Just like the travel industry, the property market is becoming increasingly dominated by the internet. Online estate agents may market themselves to be cheaper, but can they really provide a high-quality, personal service that customers have come to expect with traditional high street agents?

There’s no question that selling your home is an extremely stressful and expensive time. In a bid to take the hassle out of this process and venture down a more economical route, more and more people are turning to online estate agents as an alternative solution, but how do online agents differ from high street branches and will they ever be a viable option?

Relatively speaking, the process is not all that different. Traditionally, the way in which you sell your house (if you are using a traditional estate agent) is that the agent will come round and carry out a property valuation. Online agencies will also offer a physical valuation, however, the person who carries this out will normally cover a vast area, such as the whole of the South East, rather than just a specific town or village. This can lead to inaccurate valuations as the sales rep will not know the area and buyers in that area as well as a local estate agent.

As well as physical property valuations, some online estate agents will also offer an online property valuation where you simply input your property information into a valuation tool.

An account manager will then get back to you with a guide price. Your home will also be marketed in exactly the same way. Someone will visit the property and take photographs, create floor plans and a brochure and advertise via the same portals. However, there’s the upfront flat fee. There is not a standard industry fee, as such, with online agents – it will differ from agent to agent – but the cost can be as low as £395, regardless of how much your home sells for – that’s if it sells at all. You will have to pay even if that company doesn’t end up selling your house. High street agents, however, will charge a percentage of the selling price (the average estate agent fee is 1.3% according to conveyancing firm, MyHomeMove). On paper, selling online will save you money, yet it’s worth remembering that an online agency has less incentive to negotiate the best possible price for you. This is not to mention the potential headaches that will come from liaising with buyers and solicitors. Some online agents will act as the middleman for you, but you would need to check the terms of your agreement or pay an additional fee.

Working 9 till 5?

Another aspect that vendors seem to favour with the online route is the around-the-clock service. By using an online estate agent, vendors find one of the main benefits is being able to access the site or schedule a viewing at a time that suits them. Online agencies pride themselves on being flexible and convenient – call centres are open outside of working hours and on weekends, so you don’t have to wait for a high street branch to open.

Clear communication

Another point to consider is how much contact you will require during your experience. Although some online agents will assign you a personal account manager, this is not standard. This may mean you might end up having several points of contact or no contacts at all. It is here that you will really get to see whether the service is as smooth as it claims to be.

With high street estate agents, you have one point of contact throughout the whole process. You will build a good relationship with that agent, they will know your concerns and hesitations, understand your needs, they will have your best interests at heart and they will, of course, be incentivised. Some people just like the reassurance that they are dealing with a ‘real’ person.

Insider insight

By choosing a local high street agent, you are also paying for their local knowledge. This will pay dividends when it comes to the value and, ultimately, the sale of your home. Local high street agents will be aware of up-and-coming areas, sought after regions and locations that are likely to receive regeneration in the future. All of this market insight will impact hugely on achieving the best possible selling price of your home. Would you want to put your trust in an online company’s regional rep, and can they ever truly compete? If you are looking to sell quickly, or live in a rural area, you may be better off with a local agent who knows the market inside out. What’s more, a traditional high street estate agent will normally have access to a large number of local buyers and will know the areas they are interested in.

That being said, even if you’ve got the perfect package – a home with bags of potential, a proactive marketing strategy and a committed team behind you all the way – unfortunately, it doesn’t always pan out. With high street estate agents, you are tied into a contract. A Sole Agency Agreement is the most common type of estate agent contract and it means that the estate agent is the only agent with the right to sell your home during the term of the contract. If you aren’t getting the results you want, this will leave you both in a difficult position. One of the greatest advantages of online estate agents is the freedom to use multiple agents. Generally, there are no contract terms, therefore you, as the vendor, are well within your rights to instruct other agents if you wish. This is down to the fact you have already paid them a fee.

The sales pitch

If you’re using a reputable and experienced high street agent, it is quite rare that you will encounter a ‘no sale’. Not only will you be benefiting from an agent who is familiar with your area, a local agent will also be well versed in showing prospective buyers around your home. If you sign up to an online agent, the viewing process is entirely your responsibility. You may know your home inside out and feel confident answering questions, but you need to remember that the main goal is to make a sale. While you may think of yourself as the next Alan Sugar, sometimes it’s best left to the experts.

The vetting process

While it’s important to be armed with the perfect pitch, vendors should also consider their safety. A major benefit of high street agents is they offer a reliable vetting process. They will know whether potential buyers are quality applicants, and they will accompany and guide viewers around your property. By using an online agency, you are putting your trust in their vetting system, as failing to verify prospective buyers can lead to potential dangers.

Online estate agent, eMoov. co.uk has warned of the risks after a man was recently jailed for two counts of armed robbery while posing as a potential buyer when visiting two separate properties. Although an agent was present throughout both of the incidents, this case just emphasises the importance of verified applicants. Before instructing any kind of agent, be sure to find out exactly how they implement a thorough verification process.

There are many pros and cons to using both types of agents. As technology develops, more and more companies will start to offer accessible and affordable online packages. However, when it comes down to it, it is personal preference. If you’re looking for a personal service with a consistent and knowledgeable point of contact, high street estate agents are well positioned to offer you this. You need to ask yourself what matters to you the most, and who is more likely to deliver the results.

We offer services in renting, letting, buying and selling so whether you’re considering opting for a high-street or online estate agents, our helpful team at Ben Siggins will be willing discuss the pros and cons with you and help to make your property journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible, you can get in touch online or by telephone.