What is an online estate agent?
Online estate agents can help you sell your property without using a traditional high-street agent. Run via websites and call centres, they tend to offer a more basic service than you'd receive from a high-street agent and, as a result, they charge lower fees.
Two types of online agents have emerged over the last few years.
Online-only estate agents require the seller to do most of the work themselves, from taking photos and creating an advert to handling buyer enquiries, conducting viewings and negotiating offers.
But many online-only estate agents have now evolved into hybrid agencies, employing 'local property experts' to handle buyer enquiries, accompany viewings and negotiate offers.
How do online estate agents work?
The services offered by online estate agents - particularly hybrid agencies - are similar to those offered by high-street agents, but often in a more stripped-back form.
Most online estate agents now offer the option of valuing and marketing your home and arranging property viewings. Many can also negotiate and accept offers on your behalf, and liaise with your conveyancer, other estate agents and buyers until the sale is complete.
These services usually incur a higher fee than the basic package - see our online agents compared table for current prices.
Below, we explain the key differences between online and high-street estate agents.
Online estate agents' fees
While high-street estate agents will usually charge you a percentage of your property’s selling price, online estate agents generally charge fixed fees. This means that using an online agent is often much cheaper, especially if your home is worth a lot of money.
For example, if you sold a property worth £250,000 using a high-street estate agency that charged 1.3% commission, you'd pay £3,250. Online estate agents typically charge a flat fee of between £300 and £1,500, regardless of the value of your property.
A major downside of online estate agents' lower prices is that you'll often have to pay up front, regardless of whether they end up selling your home or not. Paying a fixed fee also reduces the agent’s incentive to sell your property for the highest possible price.
However, some online estate agents offer the option to pay once you've completed the sale but for a slightly higher price, reducing the risk of wasting your money.
Some also offer a deferred payment option, where you pay at a defined point in the future, for example, 10 or 12 months down the line. This may involve entering into a credit agreement with the agency, so make sure you fully understand the terms before signing on the dotted line.
How are property valuations conducted?
An online-only agent is likely to use online data to value your home, while hybrid online estate agents will send a 'local expert' to provide a valuation. However, you won't necessarily get a valuer with specific knowledge of the local market.
Remember you don't have to use the valuation provided. Ask three firms – high street or online – and go with an average, or whatever you think is the right price based on recent similar examples you've found through your own research.
Inviting a variety of companies to value your home and talking to them about their sales process will also enable you to more deeply understand the differences between online and high street agents.
How will my property be marketed?
Online estate agents will list your home on their site as well as other online property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla. Some will install a 'for sale' sign outside your house, although they might charge extra for this.
High street estate agents will do all of the above as a standard part of their service, and can also place adverts in their branch windows.
How are viewings carried out?
The default option with most online estate agents is that you conduct the viewings yourself.
However, a lot of online agents now offer accompanied viewings for an extra fee of around £300, or as part of a more expensive package than their standard offering.
Some (though not all) online estate agents will vet buyers, typically getting details of names, finances and whether potential buyers are already part of a chain.
We'd recommend asking your agent exactly how this works, as some companies use third parties to do this.
How do I communicate with an online agent?
Someone will visit to take photographs and create floor plans if you sign up for this option, and you'll meet the 'local property expert' if the agency sends one round.
However, all other contact will usually be via email or phone - and many online estate agencies offer online portals where you can access helplines or chat services outside of traditional working hours, with some offering 24/7 support.
The table below shows the fees and services offered by the UK’s biggest online estate agents (ordered alphabetically).
in all packages
| || |
£895 (£995 London and inner
| || |
|House Simple||£995 - pay on completion|| || |
£849 (£1,199 in London
| || |
| || |
£839 Yopa Bundle
| || |
The table includes online estate agents with 1,000 or more new sales instructions in 2017 according to TwentyCi research for Which?. Only companies with transparent fee structures have been included.
Packages checked 7 September 2018.
'Premium listings' on property portals are larger and include more pictures. 'Sales progression' will cover the agency liaising between relevant parties once an offer has been accepted and providing you with updates. 'Offer negotiation' covers the agency handling offers made by buyers.
