Taking the DIY approach to selling your home

Online services can offer support to homeowners opting to sell privately, writes Laura Slattery

Online services can offer support to homeowners opting to sell privately, writes Laura Slattery

It's not too hard to find them: self-explanatory titles such as How to Be Your Own Estate Agent: Learn an Estate Agent's Secrets and Save Thousands Selling Your House Yourself. Another one, the Sell Your Own Home Kit, describes itself as The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as an Estate Agent.

In some countries, the do-it-yourself approach to selling your home is as well established as the publishing industry's fondness for spreading the word of self-styled property gurus.

Now there are Irish online services offering support to homeowners who don't want to pay between 1 and 2 per cent of the sale price plus VAT to an estate agent. After years of exponential growth in house prices, these percentage-based commissions have rocketed to the point where homeowners who take a "who needs them" attitude to estate agents can pocket thousands in exchange for a little time and effort.


Start-up companies such as Privateseller.ie and Fsbo.ie (For Sale By Owner) don't charge commission and provide sellers with For Sale boards, advice, advertising on their websites and general support in exchange for flat fees ranging from €120 to €399.

Fiona McLoughlin of Privateseller.ie says its aim is to "deconstruct and hopefully demystify the process of selling" and bring down the cost of moving house in the process. For example, on a house selling for €300,000 where the commission charged is 1.5 per cent plus VAT at a rate of 21 per cent, the estate agent's fee would be €5,445. If the homeowner opted for Privateseller's basic package, which costs €120 and includes a For Sale board and advertising on its website until sold, they could save €5,325.

For a fee of €350, Privateseller.ie will arrange for a photographer to call to the seller's home and take pictures for its website and it will give homeowners advice on how to stage their home for potential buyers. Private sellers can advertise on Fsbo.ie (pronounced Fizz-bo) and receive copies of its sellers' guide for free. To receive a For Sale sign and place images on its website costs €149. For €399, homeowners can add more images to the site, receive help in describing the property and avail of a photographer's services.

The DIY enthusiasts say there is no great skill to selling a house, as all the legal work is dealt with by solicitors for the homeowners and buyers.

Dan Bolger, founder of Fsbo.ie, estimates that around 4-5 per cent of house sales are already private, "without any real help, which is quite exciting". Estate agents "do a job" and he doesn't want to attack them, he says. "But a lot of the time they are acting as a keyholder, letting people in and out, and homeowners are beginning to realise it."

The increasing popularity of the internet among property hunters plays right into the hands of private sellers, who can rustle up interest for a relatively low cost. As well as placing photographs of their property on specialist sites like Fsbo.ie and Privateseller.ie, private sellers can advertise their homes on established, traffic-heavy property portals. Although only estate agents can advertise on www.myhome.ie, private sellers can advertise on another popular site, daft.ie. A premium advertisement, where the property stays at the top of the list ensuring maximum exposure, costs €150 for three months. A standard advertisement costs €85 and stays listed until sold.

On nicemove.ie, the property portal owned by The Irish Times Ltd, advertising costs €85 plus VAT and the advertisement will also remain online until the property is sold.

Many homeowners will be of the view that auctioneers will be able to squeeze the best price out of potential buyers, using various pressure tactics to convince the unwary and the desperate to increase their bids far past the asking price and their own limits.

"All you need is interest from two people to get the same bidding process going that you would with an estate agent," contends Bolger. "But you do have to be a confident person and be able to take the time," he adds. Saturdays and weekday evenings are the best times to hold open and one-to-one viewings, as those are the times that suit most buyers.

Some sellers use the services of an estate agent while employing their own search methods. If they choose a buyer who finds them directly through their own advertising initiatives, they should be able to avoid paying the commission, although this approach can lead to confusion. "It is probably advisable to let your estate agent know you are doing it and not to be underhand," says Bolger.

Increasingly, however, agents are specifying sole selling rights in their contracts. "They know it is just so easy for people to advertise their properties where they will be seen on the web," he says.

"In many locations around the country all that is required to sell one's home is a For Sale board," says McLoughlin from Privateseller.ie, which was founded by a former estate agent and home-staging expert.

It is still largely a vendor's market, with properties in particularly sought-after locations continuing to enjoy healthy bid action. But if the slowing market was to suddenly suffer from a dearth of buyers, would going it alone without the advertising clout of a massive auctioneering firm be quite so appealing?

Bolger thinks it would be. "If the economy is in the doldrums, that gives people even more incentive to save the commission." Very few people go the whole hog and do their own conveyancing, he says.

"I think you need a background in that. We would always advise people to contact a solicitor. If you're in the business yourself, fair enough, but it's not for a normal Joe."

In any case, conveyancing fees have fallen in recent years, with a growing trend away from the expensive commission-based charges toward lower flat fees of €999 plus VAT or less. Consumer advocates now believe that similar downward pressure on auctioneers' fees is overdue.

But sometimes it's not about the money. It's more personal.

Patricia Tully, who lives in Spiddal, Co Galway, is selling her home herself, having opted for the €350 package from Privateseller.ie. "I felt I would have control over the sale of my house. I just thought it was a brilliant idea and it resonated with me. I would know where the bids were at, because they would be coming straight to me," she says.

"I don't want to sell the house but due to work I need to relocate to the other side of Galway," she explains. Her attachment to the house is one reason why she wants to be personally involved with the sale.

"With more face to face contact, I feel that I will be able to judge better whether I have got the right bid." Tully has sold a house before, that time with the aid of an auctioneer. "It went on for nine months and it's something I wouldn't want to go back into again."

A representative from Privateseller.ie called to her house and pointed out some paintwork that needed doing and how she should stage her house.

"As soon as the boards went up and people saw it was a private seller, they were more inclined to come to the house and ask about it. I wasn't expecting a response so quickly, so that has given me a bit of enthusiasm," she says.

It is still early days, however, and there are no formal bids yet. Tully has just finished touching up her house. So far she has been basing her asking price on the values that other houses in the area have sold for, but she is about to get a valuation done.

"I'm going to advertise in the two local papers that are delivered house-to-house, the Galway Independent and the Galway Advertiser, so that should generate some interest."

Tully says she doesn't want to condemn auctioneers and she is using their services to help find a new house.

"The auctioneer asked me a general set of questions about what area, price range and type or style of house I was looking for, but I still got pages and pages of houses to wade through. I've seen so many photographs of houses that are either not in the area I want or way out of my price range. They give you too much information and you have to go through it because you don't want to miss something."

Buyers and sellers are not being connected efficiently, she concludes. "Considering the fee they get out of your house, a lot of it is left to chance and pot luck."