Real Estate

Could you sell your home without a real estate agent?

Selling homes sans realtor
Selling homes sans realtor

The U.S.'s complex, fragmented and regulated real estate market is currently putting a cork on a potentially disruptive wave of online-only agents that are shaking the sector overseas.

Like the U.S., the U.K. real estate market has traditionally been dominated by bricks and mortar agents. However, a new wave of online-only real estate agents could grab a bigger share of the U.K. market, potentially allowing Britons to sell their homes without the help of an estate agent.

So, should the U.S. be wanting a piece of the action and should Americans be selling their own houses?

Not in the opinion of the National Association of Realtors, which represents real estate agents in North America.

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"(Real estate agents here in the U.S.) have a unique understanding of what buyers' value in their local markets," Adam DeSanctis, a spokesperson for the organization told CNBC.

"Their real insights and local market knowledge and ability to help consumers navigate each step of the transaction would be extremely difficult to imitate in an online-only model."

He added that buying a home was one of biggest – if not the biggest – financial decisions an American would make in their life. "It shouldn't be taken lightly and is far more complex than clicking 'buy' on a website, like you'd do when purchasing an airline ticket."

Cutting costs

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But real estate agent concerns and vested interests have not stopped a slew of online-only companies taking off in the U.K., like eMoov, HouseSimple, Purplebricks and Tepilo. Typically these firms charge lower fees for selling your home, as their more centralized and streamlined systems - not to mention a lack of retail outlets - enables them to cut costs.

In the U.K., a traditional real estate agent may charge £4,500 ($6,928) plus tax to sell a property, whereas an online-only real estate agent might charge an upfront fee of around £300 plus tax.

Each online agent differs in how much they actually get involved with the selling of your property and may charge extra to send somebody to show potential buyers around your home.

DeSanctis argued that the local knowledge and hands-on approach of traditional real estate agents made them a more appealing option for U.S. citizens. However, online-only real estate agents in the U.K. say that their businesses do include local experts and that the changes in the market are no different to what happened when grocery sales moved online.

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Statistics on the nascent but growing U.K. industry are scarce, but are not completely non-existent.

Rebecca Peach, the CEO and founder of U.K online real estate agent I Am the Agent, told CNBC that online agencies were growing 3.75 times quicker than traditional real estate agents, in terms of the amount of housing stock coming onto the market. This was based on data she had compiled from various sources, including property search websites and governmental data.

Peach also predicted that online agencies would grab a 50 percent share of total inventories by 2020. This would be a rise from online agencies' current 5 percent slice of a market worth £6.9 billion in the U.K.

This view is shared by the people behind rival agency eMoov, who point towards similar growth in the online insurance, gaming, video streaming and travel sectors.

"I love the naivety of the people in the (U.S.) sector, it's like a red rag to a bull." Russell Quirk, CEO of eMoov, told CNBC.

Coming to a state near you

Quirk said eMoov had plans to move into the large and relatively untouched U.S. market in the next two-to-three years. With several key members of the leadership team either born or educated in the U.S., Quirk said his company was "well positioned" for any move into the country.