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New DIY online agency launches charging vendors £65 and with over 300 local experts – but who is mystery partner?

A new DIY online estate agency has thrown down the gauntlet to the high street amid some mystery, as it launched this week, charging sellers £65 and with over 300 ‘qualified experts’ nationwide, in an arrangement with another un-named partner organisation, and designed to encourage good reviews.

The partner is emphatically said not to be Purplebricks.

South Yorkshire businessman Paul Telford says he couldn’t work with them – and they couldn’t work with him.

Telford yesterday gave no clues as to who the partnership might be with.

He says that his site www.okaylah.co.uk equips people with the skills and tools they need to sell their property themselves, and that it is not technically an estate agemt.

Telford said: “Back in 2012, Sir Vince Cable, who was the Secretary of State for Business at that time, deregulated the estate agency sector.

“This made it possible for home owners to sell their own properties, without the need for an estate agent.

“The idea was to remove red tape, take full advantage of online technology and reduce the cost of selling your property in a bid to encourage growth within the housing market.”

He went on: “I believe that estate agents offer very little in the modern marketplace.

“They promise everything from free valuations to free online listings, but, in return, the customer usually has to sign up to their terms and conditions.

“I think it’s about time that the customer took control of the process.

“At OkayLah, for a one-off fee of just £65, we give the customer the tools and support that they need to promote their property online, arrange viewings and negotiate a sale.

“Because we work with more than 300 qualified experts nationwide, we can provide a host of optional add-on services, but, importantly, only if our customers need them.

“We can offer everything from Energy Performance Certificates to floor plans and professionally-taken marketing photographs.

“The website is incredibly user-friendly and, once a customer has registered their property, they can control everything themselves through their own personal dashboard.

“The feedback that we’re receiving so far is that it’s a refreshing and welcome change from the other options on offer within the estate agency sector.

“Ultimately, your property is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. For a one-off fee of just £65 and no contractual obligations whatsoever, why wouldn’t you have a go at selling it yourself using OkayLah?”

Telford said he plans to roll out the business, which also offers For Sale boards, nationwide. The business does not list on Rightmove or Zoopla.

EYE did ask some questions.

Of the 300 local experts, Telford told us: “We are affiliated to a company with over 300 property experts who we commission via the client’s user panel, with a slight difference.

“The agent will receive payment once the client instructs us to so once they are satisfied with the services they have received, the client will be encouraged to leave a review and the agent will be paid the same day (within 24hrs less commission).

“I believe this will encourage a superior level of service for our clients whilst the agents are financially rewarded for the work done on that day.”

He did not name the partner organisation, but said: “I would prefer not to say at this point but I can assure you they are a well established company ISO accredited and their network focuses on Scotland, England and Wales.

“As the project evolves we anticipate registering EPC accredited property experts who will joint our independent affiliates scheme which is why we push the concept of same day payment authorised by the client so the client is always in control and this will encourage the property expert to develop their chosen territory.

“Purplebricks wouldn’t work with us and I certainly wouldn’t work with Purplebricks.

“I don’t have a problem with their business model generally but I do object to ten months finance agreements: that’s wrong but it’s only an issue when the property isn’t sold after ten months when the client pays and has their property withdrawn.”

In 2012, an amendment to the Estate Agents Act was proposed so that “passive intermediaries” that only list properties did not have to conform to the Act in terms of having to comply with regulatory requirements such as having to offer redress.

The amendment, which came into force in October 2013, was intended to allow new business models, such as online agents, to start up without facing “disproportionate costs”.

Telford said that offering a For Sale board is “within the parameters of the private sale portal; any subsequent services we offer is in the form of an agent, so in both cases all communications are documented via the client’s message board so we maintain full tractability.

“At this stage we are not signed up to the Property Ombudsman as I would like to pursue the private sales portal model, but would not have any concerns in doing so if required, but technically we are not an estate agent.

“In 1979 over 25% of all properties sold were private sales. It would be nice to get back to that by providing support and modern technology without relying on contractual obligations, time restrictions, conveyancing tie-ins and third party representation who restrict home owners to promote their property.

“It’s a website for the people, so we will see how well the concept will be received over the coming months.”

Tesco is the most famous example of a big name entering the private sale-by-owner market. Its Tesco Property Market business launched in 2007, charging £199 and attempting to bypass estate agents. However, shortly after launch it was judged to be acting as an estate agent, partly because it supplied vendors with a For Sale board. The business closed because of the costs of compliance that would be involved.

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