Hatched did feature in this table until 20 September 2018, but the firm has now closed.
How many people use online estate agents?
At the moment, online estate agents only have a small share of the estate agency market, though this looks likely to grow.
Data obtained for Which? by Twenty Ci shows that online estate agents received 104,807 instructions in 2017, while traditional high street agents had 1,532,700. This means that, in terms of the number of instructions, online estate agents have a 6.8% market share.
However, sellers sometimes list their property with multiple agencies, or terminate their contract with one company and switch to another – so one property may be accounted for multiple times in the total instruction figures.
Also, judging market share by number of instructions isn’t as representative as it would be to look at transactions – data which is unfortunately not yet collated by any UK organisation.
Agents overvaluing properties
As with any estate agent, it’s the job of an online agent to find the best price for your house. However, our research, published in February 2017, has found that estate agents who routinely overvalue properties can potentially leave sellers worse off, having to make big price cuts to sell their home.
Which? looked into the agencies heavily reducing (by more than 5%) property prices in order to sell, as we think that this indicates homes being listed with an inflated initial asking price.
We found this practice was less prevalent among online agents than traditional high street estate agents.
On average, online agents sold properties 38 days faster than traditional agents. Furthermore, where 19% of properties sold by traditional agents were reduced by 5% or more, that figure was 13% for online-only agents.
Purplebricks – by far the largest online estate agent – made heavy reductions on the smallest proportion of its properties, while EasyProperty heavily reduced 34% of its properties.
EasyProperty claims that it sells hundreds of new-build properties, with prices set by the developers rather EasyProperty. Of the properties that were sold on behalf of private individuals, the agent claims to have reduced far fewer than listed here.
The graph below shows how online estate agents performed in our investigation.
What are my rights when using an online estate agent?
Online estate agents are governed by the same regulations that cover high street estate agents.
As with high street agents, online estate agents must be members of a government-approved redress scheme – the Property Ombudsman Limited or the Property Redress Scheme.
Your agent has to be clear about which redress scheme they are a member of, and the scheme should be your first port of call if you have a problem.
Trading Standards will also investigate agents that it believes have acted in breach of the 1979 Estate Agent Act, which sets out minimum standards of conduct for estate agents.
Pros and cons of online estate agents
Online estate agents can be a great money-saving option when you're selling your house, but you should be aware of the pros and cons of these services before making a decision.
Pros of using an online estate agent:
- Fees: in most cases, using an online estate agent will be a lot cheaper than using a high-street agent. The more expensive your home is, the more you stand to save if they charge a flat fee.
- Convenience: it can sometimes be easier to get hold of online estate agents. Their call centres are open during evenings and weekends, so they are able to deal with queries outside of working hours (although some high-street agents offer this, too).
- Flexibility: packages can be tailored to your specific requirements, and you can often track viewings and feedback online (some high-street agents also offer this).
- Freedom to use multiple agents: generally, there is no contract period, which means you can instruct other estate agents if you wish.
Cons of using an online estate agent
- Lack of local knowledge: even online agents with regional reps could struggle to compete with a high-street agent who knows your neighbourhood and its property market inside out.
- Legwork: some online estate agents won't negotiate offers or act as a middleman to progress your sale to completion. Having to manage communications with buyers and solicitors on your own can be time-consuming and stressful.
- Viewings: you usually have to conduct viewings yourself, so you'll need to be comfortable showing strangers around your home and be available during evenings and weekends.
- Paying up front: if you opt for this type of package, you won't be paying on results. In fact, you'll have to pay even if that company doesn't end up selling your house.
- Selling price: because most online estate agents charge a flat fee rather than commission, they have less incentive to get the best price for you. That said, they have reputations to maintain, and many companies claim they usually achieve the asking price.
Find out more: to find out more about traditional estate agents, see our guide to high-street estate agents.
Should I use an online estate agent?
There isn’t a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' answer to whether you should use an online estate agent.
If you think your property will sell relatively easily and you'd be comfortable showing buyers around your home, then using an online estate agent could present good value.
However, if you’re stretched for time or would prefer more tailored support and advice, you may be better off using a high-street agent.
Find out more: read our guide to setting the right asking price for your property.