The UK property market is firing on all cylinders, but the mismatch of supply and demand is a hindrance for profit-hungry estate agents. To get more properties on their books, some are offering incentives, ranging from reduced fees to free storage, to encourage prospective sellers to sign up. This means that if you are considering selling, you have bargaining power, says Henry Pryor, a property expert. "The joy of a seller's market is that you can be absolutely ruthless with agents," he says. "It's an ideal time to carve out a competitive deal."
The rise of online estate agents offering to sell your property for as little as pounds 395 has increased competition on the high street, says Pryor. Some agents in London and the south-east are passing fees usually paid by the sellers on to buyers, using "sale by informal tender" contracts for those who make sealed bids. These commit the successful buyer to paying an introductory or finder's fee to the agent, usually around 2%-2.5% of the cost of the property. At the same time, the agent collects a fee from the seller, but this is often hugely reduced. Douglas Allen, an agent based in the south-east, is charging sellers who use the process an administration fee of pounds 150 plus VAT - much less than the 1% or 2% of the sale price that they would traditionally pay.
Mark Hayward, managing director of the National Association of Estate Agents, says: "Common practice for estate agency fees is for the fee to fall to the seller in return for the agent's role in marketing the property, securing the sale and negotiating the transition with the buyer and others who may be part of the chain. However, given the current pressures on supply in the market, some agents may well consider changing their fee structures to encourage more sellers to the market."
Plenty of agents will also cut their fees by finding buyers without advertising your property. Pryor says: "Opting for the 'off market' option often reduces the muddle and over-excitement that a block-viewing of 25 people can create and can result in an equitable, private and successful deal for all."
However, Peter Young, associate director at agent John D Wood & Co, warns against this route as you risk selling your property for less than on the open market. "The reality is that the only way to truly establish what your property will sell for is to expose it to the market."
While some agents set their fees in stone, others are willing to negotiate - so it's worth trying before signing up if there isn't a particular incentive scheme in place. However, Pryor warns against persuading agents to cut their fees to the bone to ensure they remain motivated to earn their commission by getting the best deal for your property.
Smoothing the process
Selling your home is ranked as one of life's most stressful events, but making use of any assistance from agents along the way can reduce this. Many will help ensure your property appeals to potential buyers by advising on how to make it appear as tidy and spacious as possible, even putting flowers around your home. "We have a sales services department to hold sellers' hands, from advising on redecoration work to make a property suitable for sale, to finding removal men and transferring bills to the new property," says Young.
Putting unneeded items into storage is often an option for sellers hoping to show their home at its best, but it can be expensive, so London-based agent Douglas & Gordon has come up with a solution. It has teamed up with storage company WeStore to offer sellers three boxes of storage for three months, worth pounds 80. Ed Mead, executive director at Douglas & Gordon, says: "While we can consult vendors on what to remove from their property, many of our clients don't have the space or time to store these items ahead of the sales process."
However, some are sceptical that this incentive is useful in the current market. Pryor describes the offer as "a bit of a gimmick", adding: "In rampant markets buyers take properties as they find them, as when they are faced with a one-hour window to view a property and are met with another 25 other eager buyers they're unlikely to worry about the presentation."
Help finding a new home
If you are putting off selling your property until you have found a new home and had an offer accepted on this, there are plenty of agents that will offer to help for free. Waterfords estate agency, for example, covering Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire, says it will help you get an offer accepted on your ideal home before putting your property up for sale. You just have to supply details of the type of property you want, the top 10 roads you want to live on and your budget, with no time limit on their search. Julian Amos of Waterfords says: "It has come to our attention already this year that we are still in a catch-22 situation where there is limited stock available due to people not marketing their property until they find their next home and we want to help get this moving."
High street estate agents are offering Incentives from low fees to free storage in order to compete with online services. Getty