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Do you need an estate agent to buy a house?
Guides & help - Get the most out of your estate agent
03 August 2020

Do you need an estate agent to buy a house?

Rosie Hamilton
Writer & Researcher

You've decided you want to buy your first house, but now what? Figuring out how to navigate the world of estate agents and online portals is a great way to start.

Do you need to hire an estate agent if you're a buyer? Can you buy a property directly off the seller? What costs beyond the sale price do you need to put money aside for?

Below we take you through the basics, and explain a little about how estate agents can be a useful asset to your property search.

Can you buy a house without using an estate agent?

Yes! In the UK, it's not usually standard practice for a buyer to hire an estate agent. Usually, an estate agent will only represent the person selling their property.

However, if you're a buyer, there are some very useful ways you can use estate agents to help you find the right home, for the best sale price. When you start your property search, signing up with the local estate agents can reduce some of the hard work of trawling the market for your dream home. If you let them know your requirements, each agent will produce a list of suitable properties for you.

If you're not sure which agents are the best in your area, check out this nifty tool. It compares all of the estate agents in a particular area, and provides you with a list of the top-performers.

Building a good relationship with estate agents can be really useful too. If you get to know the estate agents in the area you're looking to buy, they'll be able to let you know in advance when new properties are about to come onto the market. You'll get the first look at new homes, and be one step ahead of other potential buyers in the area. This is particularly useful when there are more people looking to buy than sell, and competition for the best properties is fierce.

Although an estate agent technically works for the seller, it's their ultimate aim to find a buyer. This is because they only get paid once the sale has gone through. This means that if you're an 'attractive' buyer an estate agent will be keen to broker a good deal for you. They may even prioritise you when it comes to sharing off-market properties. The most attractive buyers are those that are able to move house quickly. They'll either be chain-free (for example, a first time buyer), or have the money to purchase the property outright.

So, although you don't need to work with an estate agent in order to buy a house, they can still be pretty useful in aiding with your search. Good relationships with estate agents can go a long way in ensuring you find the right house, and get the best deal on it.

Do you pay an estate agent when buying a house?

No! Even if an estate agent helps with your dream property search, you don't have to pay them. Agents are paid by the seller once their property has been sold.

You should, however, take into account the following costs and fees, when figuring out how much money you need to put aside for your property purchase:

  • Valuation Fee

If you need a mortgage to purchase a property, your lender will want to have the house valued first. This is just so they can be sure that the property is worth as much as the amount you need to be loaned. Normally, you will be required to cover the costs of this valuation. There may also be other fees associated with arranging a mortgage. These will be referred to as 'broker fees' or 'arrangement fees' depending upon your chosen lender.

  • Survey Fees

Surveys are optional checks into the structure and condition of the property you're looking to buy. They're usually worth getting, because they'll let you know if there are any major issues you should be worried about - like damp, asbestos, or subsidence. Many buyers opt to get surveys completed so they know exactly what work will need to be done on the property. And if issues do arise, they can sometimes be used to renegotiate the asking price.

  • Conveyancing or solicitor fees

Your conveyancer or solicitor will handle all the legal bits of your property purchase. They'll negotiate your sales contract, make sure you get all the correct surveys done, and ensure you're legally protected should any issues arise in the sale.

  • Stamp Duty (or LBTT)

Stamp Duty (or Land Buildings Transaction Tax in Scotland) is a tax you pay if you purchase a property above a certain price. Normally the threshold is £125,000, but until March 31 2021, this threshold has been temporarily increased. This means you'll only have to pay this tax if you want to buy a property worth more than £500,000.

  • Land Registry Fee

The Land Registry is a record of who owns property across the UK. When you buy a house, the Land Registry charges a fee to transfer the property record into your name.

  • Removal Costs

Depending on how much you have to take to your new property, and how far away it is, you may want to enlist professional help. Removals options range from hiring a van for a day, to working with a team of packers and movers who will transport your items to their new home for you.

Can I make an offer on a house without an estate agent?

Yes, neither you nor the seller needs to work with an estate agent for you to put in an offer. If they are selling privately, you can put in an offer directly to the seller themselves, or your conveyancer can contact their solicitor.

If you are offering on a property without an estate agent, make sure to take some extra precautions. For example, you should make sure to get an independent valuation of the property before you make an offer. This will give you confidence that the seller has not overpriced the property - and that your offer is reasonable.

You don't want to be caught out by a mortgage provider's valuation that's much lower than the asking price. If your lender isn't willing to cover the entire offer price, you may end up having to back out of the sale. Getting your own valuation done will ensure you offer the right price.

Read more about the mortgage process here.

It's important that you also receive the correct information about a property too. You should be able to see a valid EPC, accurate floor plan, and, if you're in Scotland, an up-to-date Home Report. It's a legal requirement that home sellers provide this information to potential buyers if they request it.

If you're unsure what information to request, talk to a conveyancer or solicitor with experience working with private sales. They will be able to advise what reports you need, and what to do if there are any issues. This will ensure that you are protected should there be any inaccuracies or issues with the property later on.

If you've received all of this information, and are happy to move forward, you can submit an offer. The difference with private sales is that you will be dealing directly with the seller themselves. This means all negotiations will be direct.

Sometimes this is completely fine, and continues without any hiccups. However, you must be ready for the possibility of dealing with a seller that is an inexperienced negotiator and incredibly emotionally attached to the property they are selling.

Some buyers prefer offering on properties sold through an estate agent, simply because, when tensions are high during negotiations, there is a third party mediator to ensure effective and efficient resolution.

When buying through an estate agent, you'll also know that all the data you share is being handled and stored by trained professionals. For example, it's standard practice for a seller to ask for proof of funds before signing the contract. It's up to you whether you feel comfortable sharing your private financial data with a stranger, or whether you'd prefer dealing with a GDPR-registered professional.

Learn more about the agents in your area. See how good they are, and what other home movers have said about them here.

Can you bypass an estate agent to buy a property?

Unless a seller decides to end their contract with an estate agent and put their property on the market privately, you legally have to submit your offer to their chosen agent. This means you can't bypass an estate agent in order to buy a house privately. However, if there are reasonable causes for complaint, your seller may wish to end their estate agency contract and allow you to offer directly. For example, many sellers complain that online estate agencies are slow and uncommunicative, to the point that they worry their sale is going to fall through. If this is the case, they may consider ending their contract and selling their property to you privately in order to speed up the process.

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