How to be your own estate agent

If you're having trouble selling your home through an estate agent - or just want to buck the fees - you might try selling it yourself. Merryn Somerset Webb explains how.

If you are selling a house in Britain, you are probably finding it a trying business. Outside London and select areas of the southeast prices are falling fast, transactions are minimal and only those prepared to slash, slash and slash again at their asking prices find that they sell fast. According to the latest HMRC figures, a mere 72,000 houses changed hands in April this year. That's down from 88,000 in March and 137,000 in April 2006.

At the same time, "the credibility gap between typical asking prices and resultant sales prices means that many buyers are being mercenary when it comes to making offers", says property commentator Henry Pryor. "Most have learned that an asking price is not necessarily a guide to current value and are often treating them with derision. Selling has never been tougher."

You might think that in an environment like this the advice of a good estate agent has rarely been more valuable. On the other hand, you might think that if your agent has set the price of your house at the wrong level and then failed to sell it without putting you through the trauma of expectation re-adjustment and a period of limbo, he doesn't deserve much of a fee.

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If it's the latter, you may want to think about selling privately via one of the many For Sale By Owner (FSBO) websites. In Canada and America, where estate agent commissions tend to be a shockingly high 6% or so, these have taken off. They now represent 12% and 10% of the market respectively.

This makes sense. As Colby Sambrotto of told the FT, "the market is distressed and when many homes are worth less than their purchase price, tacking on a full 6% commission can erode a seller's profits or, worse, compound losses". However, while the North Americans are clearly all for FSBO, in Britain the concept has "struggled to get off the ground", says Graham Norwood, also in the FT.

The websites on offer are "amateur" with too few properties listed to make visiting them worth the bother. Still, given how difficult and expensive it is to sell via traditional routes right now, it might be worth a go both for British and any European properties you are trying to offload.

How? Visit for a list of FSBO websites, the best in Britain probably being Sarah Beeny's Then check local sale prices to set your own price; de-clutter; make all minor repairs; print out details to hand around; take and post good, high-resolution photos; put up a sign; consider advertising in local papers; have a solicitor ready; and, finally, prepare to negotiate.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.