Always compare agents before choosing

Online vs High Street - who will live up to your expectations and fully support you through to completion?

Advertising industry intervention and a TV expose have dogged online agents recently, leaving home movers questioning whether they are as trustworthy as they make out. The number of complaints to the BBC were of such volume that one online agent was featured as the opening story on consumer series Watchdog (read a summary of its findings here). The screening was shortly followed by an article by consumer champion Which?, highlighting how the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has repeatedly intervened with regards to figures used in advertising by online agents (read the articles here and here).

The above illustrates how important it is to be cautious of catchy TV commercials and not to dismiss High Street agents out of hand. Keep your options open, invite High Street agents to value your property and make a judgement only once you're comfortable with the pros and cons presented by both parties. This is especially important given that selling a property is a legal transaction and the staff are dealing with your most valuable asset.

As Watchdog uncovered, the online-only service you sign up for may not always be the service you expected. The fall out is evident across The Robinson Jackson Group - we're helping many sellers who have been let down by an online-only service. "Many sellers turn to us after being unsuccessful with an online-only company, with their property still for sale or falling through after months online. Sadly, there's sometimes a big sting in the tail too - a bill from the online agent even if they haven't sold your property," comments Simon Woodcock, Partner.

The traditional method of inviting three High Street estate agents into your property to provide a valuation should still be your first step to selling. Today, however, TV commercials - all 30 seconds of them - are blinkering people and distracting them away from this logical process. On average, people move every seven years, and over this period the industry has changed massively, so doing your research has never been more important.

Meeting agents in person is a great way of assessing the services offered, and it gives you the chance to really probe agents about their reputation in the local area, historic track record and fee structure. Important questions to ask all the agents you interview include how and when any fees are paid, who will be your dedicated point-of-contact during the transaction, and what specific local knowledge and contacts they have that will help find you the best buyer possible. "You'll want to know that the valuation suggested will generate offers, that any buyer has been qualified so they don't jeopardise the chain and that there is robust sales progression until completion to keep chains intact," adds Simon.

"We hear time and time again that the supposed 'local property expert' sent by an online agent has travelled for miles to value the property, knows little or nothing about the area and will usually have nothing to do with the transaction after the valuation is concluded. From that point on you could be on your own with little or no professional support. You may be responsible for your property's online presentation, the organisation of viewings, negotiation of the price, and the liaison between solicitors, mortgage providers and possibly other connected properties within a chain. With so much riding on a successful sale - perhaps you're moving for a new job or for a school place - this DIY approach doesn't always give comfort to the homeowner. We believe the public deserves an agent who works and lives in the local area, and who is on hand in person to offer expertise, advice and reassurance."

Do your own research - speak to other people about their experiences, search for the respective online agents on Facebook and see what the public are saying - you'll find a balanced view. "There are very few products or services that we'd buy without researching first - selling your property should be no different. Invite a local branch from The Robinson Jackson Group to your property and hear what we have to say - that's all we can ask," concludes Simon.

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