What I learnt from selling my home privately

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Selling your home privately can save you thousands in estate agents fees, but there are lots of important legal details to manage and potentially lots of aspects that could go wrong, and making a mistake can have serious repercussions.

I sold my property without an estate agent and it went smoothly, but there were two good reasons for this;

  • Firstly, I researched how to do it extremely carefully; and

  • Secondly, I was lucky enough to be approached by someone who wanted to buy my home.

Why sell independently?

Estate agents charge between 0.75% and 3% of a property's sale price + VAT. If you sell your home exclusively through a single estate agent, you'll usually be charged the lower end of the charge scale.

But the higher end means selling a house worth £300,000 can cost £10,800 including VAT if the estate agent charges the full 3%. That's a lot of money. You could get a new kitchen for that price.

Market conditions

Research from independent estate agent Haart found there are 12 buyers chasing every property in England and Wales. This means demand far outstrips supply and creates a sellers' market.

In these conditions selling your home without using an estate agent is easier because you probably won't need to look to hard to find a buyer and you won't need to utilise the skills, contacts and nous that estate agents provide in marketing and selling a property.

If market conditions were different and there was a shortage of buyers for each property on the market, you might be better off using an estate agent.

How I did it

I sold my house without an estate agent because I was confident I'd be able to handle the legal process and because I was living in an area where demand was strong and I'd seen recent examples of property selling almost immediately.

I made a checklist of all aspects of the process I needed to understand and handle correctly;

  • How and where to advertise,

  • How to prepare the property for sale,

  • Administration documents required for sale,

  • Legal documents and issues to deal with,

  • Viewings and access,

  • Negotiating a price and accepting an offer.

How and where to advertise

Most buyers live near where they buy their next house, so advertise in the local area, on local websites, forums, in shop windows and in local newspapers. If you use photos, make sure they are clear, use light effectively and present the property attractively.

If demand for property is strong in your area, you could limit advertising to the above or secure interest by word of mouth at the school gates, through a work colleague or other contacts you have.

I struck lucky because I lived next to the local primary school. Occasionally I'd get a note through my door asking if I ever moved would I get in touch. I received a note when considering moving, followed it up, and discovered the prospective buyer was trustworthy, genuine, and, even better, a cash buyer with no chain involved.

However, you might not be this fortunate, and may need to extend advertising to private house sale websites like houseweb.co.uk and thehouseshop.co.uk. They offer basic packages to sell your home cheaply. Other cheap options include Emoov and Purple Bricks, but these are closer to actual estate agents and although fees are cheaper, they still take a cut.

How to prepare the property and make it sellable

Clean your property inside and out, make quick and easy repairs but don't necessarily redecorate every room. Remember, potential buyers want to create their own style and redecorate themselves.

Tidy up the clutter but don't make the property too sparse as an empty property isn't attractive to potential buyers. You want the property to look like it's lived-in so people can visualise it as a home.

Remember the importance of kerb appeal; how your property looks from the outside, so tidy up the garden, repair broken fences and gates, and clean the windows. Give the property a makeover, but don't spend lots of money on changing too much because cosmetic issues won't affect the sale price. They can easily be changed by the new owner to how they want.

The paperwork

Write a description of your property based on others you see in estate agents and online. Ensure potential buyers have a floor-plan with accurate details about the property showing dimensions, windows, doors, radiators, phonelines, and an energy performance certificate which costs between £50 and £120.

You also need to set a price. Base this on local market conditions by researching similar properties in the area. Be honest and realistic to enhance sale prospects.

Arrange and conduct viewings

One of the biggest advantages of using an estate agent is their experience in conducting viewings. They're impartial, understand buyers and don't take criticism of a property personally, in the way that you as a homeowner might.

When arranging viewings of your own home yourself you must be dispassionate. Step away from the fact it's your house and put yourself in the position of the buyer and offer practical reliable information on the property and local area.

Your approach and attitude to viewings and the atmosphere you create has a big impact on whether viewers decide to make an offer.

Negotiating a price and accepting an offer

Before you start selling your home decide on a fair price and also a minimum price you're not prepared to go below. This helps when negotiating.

When I sold my house I understood what it was worth and also that there was a lot of demand from potential buyers because of the lack of similar properties available in the area. This helped me stand firm and get the asking price I was looking for.

When negotiating, keep a clear head and don't be intimidated. Potential buyers have a right to try and get a reduction, but they're playing a risky game and if they like the property enough won't risk losing the chance to buy it.

Be honest. If you have several offers from different buyers, tell the others and encourage them to put in their best offer so each has the same chance of success. If you have to turn down an offer do so in a friendly way. Don't burn bridges. Retaining a positive attitude may mean the viewer returns with an improved offer.

Once a potential buyer has got a survey done they may attempt to renegotiate the price if they say they've found problems with the property. If they do, ask to see the survey report. If there are genuine problems you could offer to split the difference in price. When you're ready to accept an offer, agree verbally first and then via email or letter.

However, nothing is legally binding until you exchange contracts.

Once you have accepted an offer and agreed to sell your home take care to avoid any potentially expensive legal mistakes.

Instruct a solicitor and a conveyancer to sort out the legal points. Again, research; use trusted recommendations or personal experience to choose the right legal representation. You can find local surveyors on The Council for Licensed Conveyancers website or local solicitors at The Law Society and the DirectGov website also has useful information.

Pros and cons and potential pitfalls

Selling my property independently was straightforward because I found a genuine buyer who really wanted the property.

But, it was still stressful simply because it's such an important undertaking so I had a few sleepless nights worrying about any potentially costly mistakes. Selling your home independently takes time, so decide if you have enough to dedicate to it.

Another potential drawback is that prospective buyers may expect to deal with an estate agent so you may need to work harder to convince them that you're credible and not hiding any important information about the condition of the property.

Skills and qualities that help sell a property independently

  • Be prepared to answer tricky and personal questions about your property.

  • Research the local market to accurately talk about the local area.

  • If you don't know the answer don't blag it! Tell them you will find out and get back to them.

  • Be firm on negotiating and research carefully to set the right asking price.

  • Be prepared to say no.

  • The process takes time and effort. You won't save thousands without putting in some effort and dealing with some hassles.

Was it worth it?

Was this worth the £5,000ish I saved by bypassing an estate agent? On balance I'd say yes, but if market conditions had been different, if it had been difficult finding a buyer or getting near my desired selling price, I think a good value estate agent may have been worth the expense.