Live in the capital? Here’s how to avoid the Purplebricks ‘London seller’s tax’

The way homeowners sell their property has changed drastically over the last five years. The first port of call is no longer necessarily a high street agent, but often an online service – and there are many to choose from.

One that stands out on this increasingly crowded landscape is Purplebricks, thanks largely to its enormous advertising budget reassuring sellers that it takes the ‘commisery’ (the pain from paying high estate agent commissions) out of property sales.

However, Purplebricks has come under fire in recent times for its use of the term ‘fixed fee’. Its website and promotional materials claim you can sell your property for £899. What’s not always clear, however, is that not only is this fee payable regardless of whether Purplebricks successfully sells your property.  Also, in London and surrounding postcodes, this figure can rocket to as high as £1,399.

This ‘fixed fee’ covers all the basics you’d expect from an online property agent. You’ll get a dedicated local property expert, professional photography and floor plans, and a listing on the main sales channels, including Rightmove, Zoopla and others. Accompanied viewings, however, cost extra – £300 outside of London and £399 inside the city.

It’s no secret, of course, that the property market in London is under strain. High demand leads to high prices, and despite ongoing political and economic uncertainty, the housing situation in the capital is unlikely to change any time soon. However, the process of selling a house is largely the same whether it’s in London or Leicester, so it seems unjust to some that sellers in the capital face additional charges simply because agents are well-placed to benefit from them.

Additionally, homeowners in London must already shoulder the additional expense of living in the city, where everything – not just property – is more costly than the rest of the country. And the figures are significant. According to data from research website Expatisan, the day-to-day business of living in London is 28% more expensive than Reading, 35% more expensive than Manchester, and 45% more expensive than Sheffield – that’s a considerable difference.

But while Purplebricks charges a premium for those selling in the capital, there are online estate agents that don’t charge any additional fees for London-based sales – their prices are the same regardless of where in the country you’re selling. One of the most well-known of these no sale no fee companies is HouseSimple.

HouseSimple’s fee is billed as ‘one simple price’, and unlike agents such as Purplebricks, there are no hidden costs. The agent will sell your property for a flat fee of £995, regardless of where it’s located – and you’ll only have to pay on completion. In other words, you only pay if your property sells. No sale, no fee.

Included in the fee is a dedicated agent, access to a personal property hub, professional photos and floor plans, negotiation services and, of course, adverts on portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla. HouseSimple also offers a number of optional services, including EPC reports, mortgage broking and conveyancing.

Hosted viewings are another extra, although their price structure is lower than Purplebricks’, and there’s no premium for London sales. Its fixed fee hosted viewings package covers 10 viewings, is valid for six months and includes key holding options based on your preferences. This costs £295. Alternatively, individual hosted viewings are charged at £35 each. So if you’re looking at more than eight viewings, it makes sense to go with the package deal.

If you suspect you’ll only need hosted viewings occasionally – if someone wants to visit the property while you’re at work, for example – opting to ‘pay and go’ will save you some cash. Using HouseSimple’s online seller’s portal you’re able to accept or reject viewing requests, so you’ll always be in control of how much you spend on this feature.

Online estate agents are increasing in popularity because traditional property-selling models were expensive and time-consuming. With so many options available, however, it can be difficult to know where to begin choosing one that’s right for you. However, property sellers in London can easily narrow down their choices by opting for an agent that doesn’t discriminate against the property’s postcode.

Choosing an agent such as HouseSimple – which doesn’t charge a ‘London seller’s tax’ – can help keep costs down while providing the same level of expertise you’d expect from online agents elsewhere in the country, where the focus is on customer service, and not taking charging more to sellers in an already pressurised market.