First, can you explain what a buying agent is?
“A buying agent searches for properties, gives advice and manages the negotiation process, all the way through to a successful purchase. They represent and advise the purchaser only, so while the vendor has the estate agent trying to get the best possible price for them, we have the buyer’s interests at heart. One of the main challenges for buyers is getting ahead of other purchasers and finding properties before they do. This is where a buying agent comes into their own. Another of our tasks is to significantly reduce the number of homes the buyer has to view, as well as ensuring you pay the right price.” – Emma Seaton, buying director at Prime Purchase
“Finding the right property takes an enormous amount of time, especially when you are based abroad or unfamiliar with an area of London. Even with all the time in the world, a buyer without professional representation will struggle to be confident they have bought the right property and not missed out on another, better opportunity. The property market, especially in London, is unsettled by economic uncertainty and pandemic anxieties right now, causing pricing to be confusing and volatile. A buying agent can access relative value, providing relevant comparables. It is essential to have access to this due diligence when buying a property. They will use this information in their negotiations with the selling agent, understanding motivations and finding solutions. A buyer represented by a reputable buying agent will be taken much more seriously than anyone without one.” – Lucie Hirst, co-founder of Colombo Hirst
And how does that differ to a normal estate agent?
“Quite simply, a buying agent will represent only the buyer’s interests – not the sellers. Conversely, estate agents represent the seller not the buyer. It is essential to have your own professional representation – a buying agent – ahead of what may be one of the largest financial transactions of your life. In addition to a buying agent, you will need a number of professionals to be involved in your search – a solicitor, mortgage broker, tax adviser and surveyor, to name a few. A buying agent will introduce you to and coordinate all of these specialists and ensure you are looked after by a network of individually selected trusted advisors.” – Lucie
“Unlike estate agents, we will also point out any negatives when it comes to a property and the surrounding area and make sure you only buy the ‘best in class’. If a property is not suitable, we will say so.” – Emma
Are they usually independent or do they work for larger property groups?
“Buying agents range from one-man or one-woman bands working for themselves to large organisations owned by well-known estate agencies, but operating completely independently. Some buying agents work as property brokers, both buying and selling property. At Prime Purchase, we only buy property for clients, ensuring the lines are not blurred. We may be owned by Savills, one of the world’s best-known real estate brands, but we are totally independent and have no vested interest in selling properties.” – Emma
“Many of the smaller agencies both buy and sell properties for their clients. They will be getting a fee from both sides. There is a huge advantage in using a buying agent that only buys properties, such as ours. A buying agent needs to have excellent relationships with the selling agents to make sure they are the first to hear about any new properties. Removing the competition aspect that is inevitable when you also sell properties helps to foster these relationships.” – Lucie
So, who should consider using a buying agent?
“Anyone who is serious about buying or renting a property and wanting to avoid potentially expensive mistakes should consider using a buying agent. Given the current climate, it is more important than ever to invest in a buying agent. Typically, an agent will preview anything from 20 to 60 properties before showing any of them to clients. That way, they’re only shown the very best. Without a buying agent, a buyer can easily waste time. Our job is to filter out any properties which aren’t worth it. Since the start of the pandemic, we have bought several properties for different clients and all through virtual viewings. The clients didn’t physically see the properties and trusted us to do our diligence. We inspected the properties and this, combined with live walk throughs on FaceTime, were sufficient. An estate agent wouldn’t necessarily do this and even if they offered to, it is not in their best interest to point out the negatives to you. We spend as much time talking clients out of buying a property as we do highlighting the positives.” – Lucie
“Whether you are looking to move within London, out of London or to England from abroad, a buying agent can make life much easier for you. People often mistakenly think that buying agents are only for the top end of the market but that is really not the case. Covid has made the buying process trickier in terms of getting access to properties and indeed finding them in the first place, as many are not put up ‘for sale’ on the open market. A buying agent will do many of the initial viewings of a property before the buyer, cutting down the number of properties you need to traipse round by eliminating any unsuitable ones. Estate agents keep us in the loop – we are told of properties coming up for sale which might suit our buyers.” – Emma
Do buying agents play a role in the negotiation process?
“Negotiation is a large part of the buying agent’s role – mainly because we have the advantage of being dispassionate and not emotionally involved in the purchase. It also comes down to craft – having sold and bought property for years, we know the best way to hammer out deals. We also know how much you should be paying for a particular property.” – Emma
“We also 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 have ‘off the record’ 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 our negotiation strategy.” – Lucie
And can they help with mortgage brokers, surveyors, lawyers etc?
