An estate agent is a person or a business that helps handle the buying, selling, renting or general management of various properties. If you’ve ever sold, bought or rented property, you’ve almost certainly interacted with one before.

But the role of an estate agent can still sometimes be unclear, and if you’ve only ever bought or rented property, the process of selling through an estate agent for the first time can feel quite new.

In this article, we break down everything that an estate agent does, and explore whether you really need one to sell your home.

Selling a property: what do estate agents do?

If you are selling your home, then an estate agent’s role is to find a buyer and act as a go-between for you and the buyer whilst the sale goes through.

Firstly, they will be able to value your home and help set the right price for it. A good local estate agent will have expert knowledge of the local property market and other homes sold in the area that will help them come up with a realistic figure. They will know what people are looking for and can suggest potential improvements that could drive up the value of your property. You can get valuations from multiple agents if you want a range of opinions..

An estate agent will also be able to market and advertise your home. They should be able to write a description of your home to interest buyers, get your home professionally photographed and have floor plans drawn up. All of this can be used to market the home in their branch window, in their brochures, and online (both on their website and others, such as Zoopla and Rightmove). You should work with them during this process to make sure that you are satisfied with how your property is being marketed and that everything they are saying is correct.

Your agent can arrange for you to get an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) too. This is a legally required document for marketing your property, which informs buyers about typical energy use and costs for the property. Your property will be given a rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient). An EPC is valid for ten years, meaning that you may still have one for your property if you purchased it within the last decade. If your property is listed, then you aren’t required to have an EPC.

An agent can schedule and perform viewings where they guide potential buyers around the property and answer their questions. This saves you the hassle of having to host viewings yourself, and potential buyers may feel more inclined to trust an agent than the owner of the property.

Your estate agent will manage negotiations between you and an interested buyer by relaying messages and giving you advice. They will aim to get you the best possible offer from the buyer.

They must also perform the necessary checks to make sure the buyer is serious about buying and has the funds to do so, and then pass this information onto you. This involves checking whether they are selling another property, if they need a mortgage, and so on. A good agent will ask the buyer for an Agreement in Principle (AiP) from a mortgage lender to ensure that they can afford the property.

Once you have accepted an offer, an estate agent will work with your conveyancer or solicitor to guide you through all of the paperwork that needs completing, while also making sure that the buyer has provided everything required of them. They will make sure everything is running smoothly, answer any queries you have and help arrange the exchange of contracts and completion date.

How much does it cost to sell through an estate agent?

Typically, an estate agent’s fee will be calculated as a percentage of the selling price of the property. This will usually be somewhere between 0.75% and 3% plus VAT. Never accept the first fee they give you, as many agents are prepared to negotiate. Fees tend to be highest in London, where the property market is extremely competitive. If you are selling a particularly cheap property or selling through an online estate agent, you may be charged a fixed fee instead.

Fees will of course vary depending on what services an agent is including. Your fees will usually cover the following:

  • Valuation
  • Floorplans
  • Photography
  • Ad copy and marketing
  • Managing viewings
  • Negotiating

Estate agent fees are just another reason to look at a range of potential agents to see which one offers you a package with everything you need for good value.

Do I need an estate agent?

Technically, there is no legal requirement for you to use an estate agent when selling your home. As long as you do everything by the books then there is nothing stopping you from doing the whole thing by yourself, or just between you and a solicitor or conveyancer.

However, you shouldn’t underestimate how stressful and time-consuming it can be to sell property, as this will involve marketing your home, arranging viewings, negotiating and completing all the relevant paperwork. Having experts on your side can help ease the burden quite a lot and make the entire process run much more smoothly.

If you decide not to use an estate agent, you’ll need to make sure you value your property correctly so that it will appeal to potential buyers. You’ll therefore need to look at how much comparable properties in your area have sold for and take into account anything that might boost or reduce the price of your own home. For example, if your home has a much larger garden than others that have recently sold, you might be able to price it higher, but if it has a downstairs bathroom, you might need to lower the value slightly.

You’ll also need to conduct any viewings yourself, which can be time-consuming, especially if you’ve got lots of potential buyers queuing up to see your home. If you receive an offer, you’ll need to be prepared to negotiate with the buyer and come to an agreement on how much you’re willing to sell your property for, as most offers are for below the asking price.

