Online And Offline Estate Agents ....
Which Are Best?

One big trend in estate agency in recent years has been the development of so-called online estate agents. That’s provoked a debate between house sellers – to say nothing of estate agents themselves – about whether they’re better than conventional estate agents. Here we’ll look more closely at whether online or offline estate agents are better.

First let’s look at exactly what is meant by online and offline estate agents. How exactly are they different?

Traditional local estate agents are often thought of as offline estate agents. They have an office, complete with a window display, on the local High Street or similar. They might be part of a national chain, or they might be a small owner-operator business.

Traditional estate agents are often known as offline agents even though they usually have a website and offer properties for sale online too.

Online agents are those estate agents which don’t have local offices. They list houses for sale only on websites, and conduct many of the other aspects of buying and selling a house online too. Online agents include big online names such as Purplebricks and Yopa and smaller, lesser known online agents too.

Some online estate agents say that they use a combination of both online and offline approaches and refer to themselves as hybrid estate agents.

Before deciding which is best let’s look at some of the issues involved:

Online and offline estate agents have different fee structures. This is probably the number one issue to consider when choosing between online and offline agents. Online agents usually charge a one-off fixed fee, while offline agents usually charge a commission based on the eventual selling price of a house.

Research by The Advisory says that commission estate agents typically charge between 0.5% and 2% commission with the average charge being around 1.18% (plus VAT). On the other hand, the largest online agents usually charge a fixed fee of around £1,000 (outside London).

In a straight comparison, the fixed fee will usually be cheaper. However there are other things to consider too: Agents charging a fixed fee may charge extra for conducting viewings, signboards and for enhanced marketing services while commission agents may well include this.

Also agents who charge a fixed fee may expect it to be paid upfront and whether or not they find a buyer. Commission agents usually only expect payment when a buyer is found and when the sale goes through.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that a commission-based agent has an incentive to find the buyer willing to pay the highest price and in the shortest possible time. (Although the higher the sale price the more commission you pay!)

Online and offline estate agents can vary in their local knowledge. Offline agents usually specialise in the area where their office is located and have a good personal knowledge of it. They may have a personal knowledge of every house that has been sold there, and how much it sold for, going back many years.

Online estate agents may cover a much wider geographical area and so have less specific local knowledge, relying instead on market data to decide on pricing and so on. As online agents are a newish concept their knowledge most likely doesn’t go back as far as an established traditional agent.

Online and offline estate agents may offer different levels of service. With an offline agent, you can speak to your agent on the phone or even call into the office and speak to them face to face if you want to – as can your potential buyers. Online agents however generally only operate online or perhaps from a central call centre.

On the other hand, online agents are often available 24/7 if you need them. Offline agents are usually only available during normal office hours.

Online and offline estate agents often differ in their marketing methods. Online agents mainly market your property by listing it on the online property portals like Rightmove, Zoopla or On the Market. They rely on buyers using those portals to look for a new house.

As well as using portals offline agents may use other marketing methods too. For example, listing properties on their own website, using social media, local press advertising and their shop window displays. All of these give you extra opportunities to find a buyer. They might even have buyers already registered with them who are waiting to buy a house like yours.

So at the end of the day, which is best – online or offline estate agents?

In truth it is pretty much impossible to say! It all depends on what kind of property you’re selling and what sort of estate agency service you want.

If you have an average kind of property, in an average kind of area, for which there is a ready demand then an online agent may be able to find you a buyer for it quickly. If your property is unusual in any way, or difficult to value, and you feel you need local market knowledge and a more hands-on approach then an offline agent could be the one for you.

The best advice, before choosing either an online estate agent or an offline one, is probably to take advice from each, and compare what each offers and the different costs. Look at how likely, and how quickly, each agent will be able to find you a buyer. Then make the decision not based on what anybody else tells you but based on what you feel is the right agent for you