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What does a buying agent do?
Some of you may be starting this journey completely from scratch and unsure of where you want to live and the job of a buying agent is to help you narrow that down. Others of you will have a clearer idea but may need a steer on the best towns, villages, post codes and streets…and those to avoid too. Your buying agent should have excellent local knowledge and can advise on the best schools, catchment areas, commuter times, traffic issues and possible housing developments.
Of course you can do your own research too and feel free to check out our area guides if you haven’t done so already.
A search should also begin with a market overview to give you a better understanding of local property markets, where the hotspots are, housing stock, price points, supply and demand and what is achievable with your budget.
Your agent can help you formalize a brief, prioritise what’s important to you, advise you what is and isn’t feasible and can suggest areas that you may not have thought about previously.
A good buying agent will hunt down and view every suitable opportunity they catch wind of. Typically they will use their relationships with local estate agents and networks to identify properties that may soon be coming up for sale and those being sold off market, in addition to those being marketed openly.
You may wish to consider properties with development potential and an agent should have access to reliable local architects and planners to assess the costs and feasibility of your plans before you make an offer.
It is necessary to investigate all aspects of a property purchase before you commit and this is where many expensive mistakes can be avoided. This is particularly true if you are moving to an area you are unfamiliar with or if you are buying a period home or a rural property. Due diligence is a vital part of any property purchase and should highlight any risks involved as well as providing insight for the negotiation of your property purchase.
Negotiate purchase terms
Your buying agent should have multiple property transactions under their belt and typically they will have gained valuable sell side experience, working for an estate agency earlier in their career. Their knowledge of local property markets means they can advise you on the true value of a property while their experience and expertise can give you a head start in any purchase negotiations.
Oversee the entire buying process
A buying agent can help smooth the path to completion and will typically act as a single point of contact, liaising with estate agents, lenders, solicitors, surveyors and other professionals on your behalf.
If you are new to an area, your buying agent can help you settle in with introductions for local housekeepers, gardeners, interior designers, and other property professionals. While clearly this is not a core part of the service, finding good people to care for your home takes time and this may be something you really come to value once you’re successfully through the door.
Who uses buying agents?
Today, buying agents cater for many different budgets
Sure, in the UK, the use of buying agents has traditionally been the preserve of the very wealthy but, in recent years, this has changed and buying agents now cater to those with more modest budgets too.
In fact, a recent report by Hamptons (from data collected across the Countrywide group) shows the average price of a property sold off market was 850k in 2021, down from £1.2m over the 5 years preceding the pandemic. This should give you some idea of the level agents are operating at, although of course different agents may focus on different price points.
Homeowners moving out of town or buying holiday homes
One of the big trends we saw during the pandemic was the race for space, with families and city homeowners upping sticks and moving to the countryside. This is a trend we expect to continue as remote and hybrid working remains the norm and we are more able to live and work from anywhere.
If you are in this camp and are moving to a new area or buying a holiday home then getting the right advice from an expert buying agent who knows the local market could be a sensible thing to do, particularly if you find it difficult and time consuming to get out there for viewings.
Relocating for work
If you are moving with work, you might consider outsourcing your move to a buying agent who can arrange everything for you. If you are moving permanently they can help find you a suitable place to buy or you may task them with finding you a rental property if your move is only temporary. Of course, you may also wish to rent somewhere while you look for somewhere to buy too.
Some agents will specialise in helping property investors, buy-to-let investors or holiday let investors, often from overseas or out of town, and this may extend to family offices, funds and commercial property investors who require specific expertise.
First Time Buyers
If you’re a first time buyer, then a buying agent can help to guide you through a process you are unfamiliar with and you are likely to find it useful to have an expert on your side to help you navigate what can often be a complicated and stressful journey.
What are the pros and cons of using a buying agent?
Let’s talk first about the benefits of using a buying agent:
Access to off-market and pre-market properties
Your buying agent should have close relationships with local estate agents, and will have their ear to the ground about upcoming properties. Estate agents will often contact buying agents before listing a property (pre-market), knowing they bring serious buyers, with their ducks in a row and their financials already in place.
Properties are sold off-market for various reasons. Privacy and discretion are important considerations for many sellers who would rather their position wasn’t made public and who don’t want neighbours or window shoppers looking around.
They may wish to test the market first in the hope of achieving a premium price but without weakening their position later if they have to reduce it (something which would otherwise be displayed online).
A quick sale is another reason for sellers to go down the off-market route; perhaps due to divorce, a recent death in the family, or where the seller is in financial difficulty.
Save time and hassle
This is a big one for those of you with busy careers and lifestyles and particularly if you are relocating and find it difficult to travel for viewings. A buying agent can do the first viewing for you and, if they are based locally, they’ll be able to get in there quickly and alert you if it’s worth a second look. Equally, they will save you a wasted trip by filtering properties which might look or sound good but, on closer inspection, it’s clear the property doesn’t meet your criteria.
Once you have found your home, the home you really want, and have had an offer accepted, the time and stress involved chasing and following up lenders, estate agents, solicitors, surveyors and other property professionals involved in the process can be a draining and frustrating experience. A buying agent can manage this for you and oversee the entire process until completion.
Keep completion on track
A staggering 1 in 3 property transactions fell through in 2022, according to a study carried out by You Move Now, up from 1 in 5 from a YouGov poll completed before the pandemic in 2018.
An experienced agent, liaising with all the various parties involved in your transaction, can facilitate the completion process and help you overcome any challenges you meet on the way.
