London Off Market Property

London Off Market Property - A Brief Guide

London off market property has long been a source of intrigue and has attracted more media attention over the past year. 

A LonRes buying agent survey found 56% of buying agents acquired more off market property, and only 5% fewer, than the previous year.

At a time of limited stock, it is tempting to think that behind the curtain lies a world of best-in-class property. In central London, especially at budgets below £3m, this is rarely the case. While there are great off market properties, many are worse than the average open market listing. 

What exactly is off market? 

‘Off market’ is an ambiguous term which can broadly be split into three categories of property not on portals or in estate agents’ windows. 

  1. Properties listed permanently off market – or at least in the short-medium term. This is what is most traditionally considered to be off market and discussed in this article. 
  2. Properties about to launch or return to the open market after a collapsed sale. 
  3. Properties where the owner is not actively looking to sell but may be receptive to a direct proposal.

Why sell off market? 

Privacy. 

This can range from a high profile individual selling away from the media spotlight to a couple not wishing to broadcast an ongoing divorce to neighbours. Security can also be a key consideration. Some don’t want marketing materials showing rare artwork or floor plans published online. 

Efficiency.

Others simply want a more painless and orderly experience. By vetting a select group of buyers, the seller knows they are only letting serious buyers into their home. In the wake of tightening anti-money laundering laws, early due diligence on all parties is more important than ever. 

Before viewing high-value off market property, we often have to confirm we are retained and that our client is proceedable in a short timeframe. 

Gauge Interest / Market Value. 

Some sellers want to test an ambitious asking price without the listing being archived online – or at least on a database accessible to the public.

Properties primarily listed off market for this reason often come with unrealistic asking prices. 

However for some unique properties without direct comparables, it is genuinely difficult to establish value. This water tower in Kennington was previously listed in 2013 at £6.5m but eventually sold in 2022 with an asking price of £2.75m.

A Marketing Tactic.

By very nature of its exclusivity, it is easy for buyers to attach a greater value to an off market property and view it as a rare commodity. Canny selling agents are happy to take advantage of this mindset and achieve a price 5 -15% higher than what we would deem fair value. 

Unfortunately, this approach can work best with inexperienced cash buyers who don’t have a bank’s down valuation to save them.

London Property Finder

Should I Use a Buying Agent for Off Market Property?  

While accessing off market is a benefit of using a buying agent, we never recommend a client works with us principally for this reason unless their budget is in excess of £5m. 

It is important to remember that the majority of buying agents buy more property on the open market each year (see chart below)

If you are considering retaining a buying agent for off market access, discuss your brief and ask for an objective opinion on the likelihood of sourcing you something off market. 

Buying Agents and Off Market Property: (SOURCE: LonRes)

If you have questions about off market property or are considering using as a buying agent to buy in central London, please contact us on [email protected]

 

Freehold versus Leasehold

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Freehold Versus Leasehold

We’re often asked about the difference between freehold and leasehold property and which makes the better investment. International clients are often unfamiliar with the freehold/leasehold system but it can be equally confusing for domestic buyers!

Firstly, let’s look at the main features of freehold and leasehold properties.

FREEHOLD

  • You own the property and the underlying land outright.
    This means you are responsible for the upkeep of the entire building.
  • You do not need to seek permission from the freeholder (which is you!) or other leaseholders before carrying out an extension or structural work. However you will still need planning permission for some works.

LEASEHOLD

  • You own the property (typically your flat) for the time stated in the lease – if the lease is not extended and expires the property returns to the freehold owner – also known as the landlord.
  • The lease will set out rules both the leaseholder and freeholder must follow.  Some are more restrictive than others.
  • Ground rent is payable to the landlord on an annual basis. As of 30th June 2022, this only applies to existing leases and not new ones.
  • Leaseholders typically have to pay a service charge to the freeholder.
  • The freehold owner is responsible for maintenance of communal areas, the overall condition of the building and insurance. These are usually covered by the service charge.
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SHARE OF FREEHOLD

Finally, some flats are sold with a ‘Share of Freehold’. This has elements of both tenures as the buyer becomes both a freeholder and leaseholder. The freehold is split between all owners in a building. You own your flat and a share of the land and building. Unlike an outright freehold, there is still a lease in place which must be followed. Owning a Share Freehold can have its advantages. All freeholders usually have a personal stake in the upkeep of the building and little incentive to levy unreasonably high service charges. Extending a lease is generally more straight-forward. It is typically in everyone’s interests to grant long lease extensions on all properties for a nominal amount. With that said, we have seen many Shares of Freehold with communal areas in far worse condition than the average leasehold.

