1. At the outset establish what your priorities are and what you’re prepared to compromise on. This is often a balancing act between the space and location of a property. So decide, do you have a growing family or work from home? Space is probably going to be a bigger factor so you might want to widen your search area – there are some super quality areas that you might not know about. If you’re commuting every day then location might be more important but it might be worth thinking beyond the Tube. The Overground and Crossrail have made a lot of areas much more easy to reach than previously. Even when there is a lot of high-quality property on the market you’ll probably only be able to tick about eight out of ten boxes so be clear on your non-negotiables.
2. Do your research. If you’re looking for a two-bedroom flat you should look at at least 10 properties. Our advisors see well over 250 properties a year, some years more than 500. The more research you do the better placed you are to negotiate.
3. Don’t only register with one agent. Every London area will have five to 10 main agents. Talk to all of them. An agent might not have what you are looking for today, but they might get one on their books next week. Your buying journey won’t be done and dusted in a couple of weeks so you should be certain to leave no stone unturned so you don’t miss out on what you’re looking for.
4. You can afford to be fussy. There will be more supply coming onto the market in the next couple of years as more and more people come off low fixed-rate mortgages. Assuming interest rates settle around the four per cent mark, that’s quite a bit higher than many people fixed at a couple of years ago and could mean a number of strategic sales.
5. Don’t disregard a property just because it’s been on the portals for a while. Sometimes there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these properties, they might just have been overpriced at first, or launched at the wrong time of year. And more often than not you might be able to negotiate more heavily on the price – but get the inside track on why they are selling. There is definitely a point in any transaction where a serious seller will ask their agents exactly what they need to do to sell.
6. Be proactive. If you have narrowed your search down to a couple of streets or a very tight area, put a letter through the door, or even knock on the door. That’s something that we do as professionals, and you’d be surprised that it can often yield a result.
7. Be sure to check out the wider area. Too many people fixate on the property itself and forget to check the local amenities and transport options. We will test run a client’s commute, or do a trial school run in morning traffic, and you should do the same.
8. Make an offer. There is no fixed percentage that is acceptable for this but the crucial point to remember is that a property is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. There is a lot of compromised property on the market at the moment which is often overpriced. Quality properties also tend to be unrealistically priced, it always takes a while for sellers to come to terms with a lower prices. But we are about 12 months into a more bearish market so it’s unlikely to surprise or offend if you want to negotiate. The trick is to almost ignore the guide price and focus on whether or not the vendor is serious about selling. In the course of advising our clients where to pitch an offer we focus on the value rather than the guide price.
9. Look for properties you can improve in some way. Even with labour and materials costs higher than previously you should be able to get a really good deal on a fixer-upper. Even if you are not