If you are buying or selling your home, there are ways beyond traditional estate agents. In this post, we’ll look at alternative options, plus alternative ways to rent or let your home. Followed by tips for happy moving (including how to safely transition pets, who often find moving a stressful process). Also read tackling the affordable housing crisis.
There is nothing wrong with a local independent estate agent, but most are very expensive, and ultimately earn thousands just for taking a few measurements and photos, then sticking your property on Right Move, where 93% of people find their home to buy. The rise of online agents has led to many people switching to companies that do the same, but for far less commission. However, the issues are large – you don’t get the personal service, the companies take the profit upfront (so there is no incentive to sell) and some of the bigger companies have awful reviews. And worse – if you don’t sell up, you’re then left with thousands of pounds of debt, as they don’t work on a ‘no-sale, no-fee basis’. So if you don’t mind spending the commission, in some cases you are better off just using a local agent. You’ll pay more if it sells, but you won’t pay anything, if it doesn’t.
So what are the alternatives? There are some good ones, but they only really work, if everyone starts using them. For example, The HouseShop is a good site that is free to list homes privately, but with just 30,000 daily visitors (tiny in comparison to Right Move), most people won’t find your listing. Beware of scammers (don’t pay or sign anything without legal help, and take someone with you). Here are some more tips and resources:
- If you use an online agent, one of the better ones is Strike (free). Instead of charging you to sell your home (with add-ons like using their surveyors), these companies simply get their profit from mortgages, conveyancing and moving services, which they offer in addition.
- Brickworks (London) is an ethical estate agent that does things a bit differently. It offers fixed fees in any geographical location, and promises no cold calls and has good reviews. It also uses 1% of its fees to help homeless charities.
- Did you know that years ago, there was a non-profit estate agent in Cornwall? It gave the same service, and donated all fees after salaries, to local charities. But nobody used it, so it went under. Go figure.
- Be very careful with companies that promise to sell your house in 7 days. Most usually take at least 30% of the value off (usually knocked down even more, once you’ve signed the contract and had a surveyor around to evaluate). If you’re that desperate to sell, you’re better off just taking a silly offer from a conventional estate agent.
Questions to Ask Estate Agents
It’s unfortunate for honest estate agents that the profession does not have the greatest reputation for honesty and integrity. One way to change this, is to know your rights and ensure you know what service you are paying for. Home Owners Alliance has a good set of questions to ask estate agents (make a list to take with you and don’t be frightened to get it out to read from: you are paying often thousands in commission, so have a right to ask):
- Why is the owner selling?
- How long has the property been on sale?
- Has the property not sold at auction? The value will crash, if so.
- Are there are plans for the local area?
- How did the agent decide the price?
- Is the property easy to sell? Homes with subsidence or above commercial properties (especially food) are often impossible to sell, as banks won’t lend against them.
- Can you speak direct to sellers? You are legally entitled.
- Have there been neighbour complaints?
- If selling, ask for a Good Will Charter so both parties pay a deposit. This is lost, if the sale does not go through.
Alternative Ways to Rent Your Home
Just as with buying and selling, landlords don’t have the best reputation (nor some tenants). In mainland Europe (where renting is far more popular), it’s very easy to find good landlords, as the laws are much stricter and properties better maintained. For now, here are some tips and ideas:
- OpenRent is a good site that charges low fees (to cover legal checks and deposits). Again it does not have the reach of Right Move, but has a good service, and you can pay a little extra, to get them to do all the reference checks and take deposits etc. Monday to Friday offers mid-week rooms for Rent-a-Room income.
- One bugbear for many renters is huge deposits. Reposit is a service that lets renters pay one week’s rent (covered by insurance).
- Marks Out of Tenancy is a landlord review site. Obviously some landlords are not happy about it, but others say it helps to avoid the rogue landlords. Landlords are allowed to reply to bad reviews.
- My Landlord Cares (Yorkshire) is a new kind of landlord that has lower fees, and also supports tenants with paperwork, and even local parenting. Instead of a ‘no DSS’ advert, it goes out of its way to help people struggling to find suitable property, move in and offers follow-up support. Other similar agencies are New View Residential (Cambridge) that uses profits to help animal shelters and hospices and Homes for Good (nationwide) that offers fair rents and has affordable handy people for repairs.
- Property Guardians are a new idea, where you can rent short-term empty offices and warehouses, to stop them being left empty. Ideal for basic cheap accommodation until you sort yourself out, usually these are way cheaper than conventional rent, especially in big cities like London.
- If you’re on benefits, Shelter & Citizens Advice have tips. You can bid for social housing at HomeHunt & Sanctuary Housing.
- Share & Care is an innovative service that matches (vetted) applicants with people who need low-cost accommodation. So if you have a young woman with no money, she can rent a room say in a house with an elderly person who needs help to walk pets, do chores and provide a little company. In return, she gets very cheap accommodation in an unused room.
- Trusted Housesitters uses vetted applicants to look after homes, while the owners are away. This is usually short-term, but sometimes people go away for months abroad, so need long-term applicants. If looking after pets and plants, see toxic plants and toxic houseplants to avoid, and avoid foliage near windows, to help stop birds flying into windows.
Moving Home Checklist
Moving home is made a lot easier, if you live a simple lifestyle anyway. The days of boxes and tea chests and big removal vans are gradually being replaced by minimalists who prefer to make moves far less stressful. Having said that, moving is one of the big life stressors, so let’s make it a bit more relaxing for you! Read The Art of Happy Moving (tips from a woman who with her husband has moved 10 times in 11 years). Learn how to stage your home for buyers, choose the next neighbourhood, organise packing, make the move relaxing and settle into your new home. The simpler your life and move, the less chance of forgetting something important:
- Confirm the date of move, and give notice
- Buy removal boxes, and order removal vans.
- Cancel utility supplies (take photos of meters)
- Arrange donation/collection of unused furniture
- Sell, donate or recycle stuff you are not taking
- Cancel newspapers, milk etc.
- Send out new address cards
- Learn quickest relaxing route to new property
- Pack essentials like a kettle and mugs for arrival
- Arrange to collect new keys, and drop off old keys
- Register with a doctor, dentist & vet.
- Set up home, broadband & home insurance
- Confirm new schools registration
- Get car serviced, check breakdown cover
- Redirect mail
- Register with local council
- Charge mobile before leaving
Moving Home with Pets
Pets often find moving stressful (especially if older, or they have been abandoned in the past). Blue Cross has tisp on moving with dogs and moving with cats. Also see how to deal with break-ups as a pet owner:
- Use familiar beds & toys, to help settle them in
- Keep food and bowls nearby, for arrival.
- Ensure new ID is up-to-date on day of move.
- Look up best local dog walks, near new property.
- A familiar friend may wish to pet-sit, while you move
It’s easier to find pet-friendly homes by giving references from previous landlords, paying a higher deposit and offering to replace carpets at end of tenancy (often many ‘non-pet-friendly landlords’ change their mind):