How A Buying Agent Could Help You Find Your Dream Home

Like so many markets right now, UK property is having major issues with supply and demand. Amid volatile sellers and unstable prices, a professional buying agent could make a big difference for prospective purchasers. Lucie Hirst and Delphine Colombo – founders of the prestigious Colombo Hirst property group – explain why their service is increasingly indispensable for discerning buyers looking to find their dream home.

CREATED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH COLOMBO HIRST

What exactly is a buying agent? How is it different to a normal estate agent?

Finding the right property takes an enormous amount of time, especially if you’re based abroad or are unfamiliar with a specific area of London. Without professional representation, any buyer can struggle to be confident that they’ve bought the right property and not missed out on a better opportunity.

The property market in London has been left unsettled by economic uncertainty and pandemic anxieties, which has caused pricing to be confusing and volatile. A buying agent can complete all the necessary due diligence when it comes to buying a property in London and use this information in their negotiations with the selling agent.  A buyer represented by a reputable buying agent will be taken much more seriously than a buyer without one.

Buying a property in London is very different to other global cities. Quite simply, a buying agent will represent only the buyers’ interests – not the sellers. Estate agents represent the seller not the buyer and it is essential to have your own professional representation ahead of what may be one of the largest financial transactions of your life.

In addition to a buying agent, you will need several professionals to be involved in your search – a solicitor, a mortgage broker, a tax adviser, a surveyor, to name a few. A buying agent will introduce you to and coordinate these specialists to ensure you’re looked after by a network of individually selected trusted advisors. Ultimately, using an independent buying agent who doesn’t also sell property will avoid any conflicts of interest.

So, what services does Colombo Hirst offer & how does the process work?

We handle every aspect of the negotiation process and have access to details of archive sales which provide comparable evidence, which we use to support or argue the bid we put forward on behalf of our clients. We also have frank conversations with the sales agents to establish exactly what position the seller is in, and use this in conjunction with our many years of experience to guide the negotiation strategy.

In short, a buying agent should handle every aspect of the purchase. They will outsource elements such as the survey, conveyancing and mortgage process, but will play a pivotal role in coordinating all of these professionals at the appropriate time.  

Specifically, how does Colombo Hirst work with its clients?

The first step is to discuss your exact criteria and preferences, so we know where to begin our search. We then contact and coordinate with all local agents and our contacts to source properties. 

From there, we’ll conduct initial viewings of potentially suitable properties on your behalf to filter out the unsuitable ones and present you with a detailed list of suitable homes, including all the relevant information. Once you tell us which you’d like to see, we’ll organise a viewing tour for you.

Having decided on a property, we’ll negotiate on your behalf the best possible price with the agent and work with the solicitors/surveyors/finance providers etc. As the deal progresses, we’ll ensure all parties work towards exchange of contract within the various time constraints, as well as carry out completion checks prior to transfer of final funds.

Is all of this very expensive?

A buying agent will charge an initial retainer and a final fee payable on success.  While it is an additional cost to add to an already expensive purchase, a good buying agent will often be able to save you more than their fee in the negotiation process. 

For example, Colombo Hirst charge an initial retainer of £2,500 and a success fee based on about 2% of the purchase price. We find clients often prefer to agree a fixed fee at the outset which we’re happy to do. This ensures the client is clear on all the costs upfront. Equally, our job is to negotiate the lowest purchase price possible for our clients so by removing the percentage fee structure, we remove any doubt in our client’s mind that we’re only doing the very best for them.

Our fee covers the work we carry out and we expect this to be recouped within the quality of property purchase and price we negotiate for the buyer. The initial retainer is in place to ensure an element of commitment from our clients, and it will also protect our client from us taking on a similar search. We only take on one client with the same requirements at any one time.

In short, a buying agent should handle every aspect of the purchase. They will outsource elements such as the survey, conveyancing and mortgage process, but will play a pivotal role in coordinating all of these professionals at the appropriate time.

