, like HouseRevolution.com, really emphasise just how much cheaper they are than the traditional high street agents when it comes to fees.
It says it has “saved customers a total of £615,656 in traditional estate agent fees”, from selling over 270 properties at a cost of £60 million. The firm charges £999 plus VAT for selling a house.
Picking an agent
When it comes to cost alone, it’s cheaper to use an online estate agent, but this doesn’t mean everyone will want to go down this route.
There are also lots around so it can be hard finding the right one. Always check the company has a decent stock level, which will show that others have put their faith in them, and also make sure it’s a member of the Property Ombudsman Scheme and the National Association of Estate Agents.
If you need to make a complaint about an estate agent, be sure to read Complaints against estate agents at record high for a guide.
What the high street estate agents say
High street estate agents are obviously not too happy with the move online.
Jonathan Hudson, Managing Director for Hudsons Property, says online estate agents lack a personal service and are not skilled in showing a property and pointing out the unique selling points.
He also explains that they are unlikely to have good knowledge of the local market, such as recent sales and future developments, which high street agents will have.
But emoov's Russell Quirk argues that people today can find out all they need from the internet, such as local area maps and prices, and therefore don’t want or need to pay more for this. As estate agents have gained such a bad reputation for overcharging, people are now more likely to move away from the high street towards cheaper online companies.
He also slams the traditional model of “no sale no fee” which he says pushes up the price for everyone.
The death of the high street estate agent?
Both online and high street estate agents do pretty much the same thing but for significantly different costs.
Some people will be keener to go online, while others may prefer the more traditional face-to-face model of the high street.
However, when picking which one is right for you, Tracy Kellett, spokesperson for BDI Home Finders says most people want only two things - as little hassle as possible and maximising the best price.
In the house-selling process, she believes an estate agent is key and trying to save on the estate agents fee, through DIY “will almost always lead to a lower price, a longer process and big headaches”.
While the popularity of online estate agents is on the rise, it's unlikely it will lead to the end of the traditional high street estate agent.
This is because although the savings are significant, not everyone is happy to have the biggest financial transaction of their lives conducted online.
Would you use an online estate agent or do you think it would be too risky? Let us know in the Comments box below.
This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated