Low stock, bidding wars and over-the-asking-price offers — finding and buying the right property can feel impossible in the current climate, but there are things you can do to improve your position.
Read any recent statistics about the housing market and they all seem to be skewed towards the seller’s advantage. In December 2021, there was an average of 29 buyers for every UK house on the market, and 38% of homes sold for more than their asking price in November 2021, up from 21% in October and 10% the previous year.
With this much competition to buy — and with housing stocks at record lows — how can buyers still succeed in such competitive conditions?
We asked three property experts for their top tips.
Build up a rapport with local agents
If you want to get first dibs on the best properties, you need to put in the time building up a relationship with local estate agents.
"Try telephoning the estate agent rather than hiding behind your keyboard and emailing," said Richard Black, property developer and broadcaster.
"It’s person over product. If an agent likes you, they’ll likely sell to you ahead of another person, offering a similar sum but whom they dislike."
Robert Peel, of estate agency Antony Roberts, suggests checking in with the agents in your area monthly to make sure you’re the first buyer who comes to mind when they value new properties.
"We usually begin marketing with an offline period using registered applicants from our sales database. Sometimes properties never even make it to the sales portals," he said.
While you might think having a large search area will give you more options, it’s actually better to be focused.
"Agents prefer it if you have a smaller area because otherwise you don’t look like a serious buyer," says buying agent Fiona Penny. "A buyer with a precise area looks like they’ve done their homework and knows exactly where they want to move to."
Use a buying agent
Buyers keen to see properties without the competition could benefit from engaging a buying agent. Unlike traditional estate agents, they work on behalf of the buyer, getting them access to properties they wouldn’t normally be able to see — for a percentage commission which the buyer pays.
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Buying agents get you into a property before anyone else and suggest what you need to offer to stop it from going on the open market.
"Prior to COVID, we would save you our fees," says Penny. "Now we are stopping property going on the market and spiralling upwards into sealed bids."
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Be ready to make an offer
Before you start viewing properties, put yourself in the strongest position you can. If you are renting, know exactly when you need to give notice and, if you need to sell, make sure your home is, at the very least, on the market.
"You lose nothing by marketing as agents will cover the marketing costs," says Peel. "If you try to do things in the wrong order and find before you sell, you will continuously lose out on properties in the current market."
It's also sensible to have as much of the paperwork ready as possible. Speak to a mortgage adviser to get a "mortgage in principle" and line up a local solicitor and conveyancer. It shows estate agents that you’re serious about moving and willing to act quickly if needs be.
When an offer is accepted, estate agents will also need to confirm your identity in order to run money-laundering checks, so have ID documents like passports and driving licences up to date and ready for this.
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With all the paperwork and contracts involved, it’s easy to forget that buying a house is also about buying a home, and adding a personal element may give you the advantage over other interested buyers.
"It can be challenging to arrange but ask the estate agents if it is possible to meet the seller on a second viewing," says Penny. "If a seller has met the buyer, that person will stick in their mind more than someone they haven’t met."
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When you’re submitting an offer, include a bit about yourself to give the seller a feel of who they are selling to — it might be that you are moving to be nearer family or want to restore the home to its former glory.
"Write a letter about yourselves, your family and why you want the house, and include this with your offer," says Peel. "This won’t work every time but may give you an edge over the competition."
Put in a strong first offer
If you find that you’re in a competitive scenario — or think things might get competitive — make your first offer a strong one.
"Vendors will often favour applicants who put their best foot forwards in the first instance," says Peel.
"There is also a chance that if you make a strong offer immediately, rather than waiting for the second round, the vendors will not bother with sealed bids and just pick you as their buyer."
Be flexible with dates
Another tactic that improves your position as a buyer is being flexible when it comes to completion and move dates.
A seller may also be a buyer and, while they may have no trouble selling a house, it might be difficult for them to find their next one and they will appreciate a buyer who isn’t in a hurry for them to pack their bags.
Flexibility is also useful for probate sales. "If the property is awaiting grant of probate before it can be sold, offer a rapid, conditional exchange. This is where you exchange as quickly as possible, conditional on probate being granted. You then set a long completion to allow plenty of time for probate to be granted, which can be brought forwards once probate comes through," says Peel.