Who needs an estate agent?
Selling your own home, and saving thousands of pounds in the process, is catching on. Max Davidson reports
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