The Rise of the Secret Real Estate Market…and How to Break In
Not long ago I had dinner at a friend’s house in an upscale part of London, shortly after he moved in. I know the area quite well and have never seen a single real estate board in front of a house on their street. How had they found it? “It was Sophie,” my host said. I must have looked puzzled. His wife’s name is Rose.
“Sophie is a real estate agent – sort of,” he explained. ” A secret agent. Houses like these never come on the open market. Never.”
My host and his wife had met Sophie at a dinner like this and mentioned they were hoping to shop in the area. Sophie said all the houses – all of them – were selling off the market, but if they told her what they were looking for and agreed to her terms, she was sure she could not only find them the property they wanted, but make sure they bought it at the right price.
She did it. Sophie, a well-connected buying agent, found them the house. It wasn’t really on the market, she said. The couple could sell, but they had lived there for years, it was immaculate – thick white carpets everywhere – and the landlady couldn’t stand the thought of dirty feet stomping around. And she hated the idea of buyers changing her beloved home. But the husband was keen to move on at the right price, if the wife could be persuaded.
“I’ll let you into the house,” Sophie promised my host. “Say you like the decor, wouldn’t change a thing, and wanted a quick deal without messing around.” This way you will appeal to both husband and wife. I will negotiate.
It worked. The house changed hands, Sophie got her order…and the decorative scheme was quickly ripped out and replaced with a new vision. “It’s our house now…” my host said with a wry smile, adding that if I ever considered a property in the same neighborhood, Sophie was the key to any deal.
There’s nothing unusual about this story – or about Sophie. High-end properties in central London often sell off the market, and buyers who know their area and pool of potential customers are a key part of this secretive process.
Some specialize not only in a certain area, but also in a certain type of supplier and customer. There are Russian, and French, and Middle Eastern buying agents…
The phenomenon is by no means confined to London. Every major city, the posh villages around them, and sought-after countryside areas have secret markets and discreet buying agents who know their way around.
They know which properties are likely to be available soon and they know what kind of price will secure them. When the markets are galloping – as they are now – this is vital.
But buying agents aren’t just employed by the super-rich. Their services are sought after by frustrated and time-strapped future homeowners, including first-time buyers, downsizers or young families fleeing the capital in search of a new life in the countryside.
In today’s market, gazumping and gazundering are commonplace. And with prices, as Charlie Wells of buying agency Prime Purchase puts it, “everywhere,” it can pay to have a buying agent. “A research agent can verify the validity of prices,” says Wells. And, just as you would seek advice when deploying money in the stock market, it makes sense to hire an expert when buying a home, perhaps the biggest investment you’ll ever make.
A real estate buyer’s agent acts specifically for the buyer, while the seller’s agent tries to obtain the highest price for his client, the seller.
In addition to scouring the market for the perfect home on behalf of his client, Henry Pryor, a buying agent who has helped broker over a thousand properties, researches why a home might be on the market in the first place. . “The three Ds – death, debt and divorce – are often what trigger a home sale and each presents a different approach to helping close a deal,” he explains. Emotional intelligence is useful when sentiment is high and big money is at stake – as Sophie’s expertise has demonstrated.
“Our client has often fallen in love with a property and most people find it difficult to stay detached and negotiate a difficult deal once emotionally compromised,” says Pryor.
Couples counseling is just one of the many facets of the job of a search agent, Craig Fuller of Stacks property search in the Cotswolds highlights. “It’s about local knowledge and access to good off-market properties. Downsizers want to know what kind of neighbors they’ll inherit, while young families are more interested in seasonal light and high schools,” says Fuller. Local pending developments and nearby new construction is another essential area of knowledge.
But perhaps the most compelling reason to use a buying agent, says Jonathan Hopper, CEO of Buying Agent Garrington Property Finder, is the secret area of the “off market”. “That’s the big draw for property seekers right now,” Hopper says. The sheer number of homes being sold this way (a national chain of real estate agents sold 37,000 off-market properties in the first quarter of this year alone) – may justify the use of a property finder.
“A notable trend this year has been that more and more sellers are wary of seeing hordes of people wandering around their homes, so off-market sales have almost become the norm for the most sought-after properties,” says -he. “For many buyers, a good property finder is the only way to unlock this rapidly growing, but hidden market.”
Once the customer is sure they want to proceed, the buying agent will negotiate on their behalf (remember those biting phone calls about Location, Location, Location when Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp made an offer?) And hopefully -the, will agree to a favorable agreement. result. As Craig Fuller says, the buyer acts as a buffer between the buyer and the sellers or agents. “It helps manage negotiations at a time that can be exceptionally stressful and traumatic.”