Is Freehold or Leasehold a better investment? 

All things being equal, a freehold property’s simpler legal status makes it more desirable. In reality though, all things are never equal and each property has to be judged on its own merits. 

Location, not the form of tenure, is usually the main determiner of value. For instance, a leasehold flat purchased 30 years ago in central London would have comfortably outperformed most freeholds in the UK, even after factoring in service charge and ground rent payments. 

When carrying out our Buying Service, a property’s tenure is just one of many factors we look at to determine whether it represents value.

The condition of the property, sold price comparables, the local planning environment, investment potential of the wider area etc. all influence our recommended offer level. 

When viewing leasehold properties, at the very least try to establish the following details.

 

  • the number of years remaining on the lease – this can range from 1 to 999. Leases with 90 years or fewer remaining require particular attention. 

  • the annual service charge – it’s often a cause of concern if it’s too low or high. Does the seller know of any other significant one off costs about to be levied against the leaseholders? 

  • the annual ground rent – ground rent above £250 a year in the UK or £1,000 in London can lead to other issues.

  • any restrictive covenants the vendor is aware of. For example, not being allowed to keep pets or having to pay the landlord a subletting fee if you wish to rent out the property. Of course, a vendor may not willingly disclose this information but this will only waste everyone’s time.

  • the identity of the freehold owner – estate agent’s may not always know this but should be able to find out from the vendor. In London, the freeholder is sometimes the local council.  

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As a buying agent, we always try to establish the basic facts of the lease.  Unfortunately due to the buying process in England, some issues are only discoverable during conveyancing.  Information sometimes has to be taken in good faith before the sale is in a solicitor’s hands. It is paramount that you hire a competent solicitor to fully review the lease during the conveyancing process and identify any issues. We recommend clients choose their own solicitor or one we work with on a non-commission basis and avoid any recommended by a developer or estate agent. Recently a client bought a high value new build property. Before exchange, our recommended solicitor successfully removed a doubling ground rent clause which could have negatively impacted capital growth prospects. 

If you are considering buying a central London property, either leasehold or freehold, contact us today for a free consultation.

Buying Agents: A Quick Guide

London Buying Agents: A Brief Guide
Why use a London property finder?

What is a Buying Agent?

A buying agent can go by several names such as a ‘property finder’, ‘search agent’ or ‘property consultant’. 

Essentially, they represent the buyer to find suitable properties, negotiate on their behalf and help progress the purchase to completion. In the UK, selling agents, commonly known as ‘estate agents’, are paid by and work exclusively for the seller. Buying agents act for the buyer. 

In many property markets such as the US and Australia using a buying agent is standard practice. However in the UK it is still a relatively niche industry focused on high-value transactions. 

 

Who is it for?

Originally, buying agents were seen as a service only for the wealthy, dealing in ‘off market’ sales away from the public eye. However, the industry now caters for a range of budgets and provides many benefits to a variety of London home buyers and investors.   

At Perrygate we typically deal with purchases in central London valued between £500,000 to £5m+. Our clients are a mix of domestic and international buyers. They are typically time poor and value independent,  strategic advice to ensure they don’t make an expensive mistake. 

WHAT Does a Buying Agent CHARGE?

The majority of buying agents work on a commission basis. They typically charge around 1.5% +VAT of the agreed purchase price. This means a the success fee on a £1m purchase may be in the region of £18,000. Some agents charge the higher of the success fee or a set percentage of the amount negotiated from the asking price. As asking prices are rarely an indicator of value, a simple commission or fixed fee model often works best for both parties. 

Most agents also charge a retainer fee between £500-£2,000 before beginning a search. This fee only partly covers a buying agent’s time and travel costs but serves as a sign of intention between both parties. Selling agents also know retained clients are serious and organised buyers. 

Perrygate’s success fee is the higher of 1.25% (inc .VAT ) of the purchase price or a minimum fee of £8,000 (inc. VAT). Read more about our fees here. 

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Why Use a Buying Agent?

1. Save Money 

A property finder’s goal is to secure a property matching their client’s criteria at the best possible price. 

Two properties for sale on the same street often represent very different value for money. Due diligence on the property, broader market conditions and the vendor’s position all inform an agent’s negotiation strategy. A buying agent should have a strong eye for detail and will always be looking for issues not revealed in the marketing. Factors affecting the negotiating position include: internal and external condition, ceiling heights, natural light, the local planning environment, condition of communal areas, whether the property is North/South facing, internet speeds, local amenities – to name but a few! 

