With property prices rising over the past year, those selling their homes have been potentially handing over larger sums to agents.
Fees usually amount to between 1 and 3.5 per cent of the purchase price, meaning a potential £8,750 outlay on the typical home.
And with the housing market so busy, it could be argued that each customer is receiving less attention than they normally would for that cost.
Rebekah England (centre) and Alex and Louise Wright both bought homes without agents
For those who are stretching their budget to the absolute limit, or perhaps have a grudge against estate agents from a past experience, the nuclear option is to go agent-free and take on the job themselves.
It is perfectly legal to sell – or buy – a home without the involvement of an agent. But whether or not it is a good idea is a matter of opinion.
According to Citizens Advice: ‘If you use an estate agent, it will be more expensive but the estate agent will take responsibility for advertising, showing potential buyers round, and negotiating a price for the house.
‘If you wish to find a buyer yourself, it will be cheaper but you will need the time to make all these arrangements and deal with any problems.’
Agents argue that their expertise and negotiating nous helps vendors get more money for their homes.
‘There are people who successfully sell their home without using an agent’, admits Nathan Emerson, chief executive of the estate agent membership body, Propertymark.
‘Anyone can sell anything for a certain price, but would they have had a better result if they had used an agent and had exposure to a wider marketplace? That is the unknown quandary.’
Worth it? Estate agents will charge up to 3.5% of the sale price to market your home, but some vendors prefer to take on the hard work themselves and save money
They also say that having them to handle things like viewings, negotiations, and chasing lawyers and will make the process quicker and less stressful, for both buyers and sellers.
‘Good agents will exhibit care and control of the selling process, keeping in touch with solicitors and other agents up and down the chain,’ says North London agent Jeremy Leaf.
‘This should always give a much better chance of that transaction not just getting to agreed terms, but over the finishing line as smoothly and efficiently as possible.’
But plenty of people have had different experiences, as shown below in our two case studies.
They say that being their own agent gave them more control, and that they were able to ask more questions and get more information about their new homes by speaking with the sellers directly rather than going through a middleman.
One even described the process as ‘enjoyable’.
If you are determined to market your house yourself, here are some steps to follow:
1. Decide how much to charge
There are some circumstances where being your own agent might make more sense, especially if you are selling a home that already has an established market value.
Leaf said: ‘Not using an agent to sell your home may be worthwhile if you are selling a property which is very similar to many others in a block of flats, or a development of houses where a going rate is established which is difficult to change up and down.’
If this isn’t the case, the first port of call for vendors is often online valuation tools, the kind of which are offered by lots of property websites.
These can give you an idea of how much your home might be worth, but they should be used with caution.
The figures are often based on previous property sales, which may have happened in different market conditions – and if there aren’t many examples to draw from, the figure you arrive at can be easily skewed by one anomalous price.
‘We have noticed too that many sellers place undue reliance on online valuation tools, which can be extremely misleading and unrepresentative,’ says Leaf.
It is often more useful to look at the asking prices of other, similar homes in your immediate local area.
Bear in mind that buyers often offer under the asking price, at least initially, so you may want to price it slightly higher than what you would like to get.
Estate agents often offer free valuations, though with some expectation that you will then list your property with them.
It’s also worth investigating whether you would be able to get planning permission to extend or remodel your home – and perhaps even applying for it.
Says Emerson: ‘Owners often don’t understand planning restrictions. Agents can spot when a property might be able to be put on the market for a higher value because it could be extended, for example.’
‘We sold our old house to a friend – and we didn’t fall out over it’
Alex Wright and his wife Louise have both bought and sold a home without the help of estate agents, as they were put off by a bad experience
Alex Wright, a 39-year-old managing director of marketing firm Knapton Wright, lives in Lincolnshire.
He and his wife Louise have both sold a home to friends without agents being involved, and bought a home agent-free.
While agents warn that selling homes to friends is best avoided because it might damage your relationship, Alex says his sale went smoothly – thanks in part to trips to the pub together during the process.
‘In 2013 we were living in Hertfordshire, and we wanted to move to Lincolnshire where my wife is from.
‘We initially spoke to an agent who came round and valued the property, but then I got a call out of the blue from one of my friends who asked if we would be interested in selling it to them.
‘I didn’t think an agent would have added any value at that point, so we agreed to drop the valuation price by the same amount that we would have paid in estate agent fees and sell the home to them.
‘When I called the agent to tell him, he went absolutely crazy at me – so I was glad we hadn’t used them.
‘The process did drag on longer than it might have done with an agent on board, but otherwise it went well.
‘One important thing was that we separated out the transaction from our friendship. We would still go out to the cinema or the pub with them during the process, and we agreed that, if everything went belly up, we would ‘hug it out’ and stay friends.
We agreed that, if everything went belly-up, we would ‘hug it out’ and stay friends
‘We also recently bought a house without using agents. My wife runs a farm in a very small village, and there aren’t many houses that come on to the market.
‘She had casually mentioned to a friend that she thought her Grandmother’s house was lovely.
‘A while later the Grandmother sadly died, and the friend came back to us and asked if we would be interested in buying it.
‘They had the home valued, but they weren’t open to negotiations – they said, “This is the price, you either pay it or you don’t”. We were happy with that, though.
