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Should I use an online estate agent to sell my home?

Using an online agent to sell your home can save you hundreds or thousands of pounds. But can you trust them to handle your most important financial transaction? We take a look at the pros and cons of online estate agents to help you decide. So whether you're thinking of PurpleBricks, eMoov, Tepilo, HouseSimple or YOPA, you'll know what to watch for

Why should I use an online estate agent?

Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of online agents is the savings you can make. High street agents typically charge around 1.5% of the price achieved. Even with a commission of 1.5% this means you will pay £4,500 if you sell your home for £300,000. This seems extortionate compared to fees charged by online agents where packages range from about £200 to £1000.

Our comparison table identifies the main players in the market at the moment

Can I trust online estate agents?

There is no law stopping either you or me from setting up as an estate agent tomorrow – on the high street or online. So how do you ever know if they are legitimate?

All agents must be a member of one of three grievance bodies who can pursue your claims should things go wrong: the Property Ombudsman, the Ombudsman Services Property and as of 2014 the Property Redress Scheme. However, their powers are limited so don’t make the mistake of taking it as a stamp of approval.

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What do I need to watch for when using an online agent?

There are a couple of issues you need to be aware of when using an online agent:

  • First, you often have to pay up-front. That means that if the agent fails to sell your property you have lost that money. You might think the deferred payment option that many online agents offer would be a way round that but beware: you will have to pay this usually at the 10 or 12 month point whether you have sold or not. And these pay later deals often involve you signing up to a credit or loan agreement with a third party organisation so the agent can ensure they get their money back.
  • Second, check the fee advertised isn’t conditional on you using the agent’s in-house services, like their recommended mortgage broker or conveyancer. This shouldn’t be allowed but does happen. It’s important you’re able to shop around for the best deal.
  • Third, speak to the online agent and check their package includes everything you would expect. No one online agent is the same and they all offer different deals. You should also ask to see the contract if there is one to check tie-in period and other contract terms.
  • Fourth, ask the online agent you’re considering instructing how they vet potential buyers to minimise the risk of time wasters or a sale falling through due to lack of funds

How will people find my property?

Like high street estate agents, online agents use Zoopla, Rightmove and other property portals to market your property. So while people won’t find your photo in a high street agents’ window as they go for a stroll on a Sunday afternoon, serious buyers will regularly check the portals. You will want to look at the different agents’ marketing packages. “For Sale” boards are also offered by online agents – but double check that they will erect the sign for you.

Will I need to arrange viewings?

Most online agents will arrange the viewings for you and keep you updated by phone or using a dedicated online site just for you- but they won’t usually attend.

If you work full time an open day where all potential buyers view the property in one day might be a good option. Discuss this with your estate agent.

Will I need to conduct viewings?

In most cases, yes. The online agent will not attend the viewings. Some agents will offer to attend viewings and show prospective buyers around at an additional cost which can soon mount up.

Increasingly “hybrid agents” offer to conduct viewings as part of their standard package price.

Different online agents have different packages so compare who does what and how they are rated on our online estate agent comparison table.

What is a “Hybrid Agent”?

“Hybrid agents” like PurpleBricks are online agents that also offer services traditionally only delivered by high street agents. In particular they conduct viewings for you using a local property “expert”. This makes their packages more expensive than other online agents.

Before going with an hybrid agent that offers to conduct viewings, you should ask:

  • are your local experts qualified estate agents?
  • how big a local area do they cover? (you want reassurance that the local expert isn’t covering so large an area that they will struggle to attend your viewings)
  • are there any additional costs when the local expert conducts viewings?

How will an online agent value my home?

As online agents operate from nationwide call centres they are likely to have limited local knowledge, so valuing your house is often done using online data. That’s fine as a guide but you really need people with local knowledge to help you set the right asking price. Be warned that this can also be the case with “hybrid agents” that use local property “experts”; the scale of the geographical areas each local expert covers usually means they don’t know the specifics of your local market.

This shortcoming is easily overcome by asking three local high street agents to value your home before deciding whether to opt to go on-line. See our guide on selling your home for the right price

You can find the best high street agent in your local area by using our free online estateagent4me tool now

Will the online agent negotiate a final deal with my buyers?

Some online agents will take offers, discuss them with you and negotiate the price for you, while others will leave it up to you. Don’t want to haggle? Then choose an online agent who will do it for you. Before deciding, take a look out our free guide on negotiating the right price

Will they really care about my sale if I pay up-front rather than on commission when a sale is achieved?

