Why online estate agents aren’t worth it


Imagine you’re buying a house, you see an ideal place on a leading property portal and then make an appointment to view with the estate agent.

If you’re dealing with one of the 10,500 or so members of the National Association of Estate Agents then the chances are you’ll speak to a real person in a real office who’s knows the vendor and has a personal stake in getting the property seen by as many people as possible. If you don’t, well, you’ll take your chances…

If you’re selling your home you’ll know that advertising through the likes of online only estate agents is much, much cheaper than the traditional High Street estate agent. I’ve seen quotes for a fraction of what some agents charge. That’s a hell of a saving. But will they sell your house? My experience suggests it will take a bit more effort than some appear to put in.

You call the online agent’s number, and are promptly put on hold. Eventually, you’re transferred to a call centre, perhaps in Birmingham, many miles from the property you’re interested in and you provide your details to a call handler before asking for an appointment at a specific time on a specific date.

After that will come a stream of emails asking you to confirm your details, reconfirm the appointment you asked for and then, only then, will you get an appointment email and find it isn’t exactly when you wanted but some other time that suits the “local property specialist” who is to show you around.

You’ll reflect that it’s not what you wanted but you accept it and move the rest of your viewings around to suit it. Two days later, just over a day before your visit, you’ll get three emails within as many minutes – the first one cancelling the appointment, the second proposing a different time that doesn’t really work for you, and a third telling you to ‘take action’.

Try calling the company’s Birmingham call centre to find out what’s going on and they’ll tell you there’s nothing that can be done. You’ve been sent a new time – so accept it or forget about seeing the property.

What gives? From the buyer’s point of view, there’s absolutely no advantage to using companies like these.

Want some expertise on the area you’re looking at? Want someone who’s going to do some legwork for you? Want your appointment to be treated reverently, not cancelled or moved on a whim? Want someone to be proactive, tell you about other properties in the area? You need a traditional agent. You really do.

What sellers need to understand is that there’s a price for using these online agents, which is that your property might not sell very quickly. Or at all.  Buyers do not want to be messed around. And, last time I checked, it was not exactly a seller’s market .

Back to my viewing. I can’t see the house in question because I’ve only got one day in the week when I can view properties and my days for doing so are fully booked for 2-3 weeks.

So what to do? I guess I can still go and look at it in 3 weeks’ time, but by then it might have been sold to someone else. Although on the basis of my experience with Purple Bricks, of course, that’s unlikely.

Purple Bricks’ live chat line person told me: “Our agents are extremely busy and try to make sure that they are able to attend all bookings..,it may just be a case that the agent was not available at that time.”

Which rather begs the question why they decided to send me that time in the first place. It’s not like I chose it.