Who needs an es­tate agent?

Sell­ing your own home, and sav­ing thou­sands of pounds in the process, is catch­ing on. Max David­son re­ports

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Growingpla­ces -

Bladon, in Ox­ford­shire – a quin­tes­sen­tial English vil­lage. Hol­ly­hocks. Golden retriev­ers. Weath­er­beaten old cot­tages. For Sale signs dot­ted along the main street. Es­tate agents do nicely in Bladon.

But the most in­trigu­ing sign, out­side a pic­turesque 300-year-old cot­tage, has the magic words “By private sale” at the bot­tom. An­nie and Kevin Morgan are mov­ing house and they are not go­ing to pay an es­tate agent if they can pos­si­bly help it. Why should they? They are young, they are op­ti­mists and they have found a bet­ter way – or they think they have.

“We did our sums,” says An­nie, dan­dling her baby on her knee, “and worked out that we would have to pay an agent more than £4,000 to sell the house, which has been val­ued at £279,000. Home-own­ers have got so used to fork­ing out that sort of money when they move house that they just fac­tor it into their bud­get. But it is not com­pul­sory, is it?”

Spurred on by her fa­ther, who once sold a house by cob­bling to­gether a “For Sale” sign from car num­ber plates, she de­cided to mar­ket the house in­de­pen­dently, post­ing its de­tails on the prop­erty web­site www.home. co.uk and hop­ing that the For Sale sign would at­tract ca­sual vis­i­tors to the vil­lage.

The cou­ple are not alone in turn­ing their back on es­tate agents. Thou­sands are do­ing the same.

“Ex­act fig­ures for private sales are un­avail­able,” says Mark Des­vaux, of the prop­erty web­site www. houseweb.co.uk. “But the trend is def­i­nitely up­ward. We con­ducted a sur­vey in 2001 which sug­gested that about 5 per cent of homes were sold pri­vately. To­day, that fig­ure would prob­a­bly be close to 10 per cent. There has been a no­table change in our whole at­ti­tude to prop­erty-sell­ing.”

Mr Des­vaux set up his site in 1996, when sell­ing prop­erty on the net was a pi­o­neer­ing con­cept. Al­though the trend has been com­par­a­tively slow to catch on, the fact that it has done so is ev­i­denced by the large num­ber of sim­i­lar web­sites. For Mr Des­vaux, per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant statis­tic is the fact that 90 per cent of peo­ple who have sold their homes pri­vately have vowed never to use es­tate agents again.

Terry Gill­ham, who set up the web­site www.myprop­erty for­sale.co.uk five years ago, agrees. “We have more than 1,000 prop­er­ties on our site at any one time, so there is no short­age of de­mand for our ser­vice.”

Users tend to fall into two cat­e­gories, he said: first-time sell­ers, typ­i­cally of­fer­ing a one- or two-bed­room flat in or­der to buy a house. And peo­ple sell­ing much more valu­able prop­er­ties, cost­ing up­wards of £750,000, who re­sent the thump­ing com­mis­sions they have to pay.

But the wind of change is blow­ing through the prop­erty world. That much is ac­knowl­edged by es­tate agents, who not only have web­sites of their own but are quite pre­pared to ad­ver­tise prop­er­ties on sites such as Houseweb, know­ing that from there they will be posted on other sites, where they will po­ten­tially be viewed by mil­lions. Houseweb alone has 250,000 vis­i­tors a month and www.tele­graph.co.uk/ prop­erty re­cently had a reader of­fer to ad­ver­tise self­sales for free.

So will es­tate agents be­come a thing of the past? “No way,” says Paul Morgan, of Reeds Rains es­tate agency, in Durham. “Peo­ple who use th­ese vir­tual es­tate agents, as I call them, are lay­ing them­selves wide open to be­ing ripped off. They are ba­si­cally just pay­ing £150 to get a pho­to­graph of their prop­erty on a web­site. How do they vet the peo­ple who come to view their house? What do they do if their buyer tries to beat them down over the price af­ter a sur­vey? How do they han­dle any prob­lems over mort­gage ne­go­ti­a­tions?

“There are a lot of hid­den traps in prop­erty-sell­ing that es­tate agents are trained to deal with. You get what you pay for in this busi­ness.”

Job done: An­to­nia Evans, who sold her own home on the in­ter­net, at her new house in Worces­ter Park, Sur­rey

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