When you hire a traditional estate agent you make a lot of assumptions. It’s not that you are being lazy, it’s just that it’s generally understood what you can expect them to do. In summary you would probably imagine that they would:
- Visit your property and give a free valuation (hopefully based on up-to-the-minute local market expertise rather than their lottery numbers minus their date of birth)
- Market the property in various ways, possibly via a photo in their shop window; emailing and calling their ‘hot buyers’ database and listing it on websites like Rightmove.co.uk and Zoopla.co.uk
- Take enquiries and arrange viewings, which they would usually conduct
- Receive offers, pass them on and help to negotiate the best price for you
- Be actively involved to help the sale go through to completion by liaising with all parties including solicitors.
It’s a standard generic offering that means when you appoint a high street estate agent you have a good idea of what they are supposed to be doing to earn their commission, even if in some cases you may not feel you’ve had value for money.
What kind of service will you get with an online estate agent?
During the process of developing our internet estate agent comparison tool we trawled through the websites of all of the major online agents, and most of the minor ones too. We spoke to a fair few of them as well, to find out a little more about what they do.
What we found was that unlike traditional high street agents who offer the time-tested package of services there is no such thing as a typical online agent. The only thing they have in common is that they will list your property on the internet portals – most importantly Rightmove and Zoopla – and after that it’s a bit of a pick and mix.
It’s not possible for ‘civilians’ to list their properties on the big portals, only registered estate agents can do so, which is why this capability has become the key selling point of the online operators.
For some sellers, all they really want is to get their property onto the portals so for them it doesn’t matter which online agent they hire. They may as well just go for the cheapest.
For many others just getting their property seen by buyers online isn’t quite enough. It can be a complicated, confusing and stressful business selling property and people often need a helping hand through the various stages, from valuation to viewings through to price negotiations and closing the deal.
The ‘online’ concept is that the typical seller will be happy to forgo various aspects of the generic high street agent’s offering in order to save huge sums of money.
The trouble is that there is no typical seller – everyone will have different needs, and expectations. In the high street agent’s world this is not such a problem as the services are long established and they fundamentally work. They just happen to be very expensive.
So online agents have had to try to be all things to all sellers – the cheap gateway to the web portals for some, the full service great value high street equivalent to others and something in-between for most of us.
This conversion of the expensive ‘set menu’ into the affordable ‘a la carte’ offering has benefits in that the seller in theory is only paying for what they need. But it makes it hard to shop around because the a la carte selection at one agent may differ from the next. Multiply by 15+ agents and you have got a lot of menu browsing to do.
What people want from an online agent
There was an obvious need for sellers to be able to first identify the services they needed (e.g. someone to show buyers around, help with negotiations) before then comparing prices of only the relevant agents. That is why Selling Up’s tool for comparing online agents was created.
But in doing so we wanted to understand what services to include in the list of selections. So we did a survey of two hundred people, asking them how important a particular service would be when hiring an online estate agent.
A couple of hundred is not a huge number of people and we know that it’s only statistics, but we found the results interesting. Here are some of the things we learnt…
Reputation is more important than price
People going with an online estate agent know they are likely to be saving a lot of money compared with a traditional high street agent – but price isn’t everything to them.
When asked if they would always go with the online agent that was the cheapest, 33% said they would but 67% said that when choosing between online agents, track record was more important.
Three quarters of people want the online agent to visit them for a valuation
The finding that 75% of people thought the agent must be prepared to do a valuation based on a home visit may come as a shock to many online agents. Not all of them offer home visits, but even the ones that do are unlikely to send a truly local expert, but instead a more regional property specialist.
Just under 12% said they would be okay with a purely computer generated valuation, with 13% confident to value the property without any guidance.
Most do not want to conduct viewings (but many willing to for savings)
One of the main reasons that online estate agents are able to undercut the high street so vastly are low overheads, part of which means the customer doing some of the work themselves. But we found that 62% percent of people either didn’t want to host their own viewings at all (29%) or would prefer the agent to do it (38%). On the other hand, 33% would be happy to show people around.
This finding could be another surprise for online agents, the majority of which do not provide an accompanied viewings option, but it will be a boost for the small number that do.
Most people do not want to take their own photos
One of the ways that you can save money with an online agent is by taking your own photos of the property, but 53% said they would require the agent to send a professional photographer.
Just over 8% said they would actually prefer to take their own photos, while the remaining 37% considered professional photos a ‘nice to have’ but non essential service.
Less than half of people want a professional floorplan
Having a professionally drawn floorplan of your property can be a handy way for potential buyers to understand the layout and how the room sizes work in relation to each other.
Around 49% said they would definitely require a professionally drawn one but 40% were prepared to draw their own plan, while 11% didn’t want one at all.
How to find out which agents offer which services
These are a flavour of what we found out in our survey. It was a small sample and we will likely do some more extensive research in the coming months so watch this space.
Meanwhile, the findings have been put to good use – we hope you agree – in the development of our tool which enables you to filter agents according to what services they offer. Visit the online estate agent comparison service.