How to sell your house for free

If they want to stay in business, estate agents are going to have to radically alter their business model. And that's already happening. You can now sell your house with no agency fee.

An email arrives from a local estate agent. He wants to let me know that from November he will not be charging an estate agency fee. Nothing at all. Call him and ask him to sell your house and he will do it for free. "Any property, any value, Edinburgh and the Lothians and the Scottish Borders, zero estate agency fee."

It sounds good. And the unusual thing about it is that, if you are selling, it actually is good. Very good. I called the agency, Mov8 Real Estate, to see what the catch was. Turns out that there isn't one. Robert Carroll, who runs the agency, simply wants to create a bit of brand awareness and to keep working during a period of property-market paralysis (transactions have collapsed across the board in the last few months).

However, the offer is more than just a short-term gimmick. It is a step in the direction in which Robert thinks the market is going. Not long now, he says, and the days of an agent being able to charge 1.75% of the value of your house for taking a few dodgy pictures and showing people around will be long gone. Web-based services will come along that provide brochure or schedule templates so people can make them up themselves. They'll also be able to design their own sale board online and sign their own properties up to the likes of Rightmove.

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So Robert won't charge for any of this stuff he won't be able to. Instead he'll make money from the extras, from professional photography, from giving specialist advice, from analysing buyer feedback and from advertising. The big agencies will think all this mad, of course. But it makes sense. If you charge people a fee for photographs they'll pay you regardless of when the house sells. But if you charge them 1.75% on the sale of the house, you won't get it until the house sells. At a time when transactions have collapsed and, with the mortgage market unlikely to return to its 2007 excesses until the scars of a generation of bankers have faded, I know which business model I'd rather work with.

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.