Online estate agents are changing the way the property market works.
The right agent could save you thousands of pounds, but are they better than traditional estate agents?
What is an online estate agent?
Online estate agents work in largely the same way that existing estate agents do, with the caveat that they function entirely online.
Rather than operating from high-street stores, with the added overheads that come with them, online agencies are run from call centres and websites, meaning they can offer lower fees to people who use them.
While some will be able to go beyond the basic platform-like system they operate on, this will usually come at a higher fee. If you’re looking for an agency to handle some of the more administrative work, you would likely need to pay for extra.
The catch is that, while online agencies take the property market online, the property seller will need to do more work. From accurately listing details about the property, taking the photos and filling in more of the paperwork, you’ll be responsible for picking up some of the more labour-intensive processes.
How do online estate agents work?
Each online agency will operate a slightly different basic package, but the key takeaway is that with an online agency, you’ll be selling your own home via an online platform.
Some online agents charge zero fees and simply connect you to a potential buyer – you will need to do the rest. To reduce the hassle and stress of going through the whole process on your own, some agencies will charge an – albeit low – fee to handle some of it for you.
Online agencies will save you money. But if you were looking for a selling experience that saves you time and stress, going online might not be completely right for you.
Online vs high street estate agents: whats the difference?
The key difference between online estate agents and traditional high street operators is this: high-street estate agents will usually charge you a percentage of your property's selling price, while online estate agents generally charge fixed fees.
Most online estate agents give you the option of valuing and marketing your home and arranging property viewings. Many can negotiate and accept offers on your behalf and liaise with your conveyancer, other estate agents and buyers right through to completion.
But buyer (and seller) beware. However tempting the basic package’s cost looks, it's likely that these 'extras' won't be included and, if you want them, you'll need to pay more. These services come as standard for traditional estate agents.
In terms of the pricing difference, it really comes down to how much work you’re willing to take on. If you’re happy to do the majority of the work, you can certainly save plenty of money with an online agent.
But, if you were hoping to minimise your responsibilities and have a smooth experience, you’ll need to pay extra with an online agent – ultimately meaning your savings might only be slightly more than what you’d get with a normal agent.
What are the best online estate agents to use?
Here's a snapshot of 10 of the UK's leading online estate agents. Some have a flat fee payable upfront or the option to pay on completion (which usually costs up to twice as much).
Others also require a percentage of the sale price. Most offer a range of packages that increase in cost as you add extra features. For example, a basic package may advertise your property online, but you'll have to do the rest.
A mid-range package may require you to host viewings but will handle everything else. A top-of-the-range package means the agent will do everything on your behalf.
Basic package price: £99 includes listing within 72 hours, 24/7 customer service. Advanced and Premium packages feature Rightmove and Zoopla listings.
Trustpilot rating: 4.8
Example customer review: "I loved the aspect that I was able to book in my own viewings and arrange them around my schedule. I accepted an offer within 72 hours of it going live. I'm now going through the next stages of the process, but so far, everything is going smoothly. The money I have saved will go towards our new house."
Basic package price: £249, plus 0.5% of the sale price, includes expert valuation, online dashboard, professional photography and advertising listed on all major platforms, including Rightmove and Zoopla.
Trustpilot rating: 4.5
Example customer review: "Emoov was my first online estate agent experience, and it has been such a good experience that I wouldn't go back to a high street estate agent again. I like being in control of things, and with emoov you write your own house descriptions and do your own viewings."
Basic package price: £595 one-off payment, with nothing to pay on completion, or £1,190 on completion, includes money-back guarantee and verification of all viewers.
Trustpilot rating: 4.7
Example customer review: "The team at esale were very professional. On the first day of viewing, we had six couples and four offers on the house, all above the asking price. The best person to sell a house is its owner, and by using esale as your agent, you filter out time-wasters."
Basic package price: £449 includes a dedicated sales assistant, free for sale board and advertising on Rightmove, Zoopla and PrimeLocation for 365 days.
Trustpilot rating: 4.7
Example customer review: "The service provided is excellent and has led to a successful 'sold subject to contract' position. The beauty of this system was the ability to market my property on major recognised sites, change photos myself and for them to be 'live' within minutes. One can work through the I Am The Agent site, or manage the interactions with interested parties directly, once validated by the site."
Basic package price: £999 (£1,499 for London and surrounding areas) includes a dedicated local property expert, professional photography and floor plans, listings on Rightmove, Zoopla and more.
Trustpilot rating: 4.6
Example customer review: "We are so impressed with the manner in which Purple Bricks have handled the sale of our property; we are now buying a new home through Purple Bricks – so easy using the app."
Basic package price: £995 includes professional photos, video and virtual walkthrough, a dedicated sales assistant and advertising on Rightmove, Zoopla and PrimeLocation.
Trustpilot rating: 4.7
Example customer review: "One to one handling of the house sales. Fast super-efficient guaranteed sale. I fully trusted the team involved to make sure that the best deal between seller and buyer was quick and easy."
Basic package price: Free, includes valuation by a local expert, photos and floorplan, advertising on Rightmove and Zoopla, professional offer negotiation and dedicated support to completion. Strike gets paid by selected partners if you choose one of their optional services, such as free mortgage advice or removal services. Bear in mind that if you take their offer of free mortgage advice you probably won't get the best deal that you could achieve, since you'll be restricted to whichever providers will pay them commission.
Trustpilot rating: 4.7
Example customer review: "Great way to sell your house. The whole process has been excellent. From the initial contact to arrange valuation and advice on sales options, through to the simple to use website and app. My property went live on Tuesday, and I had my first appointment three hours later. By the following day, I had six viewings booked."