Buying agents offer in-depth knowledge of your search area, live local market conditions as well as negotiating experience. This is especially important in a vast city like London where it can be difficult to get an overview of the hundreds of unique neighbourhoods. 

A buying agent must understand the emotional factor of any purchase whilst remaining detached enough to ensure maximum offer levels are controlled.  

"One of a buying agent's most important roles is telling clients when to walk away from a property. "

A property finder will not just try to save their client a significant amount of money from the asking price (often many times their fee), but will look to secure other favourable terms. For instance, they may ask for a lease to be varied before exchange of contracts or for the vendor to agree to a quick exchange of contracts by retaining a senior solicitor. 

2. Save Time

Buying a property is a time consuming process. Researching properties, travelling to and reporting on viewings, undertaking extensive due diligence, negotiating and progressing the sale etc. takes considerable time. 

A property search can take more than 150 hours to complete.  To put forward a single offer, we typically spend a minimum of three hours undertaking due diligence before recommending an offer level. 

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3. Less Stress 

Buying a property can be one of life’s most stressful experiences. A buying agent will save their clients the stress of dealing with  many of the challenges during a property search. These can range from dealing with misleading marketing (e.g. incorrect leasehold information), cancelled viewings and indecisive vendors. 

Beyond this, a buying agent will have a trusted network to tie all aspects of the purchase together. At Perrygate we have a trusted network including solicitors, mortgage brokers, FX traders, architects, builders and accountants. We spend a lot of time during our Buying Service coordinating these services. 

4. Access 

Estate agents know property finders only represent serious clients. This helps clients gain quick access to the right properties and ensures they are taken seriously. 

High-profile or security conscious ‘off market’ sellers prefer not to have their property details on the internet. They value a buying agent’s discretion. 

Our clients offers are often recommended to the vendor by the selling agent even if another party is offering slightly more. They know our clients have been thoroughly debriefed on both the pros and cons of a property and have everything in place for a swift exchange of contracts.

5. Purchase progression/ post-completion support 

Once a property is taken off the market, the real work begins. Many underestimate the importance of this final step. Even straight-forward purchases invariably encounter one or two issues before completion. 

The longer a purchase takes, the greater the risk of it collapsing. Your buying agent will work with all parties (solicitors, surveyors, selling agents, mortgage brokers) to progress the sale in a timely manner.

Approximately 30% of purchases in the UK fall through but our firm’s current rate is under 10%. Before making an offer, we undertake due diligence on the seller’s circumstances and ensure if issues later appear during the survey or legal process, all sides remain calm. If a significant issue arises during the building survey or conveyancing, a buying agent may renegotiate the price to reflect this new information. 

Which buying agent is right for me?

We’ll try to be impartial here!

Each buying agent’s service will have slightly different emphasis. It is important you find a London property finder which is a good fit for you. Some buying agents have more than 10 staff with dedicated in-house property management and rental search teams. Others also sell property in addition to buying. Some cover regional areas while some specialise in certain London postcodes.  Some are privately owned while some are part of larger corporate bodies such as Savills and Knight Frank. 

At Perrygate, we are a boutique, family firm. We only work with four clients at any time which allows us to deliver a high level of responsiveness and due diligence during any search. We believe our pricing model delivers excellent value without compromising on service. 

Trust between a buying agent and their client is absolutely essential for both sides to work well together. If a buying agent is being driven by commission and not their client’s best interests, tensions will arise. A good buying agent should also not be overly eager to take a retainer fee from their client and will first want to establish both parties interests are aligned and achievable. 

Ultimately, the right firm should be adding value. 

What questions can I ask a buying agent?

Anything that comes to mind! At Perrygate we are always happy to discuss the market even if a buyer isn’t the right fit for us or vice-versa.

If you are interviewing a buying agent, these questions may give you a better insight into how they work. 

1) How long have they been in business? 

2) Do they have commission relationships with the various third-parties they will recommend throughout the service e.g. solicitors, mortgage brokers, architects, builders etc.

3) Can they give details of recently successful transactions? Do they search for properties over a wide or narrow search area? 

4) Will there be a main point of contact throughout the search and do they work weekends? 

5)If you need additional services post-completion (e.g. assistance selecting architects, builders for potential renovations, project management) can they provide this and will there be an additional cost?

6) Are they a member of any redress scheme (e.g. The Property Ombudsman).

If you would like to discuss your London property search, contact us today for a no obligation consultation.