‘Again the process was quite lengthy, and I think we would have felt more in the loop if there was an agent in the middle – but we would have ended up paying more for the house if the vendor had an agent’s fee to factor in.
‘Another benefit was that we got to build up a good relationship with the vendor, and reassure them that we were going to keep it as a family home.‘
2. Advertise your home as much as possible
One of the biggest drawbacks of selling your home without an agent is that you won’t be able to use the main property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla – as they only accept listings from agents.
Instead, you might look to advertise in a local newspaper, shop windows, a community website or even on social media.
Facebook, in particular, has groups you can join if you are looking to buy or sell a home in a certain area.
There are also websites dedicated to selling your home, including The House Shop, which is free, although you can pay up to £50 for a more prominent listing, and House Ladder which is also free but has premium options including things like videos which cost up to £150.
In general, you should use as many different methods as you can.
Emerson said: ‘Agents are using multiple marketing tools every single day. People who sell themselves using, for example, Facebook, are only exposing themselves to one core area of the market.
‘When people are selling their biggest asset, you want to expose it to the widest possible audience: not only to get the best price, but also to get the best buyer.’
Good things to include in your advert are plenty of pictures, room and garden sizes, fixtures and fittings, and the cost of things like council tax, and ground rents or maintenance charges if you live in a leasehold property or flat.
A home’s Energy Performance Certificate rating must also be included on any adverts.
The certificate is produced by an accredited domestic energy assessor, which you will need to pay for if you don’t already have one.
You will then need to give access to it, free of charge, to any potential buyers.
‘I found my dream home by posting a wanted ad online’
Rebekah England is the managing director of holiday cottage rental company, Bolthole Retreats, based in the Cotswolds.
As well as seeing homes bought and sold without agents in her professional life, she recently found her own property without agents after becoming frustrated with the frenzied property market and posting an advert online.
Rebekah England bought a new home in the Cotswolds after posting an advert online
‘In the holiday let market, buyers often seek out another holiday let buyer themselves, so they can sell their property on with their future bookings and even the fixtures and fittings intact.
‘At the moment, the market’s being led by Londoners who aren’t always around for viewings, so agents will often just show a house for two days and then close it down. It can be much easier to get a private sale.
‘Recently we were looking to buy a property in the Cotswold market, which has gone absolutely mad in the past year.
‘Even offering well over the asking price, you were going in to sealed bids and people were paying well over the asking price. In one bidding war we were in, the eventual buyer paid £100,000 more.
‘The day after we lost that property I decided I was at the end of my tether with it, so I posted a ‘home wanted’ ad on a local community website.
‘Six people got back to me, including one vendor who had had sales on her property fall through three times.
‘The seller of the house we eventually bought, the said people had been offering well over the asking price and then not being able to get a mortgage on it. She wanted a hassle-free sale.
‘It was the most enjoyable property buying experience I have ever had. We were on the phone, emailing and messaging on Whatsapp every week.
‘Asking questions was so much easier, as agents can often take 10 days to get back.
‘We were able to view the house multiple times and even get quotes for work that we wanted to do.’
Grindstone Mill, one of the Cotswolds holiday homes rented by Bolthole Retreats. England says people selling holiday lets often find it easier to go agent-free.
3. Decide which offer to accept
If you don’t have an agent, you will have to negotiate yourself. You don’t have to accept the first offer that you get, or even the person who offers the most money – and you are free to change your mind even after you have accepted.
Consider whether the buyer is in a chain, as selling to a first-time buyer or someone who has already sold their home and is temporarily renting can be much quicker.
To reduce the risk of fall-throughs, you should also be confident that the offer you accept is from a buyer that is committed to buying the home and in a position to move forward.
According to Citizens’ Advice: ‘You should bear in mind that when an offer is made and accepted the potential buyer can also withdraw – for example, they may not get a mortgage, or the survey may show up some structural problem.
‘If you are selling, it may be a good idea to keep the names and addresses of all potential buyers who make offers, in case the one you accept falls through.’
You will want to find out whether they are paying in cash, which could make the process quicker, or will be applying for a mortgage.
Ask whether they have found a buyer for their own home, and whether their moving timeline aligns with your own.
They may have a fixed deadline in mind, such as the start of the new school year, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your own circumstances.
Choosing to sell your home with an estate agent can mean it is marketed to a much wider pool of potential buyers, increasing the chance that you will get a good price
4. Keep the process together
Once you’ve got an offer, you will need to go through the legal process and surveys – and without an agent, you will be responsible for keeping the process moving.
‘People don’t realise that estate agents have a huge influence in keeping transactions together,’ says Emerson.
‘They are working with solicitors and resolving issues, collecting documentation, renegotiating, dealing with surveyors, dealing with the works that come out of surveys.’
If the person on the other end of your transaction is using an agent then they may take on some of the burden in the spirit of keeping things going – but the whole process is likely to take longer.
As out case studies show, keeping the lines of communication open with your buyer is essential – so be prepared to be on hand to answer questions or provide information when needed.
Being your own agent might be the cheapest option, but it is unlikely to be the easiest.
So for those who do decide to go it alone, weighing up the effort you are willing to put in against the potential cash saving is essential.