Basic package price: For a fixed fee of £75, you’ll be able to list and sell your home. As you can imagine with any agency charging a lower fee, you’ll be doing most of the work yourself. You’ll need to take the photos, write descriptions, arrange for EPCs – but for £75, it is a value option. You can opt for premium listings on Rightmove and Zoopla, arrange a professional floorplan and have a road sign listing your house for sale, but these are all extras.
Trustpilot rating: 4.6
Example customer review: “Fantastic company, sold my house quickly and efficiently for only £75. Fantastic value, the agent worked extremely hard answering questions and messages in the evenings, weekends and even on a bank holiday. Fab service. Would definitely recommend.”
Basic package price: £999 includes a dedicated local estate agent, a professional advert on Rightmove and Zoopla with floor plans and photos, a for sale board, an online control centre and sales progression.
Trustpilot rating: 4.7
Example customer review: "Totally happy with all aspects of the service provided by Yopa. The whole process was straightforward, and I would highly recommend it. We took advantage of using the conveyancing service, which also went very smoothly and amazing value."
Basic package price: This pay-as-you-go starts from £49 for a renewable one month listing with Zoopla and OnTheMarket, and 20 other sites, and you can manage your listing from your phone.
Trustpilot rating: 4.7
Example customer review: "A really intuitive user-friendly web portal that enables a property to be listed quickly. Managing enquiries through the portal is particularly good as it's at a glance and straightforward to use. It's difficult to see how high street agents could provide a better service for such a reasonable price."
Basic package price: £99 includes a free virtual tour, dedicated account manager and advertising on more than 700 websites.
Trustpilot rating: 4.9
Example customer review: "Speedy, professional, helpful and available, and by far the best value for money. One can have a little or as much input into the sale as is comfortable, with differing packages available. We particularly like the direct communication with potential buyers (an option to suit). This saves both time and potential miscommunication."
What's better, an online estate agent or high street estate agents?
There's no doubt that online estate agents can be a great money-saving option, but it's worth considering all the pros and cons before you sign up.
The benefits of using an online estate agent include:
- Lower fees: in most cases, using an online estate agent will be a whole lot cheaper than doing business with a high-street agent. And, if they charge a flat fee (rather than a percentage of the sale), the more expensive your home is, the more you'll save. For example, choosing a £1,499 package from emoov on a £250,000 house could save you up to £4,731 (compared to a traditional estate agent fee of between £3,750 and £6,250).
- Convenience: As online estate agents use call centres that are often open during evenings and weekends, it can be easier to get hold of them. And, as they're online, you have 24/7/365 website access to keep tabs on progress. Some agents also have apps that allow you to update your listing in minutes.
- Flexibility: Many online estate agents offer a range of packages so you can choose what best meets your specific requirements.
- Freedom of choice: Generally, there's no contract period, which means you are free to instruct other estate agents if you wish to.
- Transparency: Thanks to review sites such as Trustpilot, you can read feedback from customers of their experiences – both good and not so good – to help you make an informed choice about which agent to go with.
- Third parties: Nobody likes working with third parties who take commissions and fees on a service. Like with many other new and challenger platforms, online estate agents connect buyers and sellers – no third parties attached.
Things to consider when using an online estate agent
- Lack of local knowledge: Even online agents with regional representatives may find it difficult to compete with a high-street agent who knows your local area and its property market inside out.
- Valuation: An online-only agent may use online data to value your home, rather than sending around a 'local expert' to provide a valuation.
- How much work you'll have to do: Some online estate agents won't negotiate offers or act as a middleman to progress your sale to completion. Having to manage all the communications with buyers and solicitors can be time-consuming and stressful.
- Viewings: Generally, you'll have to conduct viewings yourself, so you'll need to feel OK about showing strangers around your home and be available when they are – most likely during the evenings and at weekends.
- Vetting: Some (but not all) online estate agents will vet buyers, typically getting details of names, finances and whether potential buyers are already part of a chain. Always ask your online agent about this as some companies use third parties to carry out vetting checks.
- Paying up front: if you opt for this type of package because it's cheaper, you won't be paying on results. In fact, you may even pay only for the company to end up not selling your house unless they specify a money-back guarantee.
- Lower profit potential: While all estate agents have had a difficult couple of years, online estate agents have recorded a larger than average fall in users. Cutting out third parties sounds like a cost-effective way of getting the right deal, but without a professional agent to negotiate the best price, many users are left feeling they could have got more for their house. While online agents can offer price negotiations as an extra, traditional agents simply do this as standard. In troubled times, people want the highest possible offers – something online agents can’t guarantee.
Do I need a mortgage in principle for my house hunt?
Whether you choose the high street or the information superhighway as your route to buying or selling a house, the first rule for homebuyers and sellers is simple: be prepared. And, one of the best ways to be ready to move when you've found the right property is a MIP – a Mortgage in Principle. This is a written indication from a bank or building society (the lender) stating how much it might be prepared to lend you. It's not binding (they could still refuse you a mortgage on those terms), but it's a very useful indicator of what you can probably borrow, and estate agents – both high street and online – take them seriously.
The beauty of a MIP is that you can often get one sorted in under an hour if there are no hitches, and at most, it should take only a few days. You can then focus on your hunt for a house, knowing that you're in a position to make a firm offer once you've found a home you like the look of.
Although you can apply for a MIP direct from a bank or building society, it's generally better to do this via a mortgage broker since he or she will have access to a greater range of mortgages than you can find either on the high street or online. You can also save time as your broker can find you the best potential mortgage deal straightaway. This means that as soon as your offer is accepted, you can give your broker a call and ask them to proceed with the full application instead of having to shop around some more.