Are you hiring a ‘search’ agent or a ‘buying’ agent? Be sure you know the difference.

When selecting a buying agent, it’s important to check if they really are a ‘buying’ agent, as there is a big difference between ‘search’ and ‘buying’ in an agent’s description. I’m not being pedantic. It’s not just semantics either. A search agent does precisely what the name suggests – they find properties, whereas a buying agent handles the purchase too.

This process isn’t like purchasing a car or a washing machine – as anyone who’s gone through this can testify. Buying a property is said to be one of the three most stressful things in life. Therefore, if your agent finds you something you like, but then leaves you or your solicitor to pursue the sale, you are losing out on the most valuable part of the service. This puts you at risk of not securing the property, paying over the odds for it and enduring high levels of unnecessary stress and time wastage.

The ‘search’ is of course a vitally important aspect of what we do, but when you’ve been doing it for as long as I have, it’s the easy bit. Even when most of the properties we purchase aren’t actually advertised, but bought off-market, it’s still somewhat less challenging than what comes next: securing the property for our client.

When I first started offering a buying service nearly 30 years ago, we were one of perhaps three. Now, there are at least 300 self-styled ‘buying agents’ in Chelsea alone. However, many have missed the point, offering a ‘search’ service only as they believe that is where the value lies and what property purchasers want. Of course, our clients do need that offering, but it is in fact only a minor part of the overall process. The added value comes in actually buying something, from assessing its value and negotiating on price, to progressing the sale successfully through to completion as stress free as possible. This is what people are really paying for and which delivers the most value.

Conveyancing solicitors tend to carry out a rather basic due diligence, done remotely and in a formulaic way. Do they visit the property? Look at flight path maps? Check for noisy neighbours? On one occasion, we found a perfect property for a client in a seemingly idyllic country location. However, on closer inspection we noticed the adjoining property ran a sporadic clay shoot which was not apparent from the viewings (it being occasional). The selling agent knew nothing of it – his vendor client hadn’t told him – and the solicitor certainly wasn’t going to discover it. I knocked on doors of people in the area and picked up a story of massive disturbance and endless complaints to the planning authority and lawyers letters. My clients wanted to buy the house so I came up with a cunning plan. We managed to negotiate a legal agreement with the neighbour, which meant he or his successors could not shoot clays again and we bought the house for 30% less than the guide.

Now that is what I call added value – only possible if you have been in the business for many years and have a raft of professional knowledge. Although the role of the buying agent has changed over recent years due to a more diverse set of property purchasers, these fundamentals are still exactly the same… if you are to achieve superior results, it’s crucial you choose somebody who will also guide you through the sales process.

By Jonathan Harington

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