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Online estate agents

Online estate agents pitch themselves as a cheaper alternative to their high street counterparts, but are they a viable option? We explore the pros and cons of going online.

In this article
How do online estate agents work? Online estate agent fees Online estate agents pros and cons Beware overvaluation of your property
Should I use an online estate agent? Online estate agents: your rights

Online estate agents, such as Emoov, HouseSimple, Purplebricks and Tepilo, can charge much lower fees for selling your house than high street agents. We explain how online estate agents work, the pros and cons of using them, and compare the major companies.

How do online estate agents work?

The services offered by online estate agents are, for the most part, quite similar to those offered by high street agents. At the moment, online estate agents only account for only a small amount of the estate agency market, but this is likely to increase.

An online estate agent will typically value and market your home for you, and arrange property viewings. Most will also accept and negotiate offers on your behalf, and liaise with your conveyancer, other estate agents and buyers until the sale is complete. But there are a few significant differences to the way online estate agents operate compared to high street agents.


Online agency fees tend to be lower than those charged by high street agents (see below), but you often have to pay them up front, whether or not the company manages to sell your property. Fees charged by online estate agents are usually a set rate rather than being a percentage of the selling price, which could mean the agency has less incentive to negotiate the best-possible price for your home.

Most high street estate agents will conduct viewings for you but, with an online agent, the default option is that you do them yourself.

Although someone will visit to take photographs and create floor plans, all other contact will usually be via email or phone. Some online estate agents will assign you a personal account manager, but you won't normally communicate with them in person. At the same time, 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. 

Most online estate agents will visit your home to value it, just like a high street agent, but you won't necessarily get an agent with specific knowledge of the local market (although an increasing number of online agents do employ 'local experts' to do this). Remember you don't have to use the valuation provided by the online agent: 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. 

Inviting a variety of agents to value your home will also enable you to more deeply understand the differences between online and high street agents through talking to them.

High street estate agents market your home until it sells or your contract comes to an end. In practice, the same is true of online estate agents, but always check the package you've chosen - there may be time limits e.g. six or 12 months.

Good high street agents will know whether potential buyers are quality applicants. Online estate agents do increasingly offer this service as well, 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, some agents may employ a separate third party to do this.

Find out more: if you need a mortgage for your new property, call Which? Mortgage Advisers on 0808 252 7987 for impartial advice on the best deal for your personal circumstances

Online estate agent fees

Unlike high street estate agents, who usually charge commission, online estate agents generally charge fixed fees. This means they are often a lot cheaper.

For example, if you sold a property worth £200,000 using a high street estate agency that charged 1.3% commission, you'd pay £2,600. Online estate agents typically charge a flat fee of between £300 and £1,500, regardless of the value of your property.

The 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. However, some companies will let you pay some or all of your fee on completion, reducing the risk of wasting your money. 

Others will offer a deferred payment option, where you will have to pay at some point the future e.g. 10 months or 12 months. These arrangements may involve entering into a credit agreement with the agency, so make sure you fully understand exactly how much you will need to pay and when before signing on the dotted line. 

Online estate agents pros and cons

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 may offer this level of service too).
  • Flexibility: packages can be tailored to your specific requirements, and you can often track viewings and feedback online (although some high street agents offer this, too).
  • 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 will negotiate offers for you and act as a middleman to progress your sale to completion, but not all will. Taking charge of communications with buyers and solicitors without the help of an agent could be time-consuming and stressful.
  • Viewings: you'll 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-possible price for you. That said, they have reputations to maintain, and many companies claim they usually achieve the desired asking price.

Find out more: to find out more about traditional estate agents, see our guide to high street estate agents

Beware overvaluation of your property

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 as they have to make big price cuts to sell their home.

We examined which agents were heavily reducing (by more than 5%) property prices in order to sell. We think this indicates that they are listing homes with an inflated initial asking price.

In our investigation, we found this was less of a problem with online agents that with traditional high street estate agents.

Properties sold through online agents sold, on average, 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-only estate agent – made heavily reductions on the smallest proportion of its properties, while easyProperty heavily reduced 34% of their properties. EasyProperty claims that it sells hundreds of new-build properties, the prices of which are set by the developer, rather than themselves. Of the properties that were actually sold on behalf of private individuals, they claim to have reduced far fewer than listed here.

The graph below shows how online estate agents performed in our investigation.

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 you know the local property market well and would 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

Online estate agents: your rights

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 one of three government-approved redress schemes: the Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services: Property, or Property Redress Scheme. 

Your agent has to be clear about which of these schemes 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.

Correct as of date of publication.


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