Arguably, online estate agents do not have the same commission based incentive as a high street agent to get you (and them) the highest price possible, whereas high street agents will apply their experience and skills to do so. Assuming your high street agent knows what they are doing, of course.

Online agents would argue that if they didn’t do all they could to help customers sell their homes and provide a great service, then they would be out of business.

Will the photos be professional?

Yes. A quick look on Zoopla or Rightmove and you will be able to see the quality of photo used by the online agents you are considering. And just with high street agents you can opt for additional virtual tours and 360 degree photos.

Is an online agent right for me? 

Yes, if:

  • You have time and don’t mind conducting the viewings – or are happy paying more for a hybrid agent
  • You like to feel like you’re in charge of the process of selling your home
  • You think you are better placed to sell your home
  • You don’t want to pay thousands to an estate agent when it feels like Zoopla and Rightmove do most of the sales work
  • You can find the online agent that provides the right package and services for you

 


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13 Comments

  1. Thanks, your site is a mine of useful information for the prospective seller using on line agents its made me aware of things I had never considered

    Comment by Keith Clark — September 21, 2017 @ 11:54 am

  2. Thanks Richard. It depends on the individual online agent whether they vet buyers and provide sale progression, so we’ll make that a point to ask when choosing an agent as well as highlighting the fact most demand a fee is paid up-front.

    Comment by AKerr — August 2, 2017 @ 11:45 am

  3. So many additional cons left out from this article.

    Most online estate agents demand the fee be paid up front and is non refundable therefore if after 6 months you don’t sell your house you will not get any money back.

    They don’t vet buyers ability to actually buy the house. I know 1 friend who had an offer through accepted it and was told the house was then off the market. 2 months later it was finally discovered the buyer had no mortgage and couldn’t get one. High street estate agents generally won’t even conduct viewings without being sure the buyer is genuine.

    The estate agent will push through the sale helping explain any issues and how they can be resolved.

    Comment by Richard — July 31, 2017 @ 8:03 am

  4. We have just been the victims of credit card fraud through the use of an online agent. It is possible, of course, that this could happen with a local/established agent but I feel the latter would have been more astute in assessing the potential viewer as bona fide or not.
    Let this be a warning to all those who hope to sell their home on the cheap.
    We were called by our online agent to arrange a viewing. We have a lovely country property . A couple came along and perhaps alarm bells did ring when they expressed no interest in viewing the land , a major feature of our property. We allowed them to tour the house unaccompanied . They seemed enthusiastic and said they would return on another day to view the land. It was raining on the day they visited so that seemed appropriate. Within 48 hours all our credit cards /accounts were hacked and thousands of pounds of Apple iphones were purchased. This has caused no end of stress and inconvenience. And we have wasted time and probably lost the house we wanted to buy

    Comment by Mrs MJL Bending — February 27, 2016 @ 7:06 am

  5. Lets get something straight here, online estate agents are not set up and run by butchers or bakers who have no idea about property, they are set up and run by real property experts, 97% of people looking for their next home use rightmove, i recently sold my property, i asked a local chain agent to come and value my house, i asked him what he thought about online estate agents, and he turned into a raving lunatic becoming more and more desperate for me sign up there and then, well that made me feel rather angry and so i used an online agent who valued, marketed and sold my property for the price a wanted and they saved me £4000, i will never use a high street agent again and neither will any of my friends or family. The end is nigh for high street agents and they just can’t come to terms with the fact that one day soon they will be out of business, good riddance to fleecing swines.

    Comment by John — February 26, 2016 @ 10:18 pm

  6. Online estate agent Purplebricks have been around for 2 years now. They are the biggest online agent in the country in terms of stock. They are yet to make a profit.

    Emoov are the second largest online agent in terms of stock and have been around for 6 years. They are yet to make a profit.

    The ‘online estate agent’ business model is unsustainable, and any homeowners using this site would be wise to do some research and dig a little deeper about what it is these online agents actually offer.

    Sure they can work if your house is in a prime area of London or a few other select places of the UK, however 97%+ of homeowners still use full service local estate agents, despite online only property listing companies being around for almost 10 years now.

