Property special - Do it yourself

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Reluctant to hand over a wad of cash to an estate agent, a growing number of people are taking matters into their own hands and buying and selling their properties online

A survey by online listings company Gumtree found that nine out of ten people do not think estate agents justify their high fees, while 40% told the Office of Fair Trading they offer poor value for money. So the recent explosion of people deciding to take a do-it-yourself approach to selling their home is perhaps not surprising. With agents typically charging between 1-2% on sales (over £2000 on the sale of an average home in Scotland) the appeal is obvious. Recently a myriad of websites where the self-seller can advertise for a small fee have sprung up. Gumtree.com has reported that listings for property sales have doubled in less than a year, while online estate agents, with much lower charges, are also emerging.

Following a bad experience with an estate agent, Maureen Paterson from Edinburgh decided to go it alone. She registered her southside flat with houseladder.co.uk, whose £119 package includes an advert with 12 photos, which it claims can be accessed by over three million people on their partner sites. Meanwhile putting a board outside your home costs £30.

For Paterson, the major appeal was that it put her in control. ‘My previous estate agent was also sharing information with the seller and I didn’t see why I should pay such high fees if that was the case.’ Self selling is definitely something Paterson would encourage other people to do. ‘The internet has changed everything,’ she says. ‘Fewer and fewer people will be prepared to pay estate agent fees.’

Property consultant and author Kate Faulkner says: ‘The tremendous benefit of selling your property yourself is saving on fees. It also means you have more control over how the sale is managed.’ As eight out of ten buyers start their search online it also makes sense. However, Faulkner advises thinking carefully about how much work is involved. Accept that as sole contact, you will have to make yourself available at all times. ‘People will always politely tell you your home is lovely, whereas they might be more upfront with an agent about what they think is wrong, allowing you to change it. Alternatively, they might tell you your home is horrible because they are hoping for a better price.’

A good compromise is to agree with an agent to use a sell-it-yourself site in conjunction with agency services, avoiding fees if you get the sale first, though you may have to agree a higher fee if the agency finds a buyer more quickly. If you do opt to use an agent, make sure you take control. ‘Always try to negotiate,’ says Faulkner. ‘If you receive differing evaluations, make sure they can prove they have sold comparable properties in that price bracket within six weeks.’ One approach may be to offer to pay commission on a sliding scale with one rate up to the minimum offer you’d accept, and a higher rate thereafter. ‘Estate agents are top negotiators,’ she says. ‘That’s their job. Use it to your advantage.’

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