What’s the difference between a Buying Agent and a Search Agent?

Where a property buying agent really adds value comes after the search, explains Jonathan Harington

Is it just terminology? Is it just about the name? Yes, some call themselves search agents – and as you can see I call myself a “buying” agent. But the searching in my view is a very small part of the business. A buying agent has to add value and I’ll come on to that later. But the added value comes in the professional side, not the searching service. It’s the professional aspect that people are paying for. The searching part is important, but when you’ve been in the business for nearly thirty nine years that’s the easy bit.

The search side is vital, but it’s not just about being efficient with online listings and legwork visiting every agent in the patch. There may be some ‘search agents’ who just do this. When we started out we were one of a handful of perhaps ten buying agents. Now there are over 300 in Chelsea alone – but I wouldn’t call many of them ‘buying’ agents, as many will focus on the search, thinking this is the time consuming bit which clients want to outsource.

But the best properties never make it to the open market so relying solely on this sort of search really isn’t worth the time of day in my opinion. Many of the houses we buy for clients are acquired ‘off market’. (See my blog article, “How much luck is involved in buying a house privately or “off market”?)

A really good search agent will know their patch like the back of their hand and know all the players in it. My partner Saul is an expert in finding central London properties off market, whilst I am an expert in finding country houses, farms and estates.

I will give you an example of added value and the role of an experienced buying agent as opposed to a search agent.  In 2000 I found a house for client that looked perfect for them.  However I discovered that the owner of an adjoining property was running an illegal clay pigeon shooting school.  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.  The selling agent did not know anything about it, not his fault he had not been told by his vendor client.  My clients wanted to buy the house but in my view it was a minefield and should not be touched. However I came up with a cunning plan.  The guide was £1.7m and I advised my clients to get the neighbour to enter into a legal agreement which meant he would never shoot clays again.  We paid the neighbour £100k for the agreement and bought the house for £1.2m.

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.

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