Sometimes you need a little extra help to find your dream home, says Graham Norwood
Are you just too busy to find that perfect penthouse? Do you keep getting gazumped by competing country house buyers? Or are you simply scared of buying a house without expert guidance? If so, you should recruit a buying agent.
These are the property experts who use their contacts in estate agencies to secure advance notice of homes going on sale. They know before ads are placed and websites are updated, giving their clients a head start on properties coming to the market.
Yet, despite providing a valuable service, buying agents remain relatively unknown – not just their identities but the extensive scope of their work, too.
To find one, a buyer can head to Google – key words are ‘buying agent’ or ‘relocation’ or ‘property finder’ – or scour magazines like this one or directly visit arp-relocation.com, which is the website of trade body The Association of Relocation Professionals.
Different buying agents operate across different price sectors of the market and in different parts of the country; whichever you choose, check that it is registered with The Property Ombudsman, which gives you rights of redress in the unlikely event of a problem.
So far, so easy. But then what happens when you commit to one and the process starts?
‘We kick off with a run through of available properties,’ explains Charlie Wells, managing director of Prime Purchase, the buying agency arm of Savills. This allows the buying agent to understand exactly what the client wants, where and at what price range.
‘I also look at the “home team” – the solicitor, accountant, even a landscape architect and a planning consultant if necessary. It’s all about getting the right people so that you fast track your client and put them in the strongest position possible,’ explains Wells.
Here one of the most valuable services of the buying agent becomes clear – he is there to give the client a competitive edge, which means not only finding the right home but making sure the purchase can go ahead as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The second stage, of course, is the shortlisting and viewing of properties. ‘The initial property tour involves showing homes in a number of areas. It will further cement in our minds what the client’s looking for. We’ll then go on subsequent tours with clients until the perfect property has been identified,’ says Jonathan Mount, a partner at The Buying Solution, the buying arm of Knight Frank.
If you believe that finding the right home means ‘job done’ then think again – the buying agent then undertakes the delicate stage of negotiating the price on your behalf.
‘Negotiating a price down from £27m to £15m is one of the best we’ve ever achieved for a client,’ says James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search, an independent buying agency.
Such a jaw-dropping reduction – or even cutting a few hundreds of thousands of pounds, as is more common on lower-priced deals – requires scrupulous research by the agent. They must know what drives a vendor to sell when the market is slowing.
‘Information is king and when you know how urgently a vendor needs to sell you negotiate accordingly. Is it a death in the family, debt, or some other issue that means they must move fast, come what may?’ asks Tracy Kellett of BDI Homefinders, another independent.
Negotiating a good price is not only in the interests of the purchaser, of course, but it also justifies the buying agent’s fee in the first place.
Fee structures vary but most charge an up front retainer of around £1,500 plus VAT. When the perfect house is located and contracts exchanged, clients typically pay two per cent of the purchase price plus VAT. And many buying agents stipulate a minimum total spend – say, £10,000 – assuming the right property is purchased and a reduced price negotiated.
If that sounds a lot, especially added to the estate agent’s fee you will pay for the sale of your old house, then think carefully: any experienced buying agent will save you many times that sum through the hard-nosed haggling-down of the price of your
Even once the price is negotiated, however, the buying agent’s job is not complete. He then effectively project-manages the rest of the sale process ensuring there are no restrictive covenants, freehold or leasehold problems or boundary disputes for example.
‘We discuss all aspects of the property and ensure that issues such as fixtures and fittings, funding arrangements, survey arrangements and so on are dealt with,’ explains Jessica Simpson of PPS Private Property Search, the buying agency operated by Strutt & Parker.
Sometimes these final details are the most arduous for the buying agent, and would be bordering on the impossible for even an experienced purchaser operating on their own.
‘I’ve flown to Geneva to meet a client and their lawyer to go through a contract that needed to be exchanged within four days,’ recalls PPS’s Jessica Simpson.
Gideon Sumption of Stacks recalls the day he ‘found, bought for £500 and installed a one tonne stone trough to replace the
one that the vendors took – the removal of which threatened a £1.3m transaction.’
Meanwhile Katherine Watters of The Buying Solution’s Surrey office had a more illuminating task to prevent a sale falling through: ‘On completion day a vendor took all the light fittings with him. I had to go and replace all the light fittings myself.’
These are the hiccups that provoke wry smiles after the move but can threaten a successful purchase just as much as a mortgage problem or a buyer getting cold feet and breaking a complicated chain of purchases.
But for buying agents they are all in a day’s work – and prove why they are worth their fee.