Consumer group Which? says the public should be wary of claims made by online estate agents.
This follows a series of complaints about claims made by Purplebricks, HouseSimple, Hatched and eMoov.
In a blog the consumer group says that while it is true that online estate agents often do charge competitive fees for their service, the public must focus on three things to judge whether onliners really offer value for money and good service.
1. What do the fees include? “You can expect a package to include at least the basics needed to sell a home, such as listings on the main property portals. But extras, such as the agent conducting the viewings for you, are likely to cost more.”
2. When do you have to pay? – “With some agents you will need to pay an upfront fee (meaning you have to pay even if you don’t sell your property). Some will let you defer payment, but you may still face a fee even if you’re property doesn’t sell. You may also have to enter into a credit agreement with the firm. Companies that allow you to only pay on completion will often charge more for this option.”
3. How long will they market my property for? “Packages can be time-limited, for example 10 or 12 months, rather than your property continuing to be marketed until it sells.”
Which? says there are some clear benefits of using onliners, including their generally low fees, convenience, flexibility, and the freedom they give to vendors to use multiple other agents if they wish.
But Which? also gives a substantial list of ‘cons’.
These include a lack of local knowledge - “even online agents with regional reps could struggle to compete with a high street agent who knows your neighbourhood and its property market inside out” - as well as sellers using some firms having to manage their own negotiations and viewings.
Another disadvantage it cites is paying up front, saying: “If you opt for this type of package, you won’t be paying on results. In fact, you’ll have to pay even if that company doesn’t end up selling your house.”
The consumer group also raises question marks over the selling price, noting that flat fee agents have less incentive to get the best possible price. “That said, they have reputations to maintain, and many companies claim they usually achieve the desired asking price” the blog adds.