Online estate agents

Find out how online estate agents work, whether they could save you money and why you might want to use one.

Selling your home can be an expensive process, with estate agent fees running into thousands of pounds.

To save money, you could choose to side-step estate agent fees altogether by selling your home privately. But doing so can be stressful and time-consuming and you won’t necessarily get the best price for your property.

Fortunately, there is another option – using an online estate agent. You’ll get the help and support you need selling your home, but you’ll also save money on fees.

What is an online estate agent?

Online estate agents are simply estate agents that operate via websites and call centres, rather than a high street store. Because their overheads are lower and they tend to offer a more basic service than high street agents, they can offer lower fees to those who use them.

Some online estate agents operate strictly online only and you’ll be expected to do a lot of the hard work yourself. You will usually need to carry out viewings and deal with buyer negotiations, as well as take photos and accurately list details about the property as part of your advertisement.

There are also hybrid agencies. These also operate online, but offer some of the services traditionally offered by high street agents – they hire local agents to help you with viewings and negotiate offers, for example. This can make them more expensive than other online agents.

How does an online estate agent work?

With the growing popularity of hybrid agencies, such as Purplebricks, many online estate agents now offer add-ons so that you can choose how much support you want with selling your home.

For example, many online agents will value and market your property, take professional photos of your home, create an advert and deal with property viewings. You can also opt for your agent to handle negotiations on your behalf. The more support you require, the more you will usually pay.

Online agent Strike, for example, offers a completely free package which includes expert valuation, photos, a floor plan, a For Sale sign, listings on Rightmove and Zoopla and sale negotiation. However, if you want help with viewings, you’ll need to upgrade to the hosted viewings service which costs £699. And if you want professional video trailers and a premium listing on Rightmove, this will cost you £599.

How do the fees work?

Online estate agents usually charge a flat fee which can vary between £0 and £1,999 depending on the agency used and the type of package you’re after.

This fee remains the same, no matter what your home sells for. In comparison, high street agents usually charge you a percentage of your property’s selling price, making it far more expensive. For example, if a high street estate agent charged 2% and you sold your property for £270,000, you’d be charged £5,400.

However, the downside of online estate agent fees is that you will usually be asked to pay upfront and you will have to pay the fee whether your home sells or not. That said, some online estate agents, such as Yopa, offer a “no sale, no fee” option where you only pay the fee if your home sells. Just be aware that the prices tend to be higher compared to other online agents.

In a few cases, you might be able to defer payment until the 10th or 12th month, but it’s important to check the small print first to make sure you understand how this works. Some deferred payments involve entering into a credit agreement with a third party, so be sure you’re comfortable with this before signing anything.

How are property valuations conducted?

This will depend on the type of online estate agent you use. If you use an agent that’s strictly online only, it might use online data to calculate how much your home is worth.

If you use a hybrid agent, on the other hand, it will likely send someone out to your home to provide a valuation. However, be aware that this regional representative might not have as much knowledge of the local area and property market as a high street agent would, which means your valuation might be lower.

If you’re not happy with your valuation, you can choose to get a separate valuation carried out by other agents and choose an average, or carry out your own research of what homes have recently sold for in your area.

How will my property be marketed and sold?

When you choose to sell your home through an online estate agent, the agent will list your property on its own website as well as through online property portals including Rightmove and Zoopla. You may also have a For Sale board erected outside your home, though this will depend on the package you’ve chosen.

It’s important to check how long your property will be advertised for, if it’s not already been made clear to you. This will usually be 12 months, but according to HomeOwners Alliance, some agents only offer a 6-month marketing period, after which time, if your home has not sold, you will have to pay to extend advertising.

How are viewings carried out?

If you haven’t paid extra, you will usually be required to carry out property viewings yourself. The other option is to upgrade your package and ask the online agent to carry out viewings on your behalf, or at least accompany you. Always speak to the agent to understand how many viewings will be included in the additional price, who will conduct them and how it will work.

What are my rights when using these services?

The same regulations that apply to high street estate agents also govern online estate agents. Online agents must be members of a government-approved redress scheme, either the Property Ombudsman Limited or the Property Redress Scheme, which you can turn to if you have a problem.

All estate agents must abide by the Estate Agents Act 1979, which sets out minimum standards of conduct.

How do I communicate with an online agent?

Contact with your online agent will usually be by email or over the phone. There might also be an online portal you can use to access helplines or chat services 24/7.

If your package includes photos, floor plans and viewings, you will also be able to meet your local property expert face-to-face.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Using an online estate agent could save you thousands of pounds compared to a high street agent – the more expensive your home, the more you’ll save.
  • You can pick and choose which elements you want included in your package and what steps you’re happy to carry out yourself.
  • Speaking to your agent online can often be more convenient and call centres are often open at weekends and in the evening.
  • There’s often no contract period so you may be able to instruct other estate agents if you wish to.

Cons

  • Dealing with negotiations and managing communications with buyers and solicitors can be time-consuming and stressful.
  • You might have to carry out all the viewings yourself, which means you’ll need to be available weekends and evenings.
  • You will usually have to pay fees upfront.
  • You may not get the best price for your property – regional representatives might not have the local knowledge and because you’re charged a flat fee, not commission, there’s less incentive for the agent to get the best price possible.

Bottom line

There’s a lot to be said for using an online estate agent when selling your home. Traditional high street agents can cost thousands of pounds, so using an online agent is an easy way to slash those costs.

However, it’s important that you do your research before taking the plunge. Make sure you understand how much homes in your area typically sell for so that you don’t feel short-changed later on. Understand exactly what will and what won’t be included as part of your package. And make sure you’re completely comfortable with everything you’ll be expected to do – whether that’s taking photos and creating an advert for your home, carrying out viewings or negotiating with buyers.

Frequently asked questions

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