Should I use an online estate agent to sell my home?
Using an online estate 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 how they work, what they charge and the pros and cons of online estate agents to help you decide. So whether you're thinking of PurpleBricks, HouseSimple or YOPA, you'll know what to watch for
What is an online estate agent and why should I use one?
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.
An online estate agent is an alternative – and usually much cheaper option – to a high street estate agent that you instruct to sell your home.
When they first emerged more than 10 years ago the service offered by online estate agents was very hands-off leaving you, the seller, to write up the marketing information and conduct the viewings. But in recent years, in an attempt to win over more customers, the bare-bones online estate agents have added to their packages and offer a more “hybrid” estate agency option.
With the recent success of PurpleBricks home sellers now benefit from the reduced costs of a call centre operating online, but also have access to “local property experts” to get your property details and photos online and conduct viewings.
What are the benefits of online estate agents?
Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of online estate agents is the savings you can make. The cheapest will market your home for just £99 including VAT and the most expensive charges £995 including VAT. It’s not unusual to pay extra if you want the online estate agent to do things like conduct viewings or negotiate with potential buyers.
In comparison, high street brands charge an average of 1.8%, according to a 2018 study by Lloyd’s Bank. So, if you sell your home for £300,000, you’d have to pay a high street agent £5,400 in commission.
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
The pros of an online estate agent:
- Savings – You can save thousands – yes thousands – of pounds in fees using an online rather than high street estate agent
- Transparency – Online agents display their fees openly on their websites inclusive of VAT. They also make the whole process, from writing the marketing advert to the follow up steps, open to the customer, usually through a dedicated online dashboard system
- Feeling in control – You can manage everything online when it’s convenient for you
- Flexible packages and prices – You can find the right package that suits the level of support you need and the price you can afford
The cons of using an online estate agent:
- Paying up front – In most cases you have to pay online estate agents up front – rather than on completion of your sale. If your property doesn’t sell, you want to switch from the online estate agent or they go out of business (like eMoov did in 2018, and House Network in 2019), then you’ll lose your money. Some online estate agents offer packages that allow you to pay on completion but they are usually more expensive. Others offer deferred payment option 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.
- Valuing your home– even those online agents with “local property experts” often aren’t local enough to know your area and your road well enough to value it accurately. They will likely value your house using online data but is unlikely to have the local expertise a high street agent has.
- In house services – 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
- Time commitment – Managing everything yourself can take up more time than if you had a very good high street estate agent dealing with everything for you.
- Conducting viewings – Where you opt not to pay extra to have viewings conducted for you, you need to be comfortable showing people around your home. Some people enjoy this and think they’ll do a better job than any estate agent. Others find it stressful and time consuming.
- Unusual properties – If your home won’t be easy to sell, you may struggle without the expertise of a local, high street agent
- Sales progression and negotiation – While in reality you’ll still need to chase progress whichever agent you use, a good high street agent will be incentivised to progress the sale, talking to both sets of solicitors to get you to completion. Depending on your negotiation skills, a high street agent may be able to achieve a higher sale price than you or your online estate agent.
Can I trust online estate agents?
We quite often get asked if online estate agents can be trusted with the biggest transaction of someone’s lives. Estate agents don’t have the best reputation as a profession. In a recent survey 70% of people said they don’t trust estate agents to tell the truth, according to an Ipsos MORI Veracity index.
First up you must check that your estate agent – online or high street – is a member of one of two grievance bodies who can pursue your claims should things go wrong: the Property Ombudsman and the Property Redress Scheme. This gives an element of reassurance.
See what reviews say about them. This online estate agent comparison table shows our verdict, which is our opinion of the agent’s offering and gives their latest TrustPilot scores and reviews. Make sure you read the good and bad reviews to understand how people’s’ experience varies.
How popular are online estate agents?
Less than one in 10 people choose online estate agents over high street agents, according to HomeOwners Alliance research published in March 2018. And between July and September last year, online estate agents worked with just 7.2% of properties for sale, according to Twenty Ci data.
How will an online agent value my home?
As mentioned above online agents operate from nationwide call centres, and are likely to have limited local knowledge. This means that 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”, because the scale of the geographical areas each local expert covers usually means they don’t know the specifics of your local market and the houses like yours on your road.
This shortcoming is easily overcome by asking three local high street agents to value your home before deciding whether to opt to go online. See our guide on selling your home for the right price
How will people find my property?
Like high street estate agents, online agents use Zoopla, Rightmove, On The Market 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 the photos use by online estate agents be professional?
The quality of photos used by online estate agents is just as good as those from high street agents. Just a quick look on Zoopla or Rightmove will show you the quality of photos 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.
The cost of photography should be included in the package you choose – but you must check this, because some online estate agents may charge you extra. We believe this is an essential element of selling your house, because iPhone photos simply won’t do – so choose an agent that includes professional photos in their basic package.
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.
Will I need to conduct viewings?
In most cases, you’ll need to conduct viewings if you go with an online estate agent.
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.
You need an average of 4.9 viewings before you sell your house, according to HomeOwners Alliance research. With this in mind, we’ve researched how much each estate agent will charge to conduct five viewings, and outlined the costs in the table below.
Online estate agent fees for viewings
|Online estate agent||Fee per viewing||Fee for five viewings|
|Settled||Will not conduct viewings||–|
|easyProperty||Unlimited viewings package for £395||£395|
|housesimple||£35 per viewing plus £50 charge for key holding||££225
Also offer a package of 10 viewings and key holding for £295
|SellMyHome.co.uk||£50||Package of five viewings for £200|
|PurpleBricks||Viewings package||£300 (£399 in London)|
|Yopa||Unlimited viewings package||£300|
|99 home||Only available with high street package||–|
Fees checked and updated in January 2019
Different online agents have different packages – and change them often – so compare who does what and how they are rated on our online estate agent comparison table.
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. If you don’t want to haggle, you should choose an online agent who will do it for you. Before deciding, you need to think about the value of a good negotiator who may be able to nudge up any offers you receive, and decide if it’s worth the investment or you think you can do this well yourself. Take a look out our free guide on negotiating the right price.
Will an online estate agent 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 sale price possible. But 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.
How do I find the best online estate agent?
The best way to find the right online estate agent for you is to Compare online estate agents first. When selecting an agent, you should check:
- The prices that are transparently listed on our online agent comparison table
- Their TrustPilot user rating, and reviews written by other sellers
- Our verdict of the agent, which is an honest opinion of their offering
- How often they achieve the sale price
You can call the online estate agent, or visit their website, directly from our comparison tool – which means you could find the right company to sell your home within minutes.