It's without question the most valuable possession any of us will ever own. Yet when it comes to selling our house, solicitors and estate agents run riot and take large fees simply because they are the “experts”.
Unlike normal MoneySaving articles, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to house selling. So rather than pontificate, this piece is an amalgamation of hints and tips taken from the Chat Forum.
Special thanks go to Marcus, a canny ex-estate agent who began a discussion on it and contributed much valuable insider information.
In this guide...
Ensuring the best estate agency deal
Estate Agents are just another shop. They want your money like any other business, and with a little persuasion will offer you their best service for it.
What individuals want from an estate agent differs, but the main thing you must ensure is that you get the lowest agent fee and shortest lock-in period possible.
The agent will charge (usually a percentage of the sale price, but sometimes a flat fee) for selling your property, and attempt to add in a lock-in clause which, should you decide to withdraw your custom, will prevent you from marketing with another agent for the stated period.
The best way around all of this is to haggle. Scout out the agents available in your area - a good tip is to use busy agents who are members of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) - and try to pick a mix of corporate and independent agencies so you get the choice of a variety of services.
Once you've picked the best 3 or 4, get quotes from them for both the agent fee and lock-in period. Remember, they want your business, so tell them about the other offers you have, stand your ground and remember that you are the one with the power.
A fee of one percent of the property's value and a lock-in period of one week after written notice is received are the kind of offers you should aim for. If they refuse to play ball, simply walk away and tell them you'll take your business to their big local rival.
Want to take it a step further?
Once your house is up for sale, mystery shop the agency and judge how it promotes your property. Ask for properties of similar spec and see if it recommends yours, and whether it recommends it well.
Dealing with the valuation
When getting a valuation from each agent, never tell it what other agencies have valued your house at. It will use this to manipulate its offer, often resulting in wide distortions.
Remember that everything is negotiable, and you can play agencies off against each other until you get the best you are going to get.
Ensure you're getting what you pay for
If you become unhappy with the service, tell the agency you're going to market with more than one agent. Many will attempt to hike up their fees, but simply threaten to sack them (using your one week get-out clause) and all but the most irrational ones will back down.
Then, go to the other agencies, explain your current arrangement and that you want to go multi-agency, and make sure you get the same deal from them.
When conducting your initial research of estate agents, ask each of them to recommend several solicitors that can deal with contracts.
Try to get the names of specific people, rather than just the legal firms. Then, look for any overlapping mentions – there are often arrangements made between solicitors and estate agents, so someone recommended by different agencies is often a more reliable option.
Phone the best ones and ask for written confirmation of charges. Use this to form your opinion of them; are they friendly, helpful, efficient and straight-talking?
You can haggle here too
Fees are again negotiable here. Haggle, and attempt to play off each one against the other to get yourself the best service at the best price. Make sure you pick the one that is right for you; solicitors are a mainstay of the process and are costly to replace if you change your mind.
In general try to avoid large corporate conveyancing firms; while they can be much cheaper, they mostly operate out of call centres and reduce the process to a snail's pace.
Do I need all this red tape, can I do it myself?
Technically no. It is possible to advertise and market your house by yourself, show people around, broker deals and sort out the legal dealings without professional help.
Unfortunately, the aid given by both Estate Agents and Solicitors is often vital; they put in a lot more leg work than most of us could manage on our own and, particularly in the case of solicitors, you're playing a dangerous legal game if you make a mistake without them.
Nevertheless, this shouldn't deter you from using your own steam in addition to these tried and tested methods. Use your local paper and the internet sites listed below to advertise your property, usually for a fee of around £100. If you can find and deal with a seller this way you'll gain more cash from the sale.
Make sure the property is finished, tidy and bright
You must have seen at least one of those property/DIY programmes on TV. If not, here's a quick reminder of the oft-touted selling and "kerb-appeal" techniques.
Make sure when viewers come round that your house is clean and fresh, bright and quiet. This may involve giving some shabby walls a lick of warm, neutral paint; using air fresheners and displaying fresh flowers and playing soothing music.
Slightly more strenuous, but equally as important tasks include finally fitting those spotlights you've had sitting in the lounge since you moved in, mowing the lawn and painting the fence. All this will make the property more welcoming and help viewers picture themselves in your home.
These jobs really cannot be stressed enough. You may well assume buyers will look at an exposed wall and assume it's ‘easily fixable' but would you? You're just adding to their hassle factor and worsening the impression. After all, if they're good MoneySavers like you, their first thought will be "how much is this going to cost me to repair?"