Once you’ve agreed a price and accepted the offer, you’ll need to appoint a solicitor to manage the conveyancing process on your behalf.

Whilst it’s definitely possible to sell your home without employing an agent, it can be a very lengthy process, so you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of time and energy available. You’ll also need to hold firm on the price you want to achieve, as buyers will usually be keen to drive the price down.

Can I use an online estate agent to sell my property?

If you’re keen to keep your selling costs to a minimum, but are wary of going it alone, you may decide to opt for an online estate agent with fixed fees, such as Yopa or Purple Bricks, which often fall somewhere between a full estate agent service and marketing your home yourself. Depending on which package you choose, you may need to conduct viewings yourself, but the online agent will usually arrange photography, the floor plan and advertising on your behalf.

Some estate agents operate entirely online, meaning they will likely not have a branch local to you. Your correspondence with an online estate agent will therefore be mainly via phone, email and messaging. This comes with its own set of pros and cons.

For example, one major downside of an online estate agent is that they may not be local to your area, so their knowledge of the property market where you live may be limited. They may have a regional representative with some relevant knowledge, but this will likely not compare to a local expert who knows the market inside-out. Even though an online agent can provide a valuation, it could still be worth finding a local agent who knows the neighbourhood very well, or at least getting valuations from other agents before proceeding online.

An online estate agent also usually cannot host viewings for you, so you will have to do this yourself, which can be very stressful and time-consuming. A few online estate agents offer viewing services as part of a more expensive package, however.

Some online agents will also not act as middlemen between you and the buyer to help you negotiate, or assist with paperwork. You should make sure to find an agent that does if you are not confident about completing these processes yourself.

Finally, the fact that they do not have physical premises near you means that their marketing will all be done online, which you may find too limited.

The main advantage of an online estate agent is that they tend to charge a fixed rate, as opposed to high-street estate agents – that is, local ones with physical premises – who typically charge a percentage of the property price. Most of the time, this works out to an online estate agent being much cheaper, which is consistent with them providing fewer services than a high-street agent. It’s worth noting that you often pay upfront with an online agent, whereas with high-street agents you typically pay upon completion. This means that you may have to pay an online agent even if you do not end up making a sale.

Online agents can also sometimes be easier to get hold of, as they are often available to contact on evenings and weekends. This may not always be the case with high-street agents.

How do I find a good estate agent to sell through?

If you decide you want an estate agent to market and sell your home, remember not to just go with the one which offers the lowest fees or gives you the highest valuation. Make sure you review a range of options and check the terms of the contracts they offer carefully.

Get Agent provides a useful, fee-free tool for comparing estate agents that are local to you. Simply enter your postcode and a few basic details about your property to receive a list of recommended agents, with data breaking down their success rates. You’ll have to create a free account in order to view each agent’s name and fees, however.

Alternatively, the Homeowner’s Alliance offers a similar tool, so you’ll also have to create an account there to view your results in detail. This is completely free to do as well.

What should I look out for in a contract with an estate agent?

Estate agents do not always include Value Added Tax (VAT) in the fee that they give you upfront, only the percentage rate of the property. Keep this in mind and do the maths yourself if necessary to avoid being caught out.

Most high-street estate agents will have a “no sale, no fee” policy, meaning you will not be charged if they do not successfully complete the sale. This is a great thing to have in your contract, as it protects you financially and gives the agent an incentive to make the sale. This policy is less common with online estate agents, who tend to charge fixed rates upfront, although some of these do offer money back guarantees if you don’t receive a near-asking price offer within a set period

Most contracts will also stipulate a “tie in period”. What this means in simple terms is that for a certain amount of time – usually several weeks to a few months – the property will be “tied” to the particular agent you’ve signed up with, which means that you have to let them market the house until this time is up.

This can include a “sole agency lock-in”, which gives them the exclusive rights to market your property and means that you cannot go to another agency instead if you’re unhappy, until the period is over. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re committing to and read your contract carefully before signing.

Have you sold property through an estate agent? Did you find their services useful or do you wish you’d gone it alone? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversation on the Rest Less Community forum or leave a comment below.

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