Selling property without an estate agent, is it for you?

There are over 1 million property sales every year. Traditionally, house sellers have had to use estate agents to manage the sale, but with typical commissions charged of £5000 many people have looked for cheaper alternatives, believing these commissions are very poor value for money. It is possible to sell your house privately, but is this for you?

Why have people traditionally used estate agents?

Before the rise of the internet, estate agents were just about the only way that you could advertise a property for sale. The estate agent would take photographs, prepare a floorplan, and then advertise the property – their high street shop window, local brochures and newspaper advertising were the main way in which people found houses to buy.

Rightmove changed all of that! By providing an online portal to list available properties, househunters no longer needed to trawl the high street – a connected computer was all that was needed to search for the ideal home. This has massively reduced the value that estate agents provide – although their fees haven’t reduced! – encouraging people to seek cost-effective alternatives.

Is it possible to sell a house privately?

In a word, yes! There is nothing requiring you to use an estate agent. If you already know somebody that wants to buy your house, or are prepared to advertise it yourself, you can eliminate agent fees altogether. You will need to use a qualified conveyancer to legally transfer ownership, but these fees are relatively modest.

If you want to go down the private sale route here are some tips:

  • Invest in high quality photographs (a smart phone is rarely good enough). Poor imagery massively reduces the interest from house-hunters – first impressions really do count.
  • Buy a “For Sale” board from a local printer (they are not that expensive). It promotes your house to passing traffic, and makes it easier for viewers to find you. But, a poor quality, home-made board will have the opposite effect – first impressions again, and will suggest to viewers that you are doing things cheaply, and they will reflect this in any price they offer.
  • Use different advertising channels, and work them. Advertising your house is hard work – you have to keep at it. Selling your house online is a good place to start – use social media, try different routes. Be aware that advertising also becomes stale very quickly, so where possible monitor the level of interest in your property and keep on updating photographs and descriptions, and promote in different ways, such as open house weekends.
  • Vet your viewers to see their potential as buyers for your home and to avoid time-wasters and nosy parkers! When you get a genuine viewer make sure you engage them as much as possible. Make them feel at home, leave them to view alone after an initial show-round, give them a high quality printed brochure, and follow up with them after the viewing. Offering incentives (such as paying their legal fees) can be a good way to encourage an offer, so long as you don’t lose your negotiating position.

So why don’t more people sell privately?

In essence, it is all about advertising. If you want to achieve the best price for your property then you need to advertise it to the widest possible audience. This is where Rightmove, Zoopla etc comes in – they provide a website where properties can be advertised, and they get huge volumes of people searching on their sites and via their mobile and tablet apps – in excess of 90% of all property searches start on these portals.

Whilst this sounds great, Rightmove and Zoopla do not allow individuals to advertise directly through them – they require an estate agent acting on behalf of the seller. Although this may seem to be collusion, it is not, but rather is driven by law – it is a legal requirement for a property advert to be accurate and not misleading, a law introduced to stop unscrupulous estate agents using clearly inaccurate and exaggerated property descriptions. If Rightmove and Zoopla were to allow individuals to list their properties for sale, they would need a mechanism to check the accuracy of descriptions and photographs – this is not what they are about, so pass this responsibility to estate agents.

Of course, there are other websites available where individuals can list properties independently, and if you want to sell privately these can be used. But – and it is a very big but – the amount of website visits and the amount of potential buyers who will see your property is a tiny fraction of that received by the major portals. Rightmove can attract 100 million site visitors a month!

So, if you want to maximise advertising of your property, you are still stuck with using estate agents.

Online Estate Agents – an affordable alternative to high street estate agents

Recent years have seen the rise of online estate agents such as www.myonlineestateagent.com. These have been set up to challenge the way in which estate agency services are provided. They recognise that you no longer need a high street presence to advertise a property, which comes with very high branch space and people costs. They operate centrally, with investment in technology, allowing a far cheaper alternative. But – and this is critical – online estate agents still advertise on Rightmove and Zoopla – so you can get the same advertising awareness without the high fees.

Most online estate agents provide a menu of services, so that you can choose to buy what you need. A basic package will include Rightmove and Zoopla advertising (including checking the accuracy of the property description) plus management of viewings and negotiations of offers. Additional services, such as professional photography, For Sale boards, premium advertising etc is also available, for pre-agreed fees.

