Starting your search
It has never been easier to search for property. The estate agents’ website Rightmove.co.uk have a virtual online monopoly, claiming that as many as 90 per cent of estate agents list their offerings with them.
But there are several other sites such as PrimeLocation.com etc that are also worth checking.
It’s very easy to overlook the fact that a significant number of properties aren’t sold conventionally through estate agents. It is often simpler and easier to buy a newly built property, and some developers prefer to deal direct with the public.
If you’re looking at the other end of the spectrum, for less mainstream properties – such as those in need of renovation or for investment – buying at auction can be an excellent alternative.
But perhaps the strongest trend is for an increasing number of home owners to ‘cut out the middleman’ and sell privately.
But regardless of where you search, after you’ve been house-hunting for a while a strange thing seems to happen. The property that your heart becomes set on, the one that you really want, always seems to be priced tantalisingly above your absolute maximum budget. It’s out of reach and financially suicidal. But you still desperately want it.
Buying through estate agents
The overwhelming majority of UK properties still sell the traditional way, via estate agents, so the chances are that this is how you will find your new home. But because of the sheer number of competing agents you may have to draw up a shortlist of the ones that are worth approaching.
By searching online, or looking at their ads in local papers, you can get a feel for which agents specialise in your kind of property. Although ‘posh’ agents occasionally sell standard properties, and vice versa, most have a ‘market sector’ that they know best.
Registering with agents
You want to be the first person the agent thinks of as soon as they get a new instruction to sell the type of property you’re after. With this in mind, it’s worth popping in and registering in person so that they can see you’re a serious buyer (or a potential seller). You can’t beat a face-to-face rapport.
To help underline your status as a keen buyer, you need to be available and immediately ready to start viewing suitable properties.
Traditionally, within a few days of registering, your postman would stagger up to your front door weighed down with reams of sales particulars.
Today, although some agents still routinely post out details, email, text and phone contact is the norm – so be sure to regularly check your emails. Even in quiet markets, the best properties can be snapped up before the details have been finalised or posted on the web.
So it’s essential to provide a phone number where you can be contacted throughout the day. It also pays to keep yourself at the forefront of your agent’s memory by frequent calls and emails.
To keep ahead of the game, register for SMS text alerts and email updates as soon as new homes are listed.
One of the great mysteries of buying houses is why, having registered a specific interest in detached houses in village locations, for example, you are then bombarded with details of flats, bungalows and properties in wildly varying locations and price ranges.
Irritating though this is, experience suggests that many buyers end up making offers on properties that are remarkably different from their original specification.
As buyers, we sometimes forget that agents are acting for the other side, with a duty to negotiate the best deal for their seller client, not the purchaser. So to get the best out of estate agents, it helps to know how they operate.
What they like most are serious buyers who know what they can realistically afford – or, even better, don’t have a property to sell, or at least have an offer proceeding on their present home.
So as a buyer, you need to have a clear idea about what you want and have got your finances sorted before embarking on viewings.
It’s always best to be straight about how much you can afford, even if the agent can’t quite succeed in disguising a mildly contemptuous sneer. Pretending you can afford more just wastes everyone’s time and ultimately looks a bit silly – plus you end up viewing lots of houses that you won’t be able to buy, which can prove disheartening.
But if you like the look of a property, be ready to instantly spring into action and book a viewing.
How estate agents assess buyers
As soon as you stroll into the agent’s office they will want to assess you. In the course of a typical day, agents have to deal with a fair number of timewasters and nosey-parkers, so having announced your interest as a potential buyer you will then be graded. A good agent will make this a painless experience so you may not even be aware of.
Whether you’re classified as ‘hot’ or not, will largely depend on the following:
To qualify as a ‘hot buyer’ and go to the head of the queue you must be ‘proceedable’. This means you have funds to spend, or at least will have in the immediate future. ‘Hot buyers’ include cash buyers, people who’ve already sold their current property (ie have it under offer), people living in rented accommodation, first-time buyers and investors with mortgages approved in principle. Indeed, anyone who can lay their hands on sufficient funds without having to sell their existing house. The estate agent’s smile will broaden directly in relation to how much ready cash they think you have to spend.
