The internet’s property revolution has not helped HNWs find off-market super-prime houses, says Jeremy McGivern
DISCOVERING THAT YOUR ideal home has been sold before you even heard it was available is one of the great frustrations if you are trying to buy a property in London. This was a special gripe of buyers in the ‘dark ages’ before the internet, who thumbed through magazines only to find that the perfect property had been sold weeks before it had even gone to print.
The internet was supposed to change this: the time it takes to launch a property on a website is often a case of hours rather than days. In addition, a far larger number of estate agents can advertise their properties on one or two property portals. Indeed, you can also register for property alerts so you do not even have to trawl through all the listings – the perfect home is simply sent to your inbox. What could be easier? The process of buying and selling property was supposed to be revolutionised.
Unfortunately, you are destined to miss out on a huge proportion of the best properties in prime central London if you rely on the websites. The problem is that the best properties are rarely openly marketed, let alone prostituted on the internet.
A successful independent agent in Mayfair noted in its last report: ‘Wetherell have seen an increasing number of properties coming to the market as ‘off market’ – available only for the chosen few – no details on the internet – discreet telephone calls made only to vetted buyers known or recommended by our agency…. Wetherell are currently instructed on about £200 million of property openly available for sale but additionally have nearly half that amount again being offered as ‘off market’.’
Extrapolate that across the 232 estate agents who sell properties in prime central London and you can see why relying on the internet will mean you are destined to see anything but the finest properties available.
But why would sellers not want to market their properties as widely as possible?
Firstly, extremely wealthy or high profile buyers value their privacy. They do not want all and sundry to be able to see how they live. Security is also an issue: I was invited to view a flat in Belgravia which was quietly being marketed for £20 million. There was no flashy brochure or pictures because the artwork on display was worth three times the value of the flat. Would you want to advertise that fact on the internet?
Time also plays an important factor. The owners do not want the inconvenience of numerous pointless viewings. Indeed the agents do not want to waste time showing their properties to unqualified buyers – for the finest homes there will only ever be a handful of suitable buyers which is why the internet is possibly the last place where one would want them advertised.
So how do you become a ‘vetted’ or ‘preferred’ buyer?
Unfortunately, simply giving the estate agents your contact details and expecting them to contact you virtually guarantees failure. Buyers forget that the estate agents act solely for the seller. They only have a ‘thin legal duty’ to buyers. Consequently your goal to acquire the finest property available on the best terms possible is in complete conflict with their legal obligations. You are not their focus. They want to find the best buyer/highest bidder for their clients’ home – at the moment they have a huge pool of buyers from which to choose.
FORTUNATELY, THERE ARE some very simple steps you can take to put yourself ahead of the pack:
1. Stay in regular contact – email, unfortunately, is as useful as the internet. You must call the agents regularly, i.e. at least once per week (by all means follow up with emails, but it is essential to build a relationship with the agents).
2. Let them know that you are serious – inform them that you have appointed a solicitor and that funds are in place so that you can move swiftly. If you will be using an SPV for tax purposes, advise them that this has been put in place.
3. Be available to view properties – if you are never able to visit the properties, then the agents will assume that you are not serious. Give the agents your views on the property the day after the viewing especially if it was not suitable. This will make you stand out from the average buyer and will help build the relationship with the agents.
These are the very basic steps you must take to ensure that you know about the best properties before anyone else. Unfortunately we do not have time to go into this in more detail here or to discuss how you can source ‘off market’ properties that even the estate agents do not know.
If you would like more information please request your complimentary copy of our report: ‘The Seven Most Expensive Mistakes London Property Buyers Make… & How To Avoid Them’ by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org or calling +44 (0) 800 389 4280 and quoting ‘Spear’s’.
Jeremy McGivern is the founder of Mercury Homesearch and was featured in Spear’s Property Index.