£500-£1000 are typical online estate agency fees, compared to the £5000 paid to bricks and mortar agents. Whilst the fees for using an online estate agent might be higher than selling privately, you are getting a near-full service for a fraction of the price.

Just think what else you could spend those savings on – a holiday, home improvements, new car – the choice is yours!

Silver Landlords Warned To Be Wary With Pension Pots

Five simple steps to help secure your pension pot

This April, changes to the pension reforms will boost the buy-to-let investment property market, as more and more pensioners decide to invest in property to fund their retirement.

According to research, 16% of retirees will reinvest in property, adding more fuel to another buy-to-let boom. Many will take out a lump sum of money, paying tax on 75% of it and reinvesting in property to live off the rental income.

While this may seem like a sound investment on the surface, CEO of My Online Estate Agent and ex-regional managing partner at accountants Grant Thornton, David Grundy, is keen to offer silver landlords five key tips to help them secure their savings.

Balance it out

Property investing can be a good opportunity but it needs to be part of a balanced portfolio. Although bank interest rates are unattractive – and will be for many years – this isn’t a reason to take more risks and invest in property. Ask a simple question – can you still live comfortably from other savings if your property investments fall in value?

Stay on track

Invest in properties that have a proven track record of being let-able, preferably with a sitting tenant, and you are less likely to lose money. Avoid buying properties to renovate to then rent out – it might seem like a good way to double the gain, but it also doubles the risk.

Also consider investing in properties to help your family get on the property ladder. Many retirees support their children with deposits etc, but buying a property jointly can have huge benefits – your children get the help they need, you earn rental income, and it’s all kept in the family!

Keep it fixed

Use fixed rate mortgage deals – rates are incredibly low at present, so use this to your advantage. Whilst fixing for, say, five years, may initially cost more than a variable rate loan it will provide certainty over the future – long-term fixed rates are still low compared to long-term averages.

Avoid chasing capital gains

Don’t chase capital gains – a good buy-to-let should pay for itself in rental yields, giving you a surplus after paying mortgage costs. If a capital gain arises, view it as the cherry on the pie, not the crust and filling. Some investors acquire buy-to-let properties in the hope of making a gain when property prices rise – this is not for the faint-hearted, as the recent property price crash demonstrated. If a property is not giving you net income from the rents then walk away.

Bring in the professionals

Whilst it may be appealing to manage the property portfolio personally, especially for active pensioners who are looking for things to do, be wary about learning from mistakes – these can be very costly –take advice on effective property management, at least until some experience has been accumulated.

David Grundy said: “Investing in property is an extremely popular option at the moment, we have seen ourselves first-hand that people approaching retirement are looking more and more into buy-to-let options as a way of securing stable income. But the potential for a combined property and pensions scandal arising from a slackening of rules, with pensioners worse off because they were lured with the expectation of interest rate-beating returns, but find they are sitting on losses, is something that needs to be avoided.

“Past performance has shown that the value of the property will generally increase, but retirees need to be careful when investing that they are putting their money into the right places and seeking professional advice before rushing into anything that could leave them out of pocket. So, invest carefully!”

MOEA is one of the UK’s leading and most established independent, online estate agencies – offering both Sales and Lettings services to property owners and landlords across the country.

March 2015 Property Trends from Rightmove

Rightmove have released their March 2015 house price index, which offers data and insights from the UK’s leading property portal. But what are the key points for property sellers and potential buyers?

Rightmove HPI March 2015 Key Conclusions

Rightmove’s latest data highlights a few points of interest:

  • An increase in house prices, but not at rates associated with a traditional spring bubble – possible nervousness ahead of the general election.
  • Quality properties remain in short supply.
  • The rise of “granlords” is starting to give impetus to the buy-to-let market.

The Rightmove website is one of the most visited sites in the UK, with looking at others people’s houses almost a national pastime. But searching and reviewing properties doesn’t necessarily feed through into increased sales activity.

What is the underlying trend in property prices?

On the face of it, property prices are now at or near all-time highs, but a healthy note of caution is needed! Property values always rise in spring – which is traditionally the peak season for sales – but the rate of growth is slower than recent years, suggesting underlying trends are not as strong. Also, annual price increases in London are now lower than the South East and East, indicating some slow-down in the capital and a wave of equalisation spreading outwards.