If you haven’t sold already, don’t despair. The agent may still muster a faint smile because they sense a business opportunity. If you live locally, they will promptly switch into sales mode to persuade you to instruct them to sell your present property, even if it’s currently on the market with another agent.
You may only qualify for a frown if you currently live outside the area and haven’t yet sold your present dwelling. Agents know that statistically over 90 per cent of enquiries from buyers based out of the local area will not result in a sale.
It’s important to remember that the estate agent’s job is to get the best price for their client, the seller. This has to be said because a good sales negotiator can charm buyers into a sense of ‘we’re on your side’.
Agents know that a certain amount of ‘best buddy’ schmoozing of prospective buyers can maximise the number of viewings to a property, and hence boost the chances of receiving an offer.
It also greases the wheels of negotiation should you decide to put in an offer.
Accuracy of descriptions
If someone described you as ‘the ultimate estate agent’, most people would not interpret the accolade as a complement. But this is perhaps a little unfair on the majority of real estate practitioners. Estate agents are bound by fairly extensive misdescriptions legislation – see ‘Estate Agent Law’ below.
It is a criminal offence for inaccurate information to be published, which is why ‘draft details’ are always subject to the seller’s approval.
Property details today are often very brief and tend to avoid mentioning anything beyond the blindingly obvious. However, agents are skilled at producing details that accentuate a property’s positive attributes – not least by employing professionally photographed wide-angle filtered shots that cast run-of-the-mill suburban semis against balmy blue-sky backdrops.
The time-honoured way for agents to sell a property was to first draft a description of it, then add a photo, and finally stick it in their shop window. Once copies had been posted out to potential buyers registered with them, they could sit back and wait for the phone to ring.
Scan forward a few years to the age of apps, websites and virtual tours, and, the ability to write good quality property particulars is still a key part of the sales process.
Apart from vastly improved print quality, one major change is the ditching of excessively flowery language. The Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 saw to that by outlawing ‘false or misleading’ statements.
But despite the legislation succeeding in curtailing the worst abuses, most of the complaints received by the Estate Agent Ombudsman still concern inaccurate sales literature. Often this is just down to carelessness (although errors somehow always seem to flatter the property in question).
Typically this relates to daft things like saying there’s a garage when there isn’t, or describing terraced houses as semi-detached. The best advice is to take what you read with a pinch of salt, and check it with the seller.
As a buyer, if you don’t understand something ask the agent, otherwise you could waste a lot of time, or risk making an expensive mistake.
Some tricks of the trade are simply designed to present the ‘product’ in the best light:
- Photos shot with wide-angle lenses, making small rooms appear larger.
- Basements and rooms without windows that appear bright because the lights are on.
- Photos that are tightly cropped, to cut out ugly neighbouring buildings.
- Computer images of new developments, showing mature trees, traffic-free streets, and immaculately dressed ‘shiny, smiley people’.
- Skies that have been artificially ‘blued’ and grass that has been ‘greened’.
Of course, there will always be a fine line between making a house appear better than it is and setting out to be deliberately ‘misleading’. And you have to pity the agent trying to favourably describe some horrible rat-infested dump into which no one in their right mind would want to set foot.
Some of the more colourful euphemisms agents employ are well known:
‘With great potential’ = Not much to look at
‘With potential building plot’ = If it was that easy to get planning permission the present owner would have already done so
‘Convenient for Motorway’ = Sorry, I can’t hear you for the traffic noise
‘Vibrant city centre location’ = Vomiting binge-drinking neighbours
‘Convenient for shops and = It’s above the chip shop restaurants’
‘Would suit DIY enthusiast’ = Visibly subsiding
‘Traditional’ = Dated, in need of renovation
‘Period property’ = Anything older than the estate agent
‘Cosy’ = Cramped and pokey
‘Landscaped garden’ = A few shrubs
‘Contemporary’ = A bland 1960s or 1970s box, or something a bit odd-looking
We hope the above tips help you avoid getting stung and ensure you find the right property for you!
You might also like this post here – The Psychology Of Finding Your Perfect Home
Or this one right here – Thinking of buying a house? Read this first!