    If you are happy to pay between £400 and £800 upfront (no motivation to work hard as they already have your money), accompany all viewings (security risk) and deal with someone at a call center miles away (with no local knowledge of property prices or good relationships with local surveyors/solicitors), then by all means give one of these companies a try.

    Selling a house can be a very timely, stressful and life-disrupting event, and having a local expert at hand whenever you need them should be top of your priorities. Of course some estate agents offer poor service and are not transparent about fees, but the majority will be happy to work hard for their fee and even negotiate on it if you ask! It is up to you the homeowner to read through contracts carefully and select a good local estate agent based on reputation.

    And yes, I am an estate agent.

    Comment by Pat — January 28, 2016 @ 11:16 am

  7. Horses for courses in truth. Finding a good agent by word of mouth, also/and researching the sale figures for each agent is a good place to begin. Someone with a professional approach and a sound knowledge of his/her practice makes all of the difference.

    Comment by ‘Glen at AP lawyers’. — January 12, 2016 @ 10:49 am

  8. This has to be the most inaccurate write up i have read regarding this topic. A House for most people in the UK is their biggest purchase/ asset. There is a place for online agents in the market and that place is for the cheap people just like lettings.. if a landlord is looking for cheap fee’s then expect a cheap service.

    You get what you pay its that simple.. However selling a house is different from selling a new phone on eBay or online. Like i said above this is most people’s biggest asset so meeting a local Agent and finding the right guy/girl who you think will sell your house well for you is key and who better to do that then someone local, Someone who knows the little differences that an online agent wouldn’t such as the pie shop at the bottom of the road will tailor make pies of your choice etc. You just cant compete with that level. They work in yoru best interest because they are commission driven.

    Comment by Tesh — December 21, 2015 @ 10:17 am

  9. Once you pay an upfront fee, there is no incentive for anyone to want to promote your house unlike an agent who will get paid if he sells your house.its a 50/50, worth apunt first by yourself,if you have half a brain to know the value of your house, else you could have wasted a LOT of money , under valuing and selling your property.

    Comment by JO ADVANI — September 20, 2015 @ 9:45 am

  10. Just so you know, I am happy to see this post. Now I got an idea to seek a real estate agent’s help in property selling. Thanks to you..

    Comment by Jimmy — September 14, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

  11. Are you certain of the Sales figures that you are stating in your comparison chart. Eg 700 Sales since 2006 = Income of approx. 28000.00 Over 8 Years doesn’t seem like a business ?? At these rates of sales how are these companies staying afloat ?/

    Comment by philip dillon — January 2, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

  12. Thank you Trevor for your comment. You’re quite right that a new redress scheme set up a few months ago in response to the fact all agents – including property management and letting agents – needed to be part of a redress scheme come 1st October. We have added them to the list accordingly.

    We however disagree that our article is balanced towards “budget” agents. The article is entitled “Should I use and Online agents” and clearly states why consumers might use one. It also gives the reasons why they might not.

    Online estate agents offer consumers a viable and affordable option to sell their home. We welcome their presence in the market as they offer consumers more choice. We have several others guides that explain how to get the best out of your estate agent – high street or online. All of these are written to enable consumers to feel more “in the know” when they come to selling their home.

    The presence of adverts on our site aims to make the process of shopping around online more straightforward for our readers and allows us to earn some income to cover our costs. It is important to us that the information we provide is independent and trustworthy and the editorial line remains independent of any influence. We have only allowed the major players that we have researched, to satisfy ourselves they have a decent offer, to take an ad.

    The HomeOwners Alliance Team

    Comment by AKerr — November 12, 2014 @ 11:51 am

  13. Your article: Should I use an online estate agent to sell my home?

    The article is inaccurate in places, such as saying there are two redress schemes when in fact there is three – and bias to providing an opinion that favours budget agents over traditional agents.

    Budget agents charge budget fees and as such can not do some marketing traditional agents do – being main/sub agency. As such a main agent will often get other higher offers that had they been just a sole agent. Budget agents are always sole agents.

    On the page you then show budget agent adverts from housesimple and emoov, plus mention Purple Bricks. All of which can not offer main/sub agency.

    As appearing as a consumer group your section on estate agents is weighted in one direction which is unfair to those wanting a balanced view of estate agency services.

    Trevor Mealham
    INEAmls idx
    The Independent Network of Estate Agents

    Comment by Trevor Mealham — November 10, 2014 @ 10:12 am

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