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Selling a house with an estate agent

Rule No. 1: use an NAEA-approved estate agent (National Association of Estate Agents) – there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there.

Rule No. 2: don't forget an estate agent's is a shop like any other and their sole purpose in life is to make money for themselves – it's a business and must make a profit.

There are of course certain advantages to using an estate agent, providing you've chosen carefully. Selling your house will be relatively work-free for you and you will be paying for the experienced services of a professional. They will suggest an asking price, they will take photographs and measurements, write a "to die for" description and market your product to its best advantages, they have the necessary jargon. They will advertise your house in their window or through "For Sale" boards, mail-outs and the press. They will organise appointments for prospective buyers to view the property.

For each advantage, there's a disadvantage. They will do what's best for selling your house to their advantage, not yours. There is a lack of legislation governing estate agents' practices and there are some very unscrupulous estate agents around.

Beware of the suggested asking price - not to be confused with a valuation which can only be done by a qualified surveyor and is expensive. Some estate agents overvalue to get you on their books or undervalue to ensure a quick sale; neither is good. Your house should reflect similar prices to similar properties sold or being sold in your area.

For their services, they charge commission (1.5% - 4% of property value) to which will be added 17.5% VAT. If you decide to use one estate agent, you will obviously pay one commission but if you decide to use more than one agent, the commission fees can double. Always check your contract for "sole agent rights" which means you can't use more than one agent and for "sole selling rights" which means you can't sell your own house, if the occasion arises. You should also check your contract for the lock-in period which should be as short as possible, preferably one week after written notice is received.

When choosing an estate agent, you have the power to haggle – they want your money so your criteria should be 1% of property's value and 1 week lock-in period. If they don't like it, go somewhere else. Choose three or four of the best/busiest approved agents before deciding on one, ask each one for an asking price (don't tell them the prices from the others) and get a quote with their lock in period and fee.

Useful info links on selling through an agent:

Office of Fair Trading

DTI Consumer Fact Sheet

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Houseweb Buy It Privately