Property Blog: Buyers beware

That some London estate agents are sharks is not news. But to those of you out there who are disposed to believe that the media hype surrounding agents has led to them receiving an unfair slice of the blame cake, I urge you to read on.

Having dipped a toe in the murky waters of the London property market some 18 months ago (and rapidly removed it shortly after), I’ve had a few brushes with a couple of hair-gelled boys who’ve barely breathed their last teenage breath urging me to part with ‘just another ten grand should do it’ more of my hard-earned savings. The ramifications of taking on such a huge debt and pilling everything I had into a nice but frankly unremarkable 600 or so square feet of space coupled with the ignominy of knowing I was going to have to negotiate my way past aforementioned fledgling’s newly promoted BMW every day was too much. I backed out and went on holiday.

Then came the wait-and-see game with the property market. And so, 18 months later, having seen little to assuage the soul and far more to unsteady the nerves (first, the BBC Whistleblowers programme on estate agents aired last February and secondly, property prices steadily creeping up), I’ve thought heck, time to try again.

I realise I’m not the only one in this predicament. Plenty of friends are either on the same road or they have come through the system relatively unscathed. Others have had very near misses.

Friend A found a very nice one bed flat with a small garden, put in an offer which is accepted. She organises the next steps and receives a letter of confirmation that the offer has been accepted. A few days later, however, you can guess what happened. The agent rings up to say that another buyer her offered more money and would she like to reconsider her offer? Understandably irate to learn that the flat had been shown to other buyer while under offer, my friend says she’ll take some time to think about it.

While she’s kicking her bin around the office in frustration, her mobile rings. It’s a mutual friend wondering whether she’s around for a drink later. She begins to describe what’s put her in such a foul mood when our friend cuts in and says ‘Wait, where is this flat exactly? It’s not the one with the small paved garden at number 27 is it? I’ve just had an offer accepted on it.’

What are the chances that one of your best friends turns out also to be your gazumper? Increased, say I, when you factor in the behaviour of a few agents who will continue to show properties that have gone under offer, in that quest to improve their commission by a grand or two.

Through the wash it emerged that the mutual friend was shown the flat because, according to the agent, ‘the previous buyer had done a runner. Vamooshed. No where to be seen.’ Not having any proof that he was being misinformed, he puts an offer in £15K more than Friend A. No surprise that the vendor’s nosed twitched. On learning whose toes he’d just trodden on, our mutual friend decides to withdraw his offer, and tells the agent the property was overpriced. But when the agent calls Friend A to tell her the exciting news, is this information relayed? No. She’s just told that the agents have persuaded the vendor to go with her original offer. All of it completely made up – pretty shameful stuff.