A view to deal: how to buy a house like a professional

Whether you want a dog room or a man cave, with 11 buyers chasing each property for sale, stealth tactics are needed to beat the competition.

Buying agents might be your secret weapon, if you have the ready cash, otherwise steal some of their insider tips to bag yourself the ideal pad.

The mission
We asked the buying agent Will Watson from Middleton Advisors to find a property for a mystery client. The client, a bachelor who spends a lot of time abroad, is reluctant to reveal where he wants to live other than somewhere in London, and he sets a great deal of store by stealth and security. The situation doesn’t faze Watson who says this is not an uncommon scenario for wealthy buyers. He often has to show them a wide variety of properties (sometimes up to ten in a day) and listen carefully to their reactions to tease out what they want. His advice is to start by looking in neighbourhoods you might not have considered and at properties you might not have thought about.

The debriefing
The first property Watson shows us is a stunning large three-bedroom apartment on the 16th floor of The Panoramic building in Pimlico (£5 million, through Knight Frank). He has chosen the property after listening to clues about the client’s lifestyle. It is next to the M15 building, looks out towards M16 and may be perfect for our client — but not for everyone. Watson is even-handed and honest, carefully detailing the pros and cons — it wouldn’t suit everyone being on the Grosvenor Road and not being near a hub, so it’s not the easiest place to pop out and buy a bottle of vodka if your fridge is dry and you fancy a martini.

“I had a client once who was very excited about a house that had been renovated by a developer, but it was positioned between two very busy roads, had very little parking and a north-facing patio garden which was overlooked by loads of air-con units. When I outlined the negatives he said: ‘I have been so seduced by the finishes, but you are right.’ Of course we couldn’t stop someone buying something but we just want to make them aware,” says Watson. So perhaps ask a critical friend to come with you and give an honest opinion on a property.

Espionage
The next property is on Queensdale Place in Notting Hill (£16.5 million, with Henry & James). This house ticks a lot of boxes: hidden from view down a mews, an enormous man-cave (with dancefloor, bar, laser lights and smoke machine in the adjoining garage to show off the owner’s Aston Martin), and a gun room. It is a private sale and we wouldn’t have found it unless we had employed a buying agent. Seeing properties first, or buying a property that has previously been withdrawn from the market, or indeed has never come to market and possibly never will, is something that buying agents specialise in. This is not only because they have great relationships with agents and developers but because they are immersed in the market and know what sold when and who withdrew what. Buying agents will also approach owners who are not selling to ask if they would consider selling, if they have a keen enough buyer. The key to doing this yourself is to cultivate very good relationships with local estate agents and convince them that you are a serious buyer.

Intelligence
Buying agents are often the first to see new developments so, emulating their tactics, we go to view The Penthouse Collection at Parliament House, not far from MI6. Telford Homes is launching two penthouses here: a triplex (£6 million, register for a private viewing via Telford Homes) and a lateral apartment (£3 million). These are also very appealing: the triplex has a 438 sq ft terrace with 360-degree views over London, an outdoor hot tub, all the latest technology including a Exitec spy hole, two exit routes and all furniture included. The downside is that there is no private parking space. To make sure you get first peek at new developments, you can become a buying agent, a property journalist or register on the developer’s websites and again convince them that you are a serious buyer.

Counter-intelligence
Another potential property is on Royal Avenue, just off the Kings Road in Chelsea. It is a five-storey house that has been renovated to a high standard by Markham Associates and bB Design House. It is not on sale but our client knows the location well — this is thought to be the fictional home of James Bond — and might see if the owner will consider selling anyway. Knowing the seller’s circumstances is another tactic that buying agents use when negotiating a sale, for example someone may be getting divorced or need to sell quickly to relocate.

“We build up a picture of how motivated they are to sell. This enables you to make your offer more attractive to them. Say it is on the market for £10 million, but you know they need a quick sale, you could offer £9 million but say you will complete in 24 hours — that is going to be pretty tempting to some people,” Watson says. This tactic is difficult to do without an agent, but ask around and see what you can deduce.

Negotiation
The next property our buyer shows us is on Carlton Gardens in St James’s (£11.95 million, through Russell Simpson). Again, this is an attractive proposition. A newly refurbished ultra-luxury two-bedroom apartment — it even has a secret door, for escaping or smuggling people in, hidden in the jewellery room. We are sold. “Mmm, it might be a little overpriced,” says Watson. One of a buying agent’s jobs is to know how much everything comparable in the area has sold for and how much room for manoeuvre you have in negotiations. Agents have access to more up-to-date information than the public but you can search on Land Registry and consult Rightmove’s sold prices website to stgay in touch with prices.

The long game
Finally Watson shows us a two-bedroom apartment on Wilton Crescent in Belgravia — close to Eaton Square, where both Sean Connery and Roger Moore have owned property. This seems a little understated — it is neither as large as The Panoramic, as luxurious as Carlton Gardens, nor as surprising as Queensdale Place. The price may be a little high (£12 million via Henry & James) but Watson and the estate agent appear to be in raptures.

“This is always going to be one of the best addresses. It is on the best floors (first and second). It has a lift. It has a share of the freehold, which is rare in Belgravia. It has been beautifully modernised and has an outside space. It is great from an investment perspective and is somewhere you could sell quickly if you needed to,” Watson says. You need to think beyond simply living in the property — could you rent it out, could you sell it quickly, does it have investment potential?

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