The Rightmove reports suggests there are some pre-election jitters in the market, keeping a rein on price rises. This is not unusual, with both buyers and sellers nervous what a change in government – or even a hung parliament – will have. However, the reality is that any uncertainty will quickly dissipate after 7 May, as none of the major parties have radical policies that could undermine the housing market, and all politicians are keen to improve consumer confidence.

In addition to the above, the price rises are on the back of low levels of supply, so supply / demand dynamics are a factor. It is worth noting from the Rightmove survey that the average agent now has only 59 properties for sale, compared to 74 last summer. If sellers start to come back into the market recent rises could be reversed.

All of this suggests that the headlines of rising values and record house prices are masking more caution, and it is likely that any bubble will deflate.

What is the “granlord” revolution?

Changes to pensions regulation is encouraging those approaching or beyond retirement age to access their pension pots, to be spent as retirees want. This is stimulating interest in buying buy-to-let properties, with attractive rental yields out-stripping interest rates on cash deposits. There is an acceptance in the market that this will provide a further stimulus to property values, although the hard evidence is yet to be seen.

Whilst investing in property may make a good retirement investment, there are a number of pitfalls, and should only be approached with caution. View our 5 tips for silver landlords here.

My advice for buying and selling this month

If you are thinking about selling, don’t keep on waiting for further price rises, as this trend could quickly reverse. Spring is always a peak time for property transactions, and delaying a sale process too long could miss this peak and result in trying to sell through the more challenging summer period – sometimes it makes sense to wait, as you can get a high value, but this is far from guaranteed. With a relatively low level of supply, purchasers are not in a position to negotiate aggressively as they don’t have much choice, so you can maximise the value you receive by careful marketing and strong negotiation.

For more insights on Rightmove’s index, view the index here.

UK Property Portal Comparison: Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket

Rightmove, Zoopla, OnTheMarket – where do you go to search for houses?

Why are there now more online property portals?

Founded 15 years ago in the year 2000, Rightmove completely changed the process by which buyers found houses to buy. Before, the only way was to scour local papers and visit estate agent branches, a time consuming and laborious way to find your dream home. The Rightmove website changed all of that by displaying properties for sale all in one place. The world of house searching had been changed forever.

This dominant market position has been challenged in recent years by Zoopla (and its sister portal PrimeLocation), which has spent £millions on developing an alternative brand and website. Others have also tried – and failed – to break into the market of online property portals, and in early 2015 OnTheMarket was launched, set up and owned by estate agents, who are trying to take back control of both the selling and buying sides of any house sale.

So which is the best website to list your property on and to find your next property?

The best online portal to sell a property

You still need an estate agent to sell a property – none of the major online property portals will accept private listings. For most people they will choose an estate agent that gives their property maximum exposure to potential acquirers. Unfortunately, it is not possible for any estate agent to list a property on all 3 portals – OnTheMarket have stopped that by:

  • Insisting that their members only advertise on one of Rightmove and Zoopla, not both
  • Banning online estate agents such as www.myonlineestateagent.com from listing property via OnTheMarket

If you are thinking about selling, make sure you understand where your estate agent will be listing your house, and how many site visitors that portal receives.

Rightmove published figures stating they had 100million visitors in January 2015, with Zoopla reportedly receiving 45million visitors per month, whilst OnTheMarket announced its “one millionth unique visitor” just three weeks after the site launched.

The best portal to search for a new property

Some people will be happy to browse all 3 portals, but most will stick with one of the sites, or possibly two, to avoid duplication. So which is the best site for searchers?

Here are five points to consider:

Availability of properties

This is where Righmove wins hands down – they list more properties than the other sites, followed by Zoopla, with OnTheMarket trailing in third place. To illustrate, below are 4 typical searches, showing the number of property search results that each portal generates (numbers vary on a daily basis):

2 bed flat within 1 mile of Camden Town (property for “young London professional”)

Rightmove – 597 properties listed
Zoopla – 640 properties listed
OnTheMarket – 396 properties listed

3 bed house in Leicester (“family home”)

Rightmove – 947 properties listed
Zoopla – 670 properties listed
OnTheMarket – 128 properties listed

£1/2m – £1m property within 10 miles of Chester (“executive house”)

Rightmove – 581 properties listed
Zoopla – 79 properties listed
OnTheMarket – 195 properties listed

House in Devon valued at up to £80k (“starter home”)

Rightmove – 707 properties listed
Zoopla – 432 properties listed
OnTheMarket – 193 properties listed

Display

All 3 sites allow you to display search results in different ways – grid view, list view and map view. OnTheMarket has the best visual display – there is less clutter, and search/filter parameters can be displayed or hidden.

