Why selling your home in 2015 is about to become a real headache

Will estate agents come clean that it could take longer to sell your home for
less? Make sure you ask the right questions

Local knowledge, a competitive fee, and a dogged approach to driving the
highest price are the main tick boxes when choosing an estate agent to sell
your home.

But, in less than a month’s time, that decision will become more complicated
and the outcome potentially more costly for the vendor .

A new property website, backed by a consortium of heavy weight, high street
agents, will be launched on January 26, in a bid to challenge the dominance
of Rightmove
and Zoopla ,
currently the two big “portal” powers in the online residential property
world.

Fed up of shelling out listing fees to these portals, Savills ,
Knight Frank, Chestertons, Strutt Parker, Douglas Gordon and
Glentree Estates have formed a not-for-profit organisation called Agents’
Mutual and signed up 4,000 branches to their own new sales and lettings
website, OnTheMarket.com
(OTM) .

The digital newcomer aims to return control to the traditional high street
brands in the wake of profits being crunched by rents, rates and the looming threat
from an emerging community of low-cost, online estate agents.

The OTM founders hope it will bring healthy competition to a sector in which
smaller start-up websites have failed to make their mark.

However, the presence of OTM could also increase the time it takes to sell a
home and lessen its value, according to critics.

Member branches will only be able list on one of the other two leading
portals, either Rightmove (LSE: RMV.Lnews) or Zoopla, thus potentially halving the marketing
exposure of a property.

“We thought this was good news, but if your estate agent wants to market your
property through OTM they must drop at least one of the big two portals,”
said Angela Kerr, director at the HomeOwners Alliance.

“Sadly, it is all about protecting estate agents’ market share and profits,
and nothing about helping homeowners get a better deal.”

Restricting the number of people who will see a listed property online could,
in turn, impact the speed of sale and getting the price right, she said.

“It’s another rotten deal for homeowners that lines estate agents’ pockets.”

Only two months ago The Telegraph revealed that members
of Agents’ Mutual were discussing ways to hold back newly listed OTM stock
from appearing on one of the secondary portals.

A marketing video, featuring the commercial director of the OTM site and
targeting its network of agents, confirmed the policy.

“So many of you have already decided you will be launching your newly
instructed properties stock exclusively to OTM 48 hours or more before they
appear on any other portal,” stated Helen Whiteley.

The move was deemed by opponents to be anti-consumer, because a vendor’s home
could sit for two days or more on a relatively unknown site, missing out on
the influx of traffic to Rightmove, which attracts 90m visitors a month, and
Zoopla, which reports monthly visitor numbers of 45m.

Savills (LSE: SVS.Lnews) , a founder of Agents’ Mutual and an OnTheMarket member, claims it has
written letters to its customers explaining the arrival of the new website
and why it has chosen to drop Zoopla in favour for Rightmove.

“Across our 80 branches we have the double traffic from Rightmove [compared to
Zoopla] … so it was a logical decision,” said Paul Jarman, head of the
west of England at Savills.

Rightmove, the leading UK portal which advertises 1.2m properties for sale or
rent, is more dominant in the country market, Mr Jarman explains.

Zoopla has, by contrast, a greater presence in London through its Prime
Location brand; and Chestertons, whose patch is the capital, has opted to go
with Zoopla.

“The process for selection was a very important decision based empirical
evidence. It is undeniable that, for London, Zoopla delivers more enquiries
than any other portal,” said Robert Bartlett, chief executive of
Chestertons.

“Zoopla has spent millions marketing themselves around the IPO earlier this
year and has very strong public recognition.”

Strutt and Parker, which has a notable presence in rural parts of the country
such as the Cotswolds, have – along with Knight Frank – chosen the
combination of OTM and Rightmove; as has Dougals Gordon, despite its
London leaning.

On its website Jackson-Stops Staff explains their choice (OTM and
Rightmove) but does
not mention the decision to hold back stock for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the country’s largest property and lettings agency, Countrywide
(which includes brands John D Wood, Hamptons and Gascoigne-Pees) has
rejected OnTheMarket and will stick with Rightmove and Zoopla, as have
Connells and LSL.

OTM has also angered the online-only estate agents, who are categorically
banned from listing on the site; Rightmove and Zoopla, by contrast, do
include homes listed with low-cost online agents.

Comments made by the chief executive of Agents’ Mutual, Ian Springett, about
online-only agents – such as Hatched, eMoov and Sarah Beeny’s Tepilo – have
shown the intensity of feeling held by the traditional sector.

“The online option is a bit of a con, only doing 20pc of the job a
full-service estate agent does and not getting the high prices. Therefore,
what you’re paying might not amount to very much,” said Mr Springett, who
founded Prime Location before selling it. [Online agents] are parasitic
and can only exist alongside the portals.”

Russell Quirk, the chief executive of online business eMoov ,
has written a letter to a selection of the OTM estate agents, including
Spicer Haart.

“It is a move to resist the rise in popularity of new, disruptive estate
agency firms that are providing lower selling fees and higher service levels
to home sellers,” it reads. “It is a retrograde step.”

As highlighted in Mr Quirk’s letter, the crux of the matter appears to be
whether the seller can trust the estate agent to explain proactively that
for 48 hours their home will not be promoted on Rightmove or Zoopla.

And, while the consumer relies on honesty from the agent, OTM’s backers – who
have ploughed £8m into the project and a national TV advertising campaign –
are relying on quickly achieving scale.

The initial aim was to sign up 5,000 branches by the end of 2014, with 4,000
of the 18,000 UK estate agent offices having been acquired by September. But
an OTM spokeswoman declined to give updated end-of-year figures.

“We believe we are in a position to launch an outstanding website which will
serve property-searchers, estate and letting agents and their clients more
effectively than the market incumbents,” she said.

Mr Quirk said that, with minimal website traffic, agents would go “running
back to Rightmove and Zoopla”.

“The consumer wants to be on those sites. The consumer will dictate and
will be right,” he added.

But its seems the savvy seller could benefit, negotiating a dual listing with
more than one agent and ensuring their property is on all three “portals”,
while the shrewd buyer could spot a newly listed home via OTM before it
appears to the masses on Rightmove or Zoopla.

The right questions to ask your agent

1. Is the branch an OnTheMarket member? (The OTM logo should be in the
window)

2. Which portal will your home be advertised on and when?

3. Can you negotiate a reduction in fee for the delay in your property
appearing on Rightmove or Zoopla?

4. Can you negotiate a joint agency listing?

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