Without doubt, the biggest advantage of online agents is the savings you can make. High Street agents typically charge around 1.5 per cent of the price achieved. Even with a commission of 1.5 per cent, it means you will pay £4,500 if you sell your home for £300,000. This seems extortionate compared to fees charged by online agents where packages range from about £200 to £1,000.

The starting point in this discussion is less than one in 10 people currently choose online estate agents over high street agents. There are, like anything, pros and cons for using an online agent. The most obvious are the savings you make over a traditional High Street agent, this in some cases can amount to thousands of pounds.

Most commonly online agents are transparent with their fees which are listed upfront on their websites. Using an online agent you are in control of your sale, if you feel comfortable with this and understand the twists and turns of a property sale then this will not present a problem. However if you are not, then beware, selling your home can present a nightmare which will send your stress levels through the roof.

Many online agents present you with different priced packages, ie: will probably have a package which will meet your budget. So by reading this you’ll be thinking its a no brainer, however their are some pitfalls to consider using an online agent.

Paying your fee up-front is a major consideration when dealing with online agents. No online agent has yet reported a profit and quite a few have gone by the wayside (like eMoov did in 2018, and House Network in 2019), and people lost their money!

Some online estate agents offer packages that allow you to pay on completion but they are usually more expensive. Others offer deferred payment option but beware: you will have to pay this usually at the 10 or 12 month point whether you have sold or not. And these pay later deals often involve you signing up to a credit or loan agreement with a third party organisation.

Valuing your home is probably the most important factor of selling your property quickly, undervalued you lose money, overvalued your property will sit on the market for ever, or until the markt reaches your valuation. Online agents normally do what they call comparables, they will look at the local agents property in the area and compare these to yours. Even those online agents with ‘local property experts’ often aren’t local enough to know your area and your road well enough to value it accurately. They will likely value your house using online data but is unlikely to have the local expertise a high street agent has.

In-house services – Check the fee advertised isn’t conditional on you using the agent’s in-house services, like their recommended mortgage broker or conveyancer. This shouldn’t be allowed, but does happen. It’s important you’re able to shop around for the best deal.

Time commitment – Managing everything yourself can take up more time than if you had a very good high street estate agent dealing with everything for you.

Conducting viewings – Where you opt not to pay extra to have viewings conducted for you, you need to be comfortable showing people around your home. Some people enjoy this and think they’ll do a better job than any estate agent. Others find it stressful and time consuming and in some cases can be dangerous.

Unusual properties – If your home won’t be easy to sell, you may struggle without the expertise of a local, high street agent.

Sales progression and negotiation – While in reality you’ll still need to chase progress whichever agent you use, a good high street agent will be incentivised to progress the sale, talking to both sets of solicitors to get you to completion. Depending on your negotiation skills, a high street agent may be able to achieve a higher sale price than you or your online estate agent.

Can I trust online estate agents? The question is, can online estate agents be trusted with the biggest transaction of someone’s lives? Estate agents don’t have the best reputation as a profession. In a recent survey 70 per cent of people said they don’t trust estate agents to tell the truth.

First up you must check that your estate agent – online or high street – is a member of one of two grievance bodies who can pursue your claims should things go wrong: the Property Ombudsman and the Property Redress Scheme. This gives an element of reassurance.

See what reviews say about them. TrustPilot is a great starting point, look at their reviews. Make sure you read the good and bad reviews to understand how people’s’ experience varies.

How popular are online estate agents? Less than one in 10 people choose online estate agents over high street agents. And between July and September last year, online estate agents worked with just 7.2% of properties for sale, according to Twenty Ci data.

How will an online agent value my home? As mentioned above online agents operate from nationwide call centres, and are likely to have limited local knowledge. This means that valuing your house is often done using online data. That’s fine as a guide, but you really need people with local knowledge to help you set the right asking price.

Be warned that this can also be the case with “hybrid agents” that use local property “experts”, because the scale of the geographical areas each local expert covers usually means they don’t know the specifics of your local market and the houses like yours on your road.

This shortcoming is easily overcome by asking three local high street agents to value your home before deciding whether to opt to go online.

How will people find my property? – Like high street estate agents, online agents use Zoopla, Rightmove, On The Market and other property portals to market your property. So while people won’t find your photo in a high street agents’ window as they go for a stroll on a Sunday afternoon, serious buyers will regularly check the portals. You will want to look at the different agents’ marketing packages. “For Sale” boards are also offered by online agents – but double check that they will erect the sign for you.

Will the photos used by online estate agents be professional? – The quality of photos used by online estate agents is just as good as those from high street agents. Just a quick look on Zoopla or Rightmove will show you the quality of photos used by the online agents you are considering. And just as with high street agents, you can opt for additional virtual tours and 360 degree photos. The cost of photography should be included in the package you choose – but you must check this, because some online estate agents may charge you extra. We believe this is an essential element of selling your house, because iPhone photos simply won’t do – so choose an agent that includes professional photos in their basic package.

Will I need to arrange viewings? – Most online agents will arrange the viewings for you and keep you updated by phone or using a dedicated online site just for you – but they won’t usually attend.

Will I need to conduct viewings? – In most cases, you’ll need to conduct viewings if you go with an online estate agent.

Some agents will offer to attend viewings and show prospective buyers around at an additional cost which can soon mount up. Increasingly “hybrid agents” offer to conduct viewings as part of their standard package price.

You need an average of 4.9 viewings before you sell your house, according to HomeOwners Alliance research.

Will the online agent negotiate a final deal with my buyers? – Some online agents will take offers, discuss them with you and negotiate the price for you, while others will leave it up to you. If you don’t want to haggle, you should choose an online agent who will do it for you. Before deciding, you need to think about the value of a good negotiator who may be able to nudge up any offers you receive, and decide if it’s worth the investment or you think you can do this well yourself.

Will an online estate agent really care about my sale if I pay up-front rather than on commission when a sale is achieved? – Arguably, online estate agents do not have the same commission-based incentive as a high street agent to get you (and them) the highest sale price possible. But online agents would argue that if they didn’t do all they could to help customers sell their homes and provide a great service, then they would be out of business and this would be reflected within their TrustPilot profile.

How do I find the best online estate agent? – The best way to find the right online estate agent for you is to Compare online estate agents first. When selecting an agent, you should check:

The prices that are transparently listed on their websites, their TrustPilot user rating, and reviews written by other sellers.

Colin Clarke
Author: Colin Clarke