“In addition to a buying agent, you will need to a number of professionals to be involved in your search. A buying agent will introduce you to and coordinate all of these specialists and ensure you are looked after by a network of individually selected trusted advisors. We also spend a lot of time discussing schools with our clients, as often they are a basis for which the decision on property location 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.” – Lucie
What will it cost you?
“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. Colombo Hirst charge an initial retainer of £2,500 and a success fee based on about 2% of the purchase price. Generally, we find clients prefer to agree a fixed fee on the outset. Equally, our job is to negotiate the lowest purchase price possible for our clients and by removing the percentage fee structure, we remove any doubt in our client’s mind that we are 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 are able to 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 another similar search.” – Lucie
“Fees differ enormously, depending on the search, complexity, time taken etc. We charge an initial registration fee and then a percentage of the purchase price at exchange of contracts. These are all discussed upfront so there are no nasty surprises. Some people may see a buying agent simply an additional expense to the already expensive cost of buying. But if you were going to invest £2m in the stock market, you would get a professional to advise you. This really is no different.” – Emma
So, how does the process work and what should you look for in an agent?
“It’s really important to work with a buying agent you like and get on with. Colombo Hirst don’t charge their retainer until the buyer is entirely confident they want to go ahead. We often meet our clients for initial consultations and have numerous conversations with them and the family as a whole before any money changes hands.” – Lucie
“My first meeting with a potential client is always free. Money doesn’t change hands until terms are agreed, and a registration fee is paid. When choosing a buying agent, it’s important to choose one you can relate to, ideally who has made the move themselves (out of London to the country, for example), knows the area like the back of their hand and understands any schooling needs you might have. Remember to ask them lots of questions.” – Emma
Is there anything buying agents aren’t responsible for?
“A buying agent will 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 at the appropriate time.” – Lucie
“There are a number of things that buying agents don’t do, but the main ones are formal valuations and surveys.” – Emma
Is it possible to use a buying agent if you’re only looking for somewhere to rent?
“Some buying agents also deal with rentals but make sure you choose one with a good track record of finding rental property if that is what you are looking for. Some agents only do lettings.” – Emma
What happens if the purchase falls through?
“Should a purchase fall through, Colombo Hirst will start from the beginning at no extra cost to the client unless the fall through is simply a result of a change of heart on the client’s behalf (after seven days from the offer being agreed), in which case we charge 50% of our success fee. We use our years of experience to ensure that purchase fall throughs rarely happen. Ultimately until we exchange on the purchase of the property, the only cost to the buyer is our initial retainer.” – Lucie
What should you do if you feel the relationship just isn’t working?
“If the relationship isn’t working, you should bring it to an end as soon as you can. It is a very important relationship as the buying agent is purchasing your home, so you need a really good rapport with them. We have a month’s notice period on our contracts – most buying agents should have similar.” – Emma
Finally, can you give us any tips for the property market this year?
“This is going to be a busy year in the property market. There are two stamp duty changes coming in on 31st March 2021 – an end to the government’s stamp duty holiday and an additional 2% stamp duty charge for buyers coming from overseas. Both of these changes will drive the market in the first quarter of the year. Meanwhile, the threat of a no-deal Brexit has been averted. The removal of this uncertainty will encourage buyers who were otherwise sitting on the fence. London will always be a strong investment but as a result of several lockdowns and the increase in WFH, there has definitely been a move towards people looking to buy further afield. We recently helped a client buy a house in Henley and we are actively looking for clients in South Oxfordshire, which is within very easy reach from London. That said, it is likely that the introduction of the vaccination programme will change the landscape by the spring and there will be a surge in activity when more positivity returns.” – Lucie
“The country market is particularly busy already, with enquiries from applicants up three times on where we were this time last year. The demand for more space – both inside and out – as a result of lockdown has been the focus of many property searches last year and will be in 2021, too. Detached homes with large gardens are particularly popular, along with home offices – separate space couples to work. London is still a very strong investment prospect and always will be. As soon as foreign investors are able to return, we will probably see a large surge in interest again. Now is a very good time to buy.” – Emma
Colombo Hirst is a property buying agency in London, run by Delphine Colombo and Lucie Hirst. With over 20 years of prime London residential property experience between them at leading sales agencies including Savills, Knight Frank and Hamptons, they offer a combination of detailed local property insight, enhanced access and a tailored approach to property buying. Visit ColomboHirst.com.
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