Beware the “FRIEND”…
It’s a very British thing discussing property – a bit like the weather. However, when conducting your own property hunt – ultimately a very personal experience – beware the well-meaning but perhaps over-opinionated “friend”
Article by Charles Fraser-Sampson
Property can often be one of those uniting topics that everyone loves to discuss. Maybe it’s just a British thing, but people do seem to find immense joy in learning that the new person they meet lives in the same area as they do or used to. Inevitably there’s an onslaught of questions about where exactly, who else you know and how much? There usually follows, if you haven’t been rescued by this point, a slightly smug life story of how they got in early, before the market went crazy and what theirs is now apparently worth.
As people who work in sourcing and acquiring properties for private clients across London on a full-time basis, it’s always amusing when a potential client arrives on an initial viewing tour with a rather worried looking distant relative or friend who claims (very seriously) to be helping with their property search and acts rather miffed that we’re now somehow involved. You know these individuals; and for the purposes of this article we shall call them ‘The Friend.’
They position themselves as property experts and know everything that’s happening in the market. They never stop telling you about how they’ve made “killer profit” on whatever they’ve bought and sold, although quite often down to luck and a strong market. They unsubtly portray the property market as a savage and unforgiving arena and that the best thing you can do is involve them as your guide. ‘The Friend’ normally attends a viewing pointing out every hairline crack in plasterwork, muttering about subsidence and starts vigorously sniffing like a hungry Labrador, nose jammed under the shut kitchen door, exclaiming “Damp!” They then go for the property jugular and verbally spa with the estate agent over the price and how they know somebody who sold on this street recently for much less.
Beware ‘The Friend’ who always wants to help when you innocently mention that you’re looking to buy. Whether due to boredom or a longing need to feel relied upon, ‘The Friend’ can often do untold damage to you and your prospects of securing the property you really want with their behaviour and opinions. Like many life changing moments, marriage and children for instance, buying and selling a property is something that we nearly all have to experience. Let’s face it, it’s not rocket science and if done methodically, with sound judgement, shouldn’t be overly complicated or stressful. Use your judgement about what feels right, because the moment you step through the door of the property you’ll eventually buy will be a wonderful one and the ‘friend’ will only ever be an opinionated spectator at this point. Don’t fear the agents, they should be there to help and steer the process. I can assure you that an agent who employs pressure, is inconsistent with their message or sounds desperate will not last long in the industry. You can easily brush them aside but to pretend to yourself the more professional majority are not talking with relevant experience about what is happening in their local market and what you need to do if you really want to secure that particular property is foolish.
Buying a property is like making any other expensive purchase. If you spend time doing your homework you will already have a sound grounding in whether you really require ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’ and what is good value compared to everything else available. After-all, you don’t take ‘The Friend’ with you to the car showroom or the bank to discuss your latest life policy cover.
Inviting your parents or partner on a later viewing is entirely reasonable but ‘The Friend’ will often only conspire to confuse matters. Be alert to the fact that it’s not uncommon in estate agency, particularly London, for agents to offer introductory fees. In my agency days, I once had a gentleman register who wanted half a percent for introducing his own brother to a property! You very quickly have to ask at this stage, are they helping me, or the seller via the estate agent if they’re accepting a fee from the selling side? That’s a hugely important factor that often gets overlooked on the buying advisory side of property. This is why we always want to be retained by our clients and paid by them for sourcing the properties they buy. It’s the only way we can be fully independent and protect their interests because there’s no conflict caused by having to accept a fee from the selling side. Sadly, as the agents will no doubt concur, we are seeing more and more of these introducers pretending that they are going out of their way to help relatives and friends of friends by offering impartial advice, but more often than not, they are focussed solely on the properties which provides them the biggest fee and try and shoe-horn their buyer into something that isn’t always the best fit.
When ‘The Friend’ isn’t really a friend, buying a property is not the time to have these people on your team. Have your mortgage agreement in principle, a chosen solicitor in mind and the rest is time spent on the job and building favourable relationships with the local agents.
Charles Fraser-Sampson is Associate, Residential Sales for Savills, Winsdor / 01753 834600