Depending on market conditions and what your priorities are, you should often be able to offset the fees you pay an agent with the savings you make on the purchase price. If they charge you 2% and save you 3%, then of course you are in the black already and, in many instances your savings should be well in excess of any fees they charge.
A buying agent’s knowledge of the local property market and their experience of negotiating multiple property transactions means they are best placed to secure more favourable purchase terms than you could otherwise achieve on your own. In a sellers market that might mean a discount on the listing price and, in more competitive markets, that could mean positioning you as the preferred buyer and limiting how much you pay over the guide price.
Avoid costly mistakes
We know this is a big commitment, both financially and emotionally, and you want it get it right.
Having a professional on your side, with local knowledge of proposed housing developments and traffic issues or any other potential pitfalls which could affect your enjoyment of the property can help with this and give you peace of mind.
Now let’s discuss what considerations you should be thinking about too:
Don’t forget you have a fee to pay
While it is common for their fees to be offset by your buying agent if they negotiate a discounted purchase price, it’s not guaranteed and you should consider this against other fees involved in your property purchase, including for other advisors like solicitors and surveyors.
Your agent is incentivised to get you across the line
Of course, this is also a good thing and it’s what they’re here for but it’s important you’re aware, depending on the fee structure, that it’s more common than not for buying agents to earn a percentage of the purchase price. While this could create a conflict of interest, your agent is legally bound to act in your best interests and negotiating the best possible purchase terms is a key part of the job which their reputation is built upon.
If you change your mind, you’ll still have some fees to pay
Always check the termination clause in the contract with your agent to understand what you are on the hook for before you sign. It could be that you just lose the retainer or that you are billed for the work carried out to date.
What if I find a property myself?
In this instance it’s likely that you’ll still have some fees to pay but discuss this with your agent before you sign up and check the contract. You should also expect to work exclusively with only buying agent.
How much do buying agents cost?
There are three different ways of doing this and some agents are more flexible than others, depending on the brief. It’s also possible that in less competitive housing markets some agents might reduce their fees, so take the time to explore this with them:
1. A percentage of the purchase price, typically between 1-2% and, in some cases, up to 3%. This is the most common fee structure you will see.
2. A percentage of the saving between the listing price and purchase price achieved. While this approach prioritises the search to save you money, bear in mind this could steer the search in a certain direction and mean you miss out on properties where there is less opportunity to negotiate.
3. A fixed fee. You could also discuss a fixed fee, linked to your overall budget for the property.
Some agents will charge a retainer or registration fee (£500 – £3,000), which may be due every 6 – 12 months but is typically deducted from the final success fee.
How to choose a buying agent
Buying agents can be tricky to find as they don’t have the same brand awareness or high-street presence enjoyed by estate agents.
You could search the Property Ombudsman website or you could search for individual agents online. You could also use an agent comparison site like firstinthedoor.com, which makes it easy to find, compare, and connect home movers with suitable buying agents.
Consider which type of agent is right for you
Some buying agents offer nationwide coverage or operate in multiple locations. Others will specialise in only one or two areas. There are benefits to both: A larger agency may have more resources but a local agent who lives in the area can compete with a more focussed approach if you are specific about where you want to live.
Some agencies may be connected to a larger estate agency group which has both advantages and disadvantages. Others will be completely independent. A number of agents will have specialist areas of expertise, ie investment properties, rural properties or holiday homes and may cater only for particular budgets.
Consider their fees
We know, for some of you, fees will be a particularly important consideration and, for others, you’ll be more concerned with the end result, especially if you are able to offset the fees anyway.
At less competitive ends of the market, you really shouldn’t be paying higher fees and you might expect some agents to be more flexible in a sellers market, but not to the point of them prioritising higher fee paying clients. Just make sure you’re getting value.
Check out reviews and past performance
Whoever you choose, we would always recommend supporting your decision by taking a look at their reviews and performance indicators. Always speak to two or three agents from your shortlist if possible and then much of it comes down to personal preference and whether you are going to get on with a particular agent or not. You should always, always follow up with a reference too.
Questions to ask your buying agent
- What is their background?Always start by finding out who you are dealing with, what their background is and how well they know the local property markets.
- What does their process look like?
It’s good to lay this out from the start – it helps to set expectations and you’ll also have a better understanding of what is and isn’t included in the service.
- How many clients are they working with at the moment?
You want to make sure that your agent isn’t spread too thinly so make sure they have decent bandwidth to focus on your brief alongside their other clients.
- What briefs are they working on currently?
This is important as you need to get a sense of whether there is a conflict of interest at all. Will you be competing with their other clients for the same type of property, price point and in the same area? Ideally not.
- What are the likely time scales?
This largely depends on the market, the area and type of property you are seeking. In competitive markets, 6 months would be a good result but you may have to wait up to a year or longer if you are particularly discerning buyer. A good agent will be able to advise you on on this and should carefully manage your expectations, based on a sound understanding of the local market and your brief.
- Are their fees negotiable?
It’s definitely worth having this conversation and, as we have said previously, you might find agents are more flexible in a sellers market but less so for property markets where there is high demand.
- Check if they will receive commission for a property they recommend
It’s not necessarily a red line, particularly if your agent has a large referral network, but you may feel more comfortable with an agent who is completely impartial.
- Speak to a previous client
If you are hiring anyone to work for you you should always speak to a previous customer for a reference and buying agents are no different!
Should I use a buying agent?
The answer to this question depends entirely on your personal circumstances but we hope that, after reading this guide, you are better informed to make that decision. If you have any further questions then please don’t hesitate to get in touch or reach out to one of the buying agents on our platform – it’s completely free, your privacy is protected and there is absolutely no obligation to sign up with any of the agents.