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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 13:30 GMT
Can you beat the estate agent?
By Ian Rose
BBC Money Programme

Man at estate agent's window
Your money in their hands - or is there another way?

Property prices are continuing to boom, but house sellers are increasingly reluctant to pay an estate agent a percentage of their house's value.

Last year, we paid agents 2.5bn in commissions.

Now, however, newer and cheaper ways of selling your home are springing up.

So if you're selling your house, what are your options and what are the pros and the pitfalls of trying to ditch your traditional estate agent?

Martin and Debra Bell are trying to sell their substantial house in Northumberland.

They left their high street estate agent after a year because they were not getting any potential buyers, despite paying for expensive newspaper adverts.

Martin and Debra Bell outside their house in Northumberland
The Bells' house is a sizeable property

Now they've gone with a "virtual" estate agent, Housenetwork Estates.

The company offers many of the services of a traditional estate agent, but sellers have to show potential buyers around their property themselves.

Because Housenetwork does not run a chain of expensive shops, it has cut costs. It charges 199 plus VAT when you sign up and the same amount once the sale is completed.

By comparison, the Bells' original agent would have charged a commission of 10,000 if it had sold their property.

After three months with Housenetwork, the Bells have had only one viewing.

Supermarket sweep

In the north-east of England, and now spreading to other regions in the country, supermarket chain Asda is selling homes.

Asda is charging 1% commission, compared with a national average of 1.5%.

Andy Lee, who lives near Newcastle, was attracted to it because he found his traditional agent intimidating. The company says that because people do not always trust estate agents, its brand will help it get into the market.

Barry Burke outside his house in east London
Barry Burke is holding out for the best deal

Sixty thousand customers a week walk past its in-store displays. But after three months with Asda, Andy had no offers and has now signed up with a traditional estate agent.

For those really going it alone, there are plenty of websites who will advertise your property on the internet and provide you with a "For Sale" sign. The rest is up to you.

Shopping around the internet, you could get the most basic service for as little as 59.

Barry Burke wanted to sell his house in east London himself and signed up with the oldest internet company, HouseWeb, which has been in business for 10 years.

Barry is a marketing man, so he was ready for the challenge. In three months, Barry had more than 30 viewings and received about five offers.

He is holding out for one nearer his asking price and is confident he will achieve it.

Internet threat

It's estimated that 75% of all people looking for property carry out a search on the internet. Since HouseWeb started a decade ago, many other private sale sites have sprung up.

Some, like PropertyBroker, have been around for eight years and focus on London and surrounding areas. Many other recent ones target the entire country.

Estate agents have recognised this threat and are fighting back. In 2000, they set up Rightmove, which this year was valued at more than 400m on the London Stock Exchange.

Rightmove is far and away the most viewed property site in the country. It is among the top 10 most viewed websites in the UK.

Looking for property
Estate agents we deserve?

As private sales companies such as HouseWeb and PropertyBroker started to attract more customers, Rightmove wrote to its private sale customers, telling them they could no longer advertise their properties on Rightmove.

Rightmove says it cannot rely on the accuracy of the details from private sales sites, as they are not bound by The Property Misdescriptions Act, which only applies to estate agents.

However, the Money Programme found an example of an estate agent copying property details from a private sales site and placing them on Rightmove without the owner's permission.

The Money Programme informed Rightmove and it has now removed the company's adverts from its website. Rightmove said the company had failed to abide by its terms and conditions.

Peter Bolton King, the head of the National Association of Estate Agents says that despite the growth of the internet as a way of finding properties, there are still many good reasons to go with an established estate agent.

He says an estate agent brings a list of potential buyers to each sale. He also points out that viewings and negotiations are best handled by an experienced professional.

With new regulations on estate agents being introduced by the government, the reputation of the industry may well improve.

But it seems there is a genuine market out there for people who want to go it alone - and pocket the commission in the process.

The Money Programme - Beat the Estate Agent - BBC2, 1900 GMT Friday, 24 November.


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