Site functionality

All 3 sites provide search and filtering tools in a very similar way. Initial search parameters of location, value, number of bedrooms and price provide an initial search – results can then be filtered (eg by type of property, new build etc) to hone down your requirements. There is little to differentiate here.

Valuation guides

All 3 sites include details on previous sold prices, extracted from Land Registry and other public information. Beyond that:

  • OnTheMarket has very little additional help on valuations etc. Indeed, this is a stated policy of theirs, as they do not want to take away some of the perceived input and involvement from their estate agent members.
  • Rightmove provides market trend data, and easy comparability of similar properties, but not a valuation tool.
  • Zoopla provides a comprehensive valuation tool – functionality is how Zoopla have sought to differentiate themselves from Rightmove, with all of its branding involving “smart” messaging.

Mobile and tablet

All 3 sites are fully mobile-compatible, with complementary apps, so no difference in this area.

So which is the winner?

Although the display characteristics of OnTheMarket are the best, most people ultimately want content not presentation, so:

  • If what matters most is the widest availability of property, use Rightmove
  • If you want greater insight into valuations, across a wide spectrum of properties, use Zoopla

 

For more insights on what launch of OnTheMarket means for consumers, you can read my thoughts here: OnTheMarket.com – all about high street estate agents maintaining profits? 

February 2015 Property Trends from Rightmove

Rightmove have released their February 2015 house price index, which offers data and insights into the property market based on over 100,000 properties put up for sale over the last month. We’ve taken a closer look at the numbers to see the insights and learnings to be gained for any property sellers and potential buyers.

Rightmove HIP February 2015 Key Conclusions

Rightmove’s latest data highlights a few points of interest:

  • A lack of new homebuilding is affecting supply
  • Asking prices are on the rise – 6.6% over the last year
  • Buyer activity is higher than ever, but is being impacted by a lack of available properties

The Rightmove website is one of the most visited sites in the UK. The public remains fascinated with property, but their approach to buying and selling is changing.

 

Sell before you buy, or buy before you sell

A few years ago, most people would put their own property up for sale, and once some interest was shown would then start to look for a house to buy. The Rightmove index reiterates that this trend is changing – people are now spending time looking for a property, and only then will they put their own property on the market.

This is a brave approach! If you find your dream house, but then cannot sell yours, there is a real danger of losing out with the homeowner taking an offer from elsewhere. In this modern impatient world people are no longer prepared to wait for long, time-consuming chains to complete. Our experience at My Online Estate Agent is increasingly that vendors become very nervous about accepting offers from people who haven’t themselves got a buyer for their property, and certainly if it is not even yet on the market. This is now extending to viewings, where some vendors are insisting that the only people that can book a viewing are those that are also actively selling.

Our advice is simple – buy and sell at the same pace, and have your ducks in a row when you make an offer. By all means scour the market to hone down on what you want from your new home, but when you are starting to view in earnest make sure that similar effort is put into selling your own house. There can be few things more demoralising than losing out on your dream home because you haven’t sold your existing property, but we are seeing this happen more and more.

 

The North-South divide

The Rightmove index illustrates that prices are increasing faster in the South than they are in the North, but the difference is reducing. This trend has been seen many times, the North lags behind the South, driven mainly by economic recovery (and recession!) starting in London before spreading to the rest of the country.

So:

  • If you are based in the South, don’t expect another bumper year for price rises
  • If you are based in the North, waiting to sell could get you more for your current house, but you may have to pay more when you buy. This is good news if you are trading down, but bad if you are trading up

My advice for buying and selling this month

“Valuation” in the property world is a misnomer – your property is only worth what you agree to sell it for to somebody that wants to buy it. Emotion, and desire to buy or sell, has a bigger impact on a sale price than most people realise. If you want to move house, put yourself in the best negotiating position – don’t get too attached to your dream house, and have a buyer lined up, and you will get the best price!

For more insights on Rightmove’s index, take a look at the infographic they have created.
Rightmove

[Source: Rightmove Property Portal]