What's your view of the UK housing market right now?

Demand for prime central London flats since the pandemic has been low due to a continued absence of overseas buyers, so we have seen very little price growth for these properties. Houses are still selling but transaction numbers are down on pre-pandemic levels. We have seen an increase in domestic buyers looking for family homes in and around this area, though. 

All that considered, it’s a great time if you’re looking for a London pied-à-terre as there are some good deals to be had. They’re few and far between, but having a buying agent act for you will assist you in finding a good deal. There’s also a huge shortage of good houses in good areas, which has caused prices to be very overinflated in some instances.

What are some other trends you’re seeing in London right now?

Since the re-opening of the housing market in mid-May last year, buyers have been looking for properties with more space. The market has been driven by domestic buyers, with international purchasers – who traditionally account for a large proportion of prime London buyers – having limited access to the market.

Those looking to remain in London are buying longer-term family homes and are prepared to pay a premium for the right property in the right location. This has benefited areas such as Notting Hill, St John’s Wood and Hampstead, as well as family friendly southwest London neighbourhoods, such as Fulham and Battersea.

That said, space and greenery have both been key drivers for buyers following the pandemic, and amenities and services are becoming more important too. A survey in June found that proximity to pubs, restaurants, theatres and entertainment had become a higher priority. Proximity to such venues was more important for 31% of people compared to before the pandemic.

Technology is also close to the top of the list for many buyers. Well-designed tech makes spaces in an area that can be closed off from the rest of the household more desirable – especially with more people now working from home. Just as the increased demand for technology is driven by a need to spend more time indoors, wellbeing and health at home are more in demand than ever. People are looking for properties close to parks and open spaces, and if it’s in budget, home gyms too.

What’s the average house price in London based on a property for a family of four? 

A family wanting a four-bed house with outside space will struggle to find anything below £2m in central London. We tend to help families who are looking to either upsize or move location within London. We’ll often have our initial meeting with a family in their current home and get a proper understanding of how they live and what’s important to them. Most families want as little upheaval as possible, so we do everything we can to ensure we can accommodate that. For example, we recently had to negotiate a completion date to fall within the summer holidays while the family were away, and we brought in a team of movers who transferred the entire contents of the old house into the new house. We even made sure the right toys were put back in the correct child’s bedroom.

Many families look at schools when they’re house hunting – how can a buying agent help with this?

We spend a lot of time discussing schools with our clients, as often they’re the basis for which a final decision is made. We can introduce our clients to a range of schooling experts who can advise on the best schools for the individual children’s needs. Good schools are one of the most obvious drivers of house price growth and the pandemic has done nothing to change that. Prices in London are currently achieving a premium of 2% if located within a 400m radius of an ‘outstanding’ school.

And what are some other factors to consider when looking at a particular area?

We will always check the local councils planning portals to make sure no major works are due to occur in the foreseeable future. It may sound obvious, but many buyers are oblivious to where the tube runs under London’s residential streets and it’s not always possible to pick it up easily on a viewing, but it will be once you’ve bought the house and you’re trying to keep your baby asleep!

Do you have any tips for first time buyers in London? 

If you’re going to make a large financial commitment in a specific location you aren’t familiar with, you should most definitely get some advice from someone with experience – like a buying agent. Also, know that a London property will always be a good investment – even if an increasing amount of the workforce are working from home, there will always be the pull of London with its education, culture and restaurants.

And what about families looking to upgrade to something more spacious?

We often have clients coming to us with certain non-negotiable requirements such as number of bedrooms or the minimum square footage, but often they aren’t totally set on a specific location – and this is another area where we’re able to help. We will take clients on orientation tours to introduce them to new areas they may not have considered yet, and point out the pros and cons of each. 

Finally, what’s the one thing you wish people knew about buying agents that perhaps they don’t?

We’re here to take all the stress out of the property search and acquisition process. It can be very time consuming and complicated, but putting it in the hands of a professional should turn it into an enjoyable experience. 

 

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