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  1. Property
March 23, 2009

The Hidden Home Market

By Spear's

For the super-rich, the choicest houses are not those just anyone can see: ‘off market’ is very much on the menu. Jeremy McGivern explains how to find these invisible residences.

The majority of homebuyers start their search for a new home or investment property on the internet. It is easy – you can do it from the comfort of your own home or office and there is normally a reasonable choice from which to choose.

Unfortunately, this method normally leads to buyers making an average purchase. In the case of the super-rich this approach is hopeless.

The problem is the finest residences in prime central London rarely come to the open market, so trawling the websites is an act of futility. Instead they have to use more intelligent methods to ensure that they see the finest homes within their criteria. 

It may seem odd that someone should want to sell their property ‘off market’ as it stands to reason that one is more likely to achieve a higher price by selling on the open market. However, there are other points to consider:

1.     Privacy: Owners do not want all and sundry walking around their home, especially if they are a well known businessperson or celebrity (this is a point the majority of our clients understand as confidentiality is vital to them). They may also want a minimum of disruption to their daily lives.

Unfortunately, in today’s climate a few properties (even at the top levels of the market) are having to be sold for financial reasons and owners simply do not want their neighbours or family to know what is happening.

2.     Security: Many of London’s finest residences house fantastic collections of art and antiques, not to mention wine and jewellery. One apartment that sold for over £20 million last year had paintings on the wall worth three times that amount. Unsurprisingly no photographs of the property were ever made available.

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3.     Prestige: We all want what we can’t have and one of the motivations for creating and having great wealth is to be able to have what others cannot. For some sellers and buyers there is the cachet of transacting off market.

When we meet clients for the first time we are invariably asked how we can provide access to these exclusive properties. One source is simply our reputation: vendors contact us directly because they know we represent suitable buyers.

Secondly we have a huge network of contacts who inform us when their employers or clients are planning to sell a property, so we know when these properties become available.

However, we do employ other methods to source off market properties for our clients, which anyone can use:

1.     Take out adverts in suitable publications: This might be the Financial Times, Sunday Times, Country Life or any other publication which might apply to your market. For example if you have a number of classic cars for which you need secure parking in London, you may want to try an advertisement in a classic car magazine. The copy should be simple, eye catching and describe loosely the type of property you require.

2.     Approach owners directly: If you have a very specific area you are targeting walk the streets to identify potential properties. Then write a letter to the owners. You can even knock on the door and ask if they would consider selling.

3.     Porters & Concierges: If you require a property with a concierge or porter visit suitable buildings and speak to them. Porters are a great source of information and if incentivised can ensure you hear about upcoming sales before anyone else.

4.     Contact developers directly: They are often happy to sell their properties before they are completed. The larger developments are often sold off-plan (although this has come to a halt in the current climate). However, if you see scaffolding and skips outside smaller sites approach the builders to discover if a developer is involved.

5.     Ensure the estate agents know you are a serious buyer: Estate agents are sometimes involved in off market sales. They are asked by their clients to discreetly show their property to only a select handful of buyers. Therefore it is vital that the estate agents know you are a serious buyer.

You must stay in regular contact so that they know you are serious. You must also show that you are in a position to move quickly and efficiently – have proof that your finances are in place and that you have a team of solicitors and surveyors (who must specialise in London property) ready to act.

If you don’t make these simple preparations you will find that you’ll rarely be invited to view London’s most exclusive residences.

Unfortunately buying property “off market” can put you in a weak position when negotiating, but that is a subject for another day.

Jeremy McGivern is the founder and managing director of Mercury Homesarch, London’s internationally renowned property search agency.

If you would like to read their complimentary report The Seven Biggest Mistakes London Property Buyers Make, please visit

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