Just like finding out that your financial adviser favours the tie and briefcase look over sportswear and sunglasses, it was with some reassurance that I opened the door of buying agent Bobby Hall’s car at Newbury station to find it overflowing with Ordnance Survey maps. ‘I do have a SatNav, but it’s in the boot,’ he explains before pulling out one of the well-thumbed charts and establishing our route for the morning.
‘Our clients are paying us for our complete local knowledge, and if you drive around with the SatNav on, you can miss details that could affect the enjoyment of a particular property.’ This morning, we’re covering some of his patch that encompasses Hampshire, West Berkshire and Wiltshire; my task is to imagine myself as a client and to put two of The Buying Solution’s team through their paces.
Rumours are a currency that a country-house buying agent deals with on a daily basis. ‘There are only a limited number of “marker” houses, and our job is to monitor which are likely to come to the market at any time.’ These snippets are weeded out by ‘listening to the wires’-solicitors, notaries, local gossips and, in some cases, direct from the vendors themselves. ‘They call us up because we know what the market’s really doing both privately and publicly-at any one time.’
With that, we set off through a series of villages, as Mr Hall points out houses that are available completely off-market (‘in reality, a nightmare to deal with’), are quietly on the market or are about to launch in Country Life. Among them is a perfect Georgian doll’s house with a swimming pool and tennis court which, he has learnt, is now ‘surplus to requirements’ of the owners. ‘We expect to be viewing it soon.’
As we fly past gravel driveways and conveniently threadbare winter hedges that afford tantalising glimpses of classically proportioned gems that would have set Pevsner’s heart racing, he points out which have been sold and for how much in recent years. It’s during one of these that the phone rings and I’m asked to remain silent. Clients based in Bombay have instructed Mr Hall to put an offer on a house that will be perfect for the relocating young family.
The house has gone to best and final offers, and they’ve just been told they’re the under-bidder. It doesn’t overly concern Mr Hall. ‘The vendor-in this case, it’s a probate sale-will look at our offer and know that we’ve done all the due diligence, that the finance is secure and in place, and the solicitors are ready to do the deal. It stands us in good stead ahead of buyers who aren’t represented.’ Sure enough, not 10 minutes later, the selling agent calls to confirm that they’re the preferred buyer.
‘Many people see what we do is just about getting to the front of the queue. But that’s only about a third of the job.’ Once the team is instructed to bid for a property, it produces a thick folder of local research, digging up as much detail as possible about the house and including local planning consents, noise pollution and even the neighbours. ‘Then, it’s about finding out as much as possible about the vendor to establish what they want from the sale and ensuring our client is the most attractive bidder.’
After lunch, I’m bundled into another (muddier) car to head north to the Cotswolds with Ran Morgan, a farmer’s son who grew up in the area. We land straight into the middle of lightning-speed negotiations over a £1.9 million farmhouse that has four interested parties. Again, only one of the bidders is represented, and again, they’re the under-bidder. ‘Yesterday, one of the other parties offered the asking price, and we know a further one has a deep wallet,’ explains Mr Morgan. ‘So, instead of getting into a bidding war, we’ve also raised our offer to the asking price.
Then, I suggested my client speak to the vendor direct this morning. That worked. The agent has come back asking whether they’ll pay £2.1 million for exclusivity.’ A phone-call is made to agree to the new offer in exchange for the house coming off the market with immediate effect. An email is dictated back to head office to confirm it in writing, and we head on through the delightful Coln Valley.
My final stop is to shadow a viewing of a small manor house that has just been launched on the market. The buyer is looking to move down from London, but needs to commute back into Paddington to a Harley Street practice.
The setting is spectacular, but there are lots of question marks. ‘You’re dealing with a lot of emotion when viewing houses, so it’s my job to be the voice of reason,’ explains Mr Morgan, as he points out that planning consent to convert the cart barn in this area might be tricky. ‘We’re not playing God. It’s about pointing out the facts to our clients and letting them make the decisions.’
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