In the last few years a small tidal wave has taken over the top end of the UK property market as more and more buyers instruct agents to help them secure their dream property. Estimates suggest that 80% of country house buyers with budgets of £3m or over are now represented. The so-called ‘unfair advantage’ that vendors have over buyers now looks to be correcting itself.
Twenty years ago the idea was treated with scorn, with few believing it was a justifiable business. Ten years on, and a handful of businesses were practising. Nowadays, the buying agent has almost become a question of necessity. Indeed, there are some parts of the country where it is almost impossible to secure a property without one.
‘There is such a dearth of property and they’re just not making them anymore. One missed opportunity could mean another 18 months of waiting. In this market, you’re behind the curve if you’re not being acted for,’ says Edward Sugden of Property Vision, the pioneers of the buying agent industry. ‘When Property Vision first started it was a question of shall we or shan’t we? Maybe now it’s which one?’
Estimates suggest that the number of buyers in the UK who are represented by buying agents rises 20% year-on-year. And with the number of houses changing hands without being marketed, having a buying agent is almost the only way to engage in this business. ‘Property Vision has exchanged £100m of property to date this year of which 62% was bought pre-emptively,’ says Mr Sugden.
Competition to secure the instructions of these buyers has lead to a sudden growth of business, much of which launched in the past two years. It is now not uncommon for national agents to have 200 buyers registered with them.
Buying agents are also prepared to somersault in several different ways to satisfy the demands of the client. These can include anything from helipads, riding schools and music studios to the more esoteric. ‘Dog showers’ have been on the request list of Property Vision clients ? for those unfamiliar with such an appliance this is a box-shaped device that can at once shower and fur-dry a pooch in a matter of minutes. It gets more bizarre. ‘We had one client who wanted a tunnel from the house to the outbuildings. We couldn’t find a property with a pre-existing tunnel so had to build one from scratch,’ says James Greenwood of Stacks Property.
‘The Georgian Old Rectory with 20 acres in the Cotswolds is the typical request,’ says Mr Greenwood. ‘If we can’t always find an exact match to their requirements, it’s our aim to find the buyer something they weren’t expecting ? a bit more land, for example.’
Top end buying agents fulfil several roles that go beyond securing the best price for a property. It’s a time-saving filtration (no one wants to travel down the M4 on a Saturday morning on an abortive viewing) but they also act as advisers who try and unearth every detail of the investment that could raise alarm bells. ‘We act for time-poor cash rich clients who require trusted advice,’ explains Mr Sugden. And he means it: Property Vision have just exchanged on a property which the client hasn’t even seen. ‘Solicitors searches won’t tell you that scramble bikes use the track on Sundays, or that there’s a clay pigeon club two fields away or that weddings take place in the nearby Tithe barn with dancing to Abba in the garden. We dig out this kind of stuff.’
Naturally, this service doesn’t come cheap with top end buying agents invariably charging a retaining fee (sometimes deductible on the final fee) and somewhere between 1.5% and 2.75% commission. ‘When we started it was our mission to make this service fund itself,’ says Phil Spencer of Garrington who will shortly be starting a series of buying advice columns in Country Life. ‘For the past 18 months, with the market rising this has not been possible and we are an added cost. However,’ he adds, ‘having a buying agent means there is a far greater chance in securing the property. It adds credibility and leverage to the buyer. Last week we secured a property in a sealed bid where we weren’t the highest bidder because the vendor trusted the Garrington client.’
And what does the future hold? ‘There’ll be as many buying agents as selling agents in five years’ time,’ predicts Mr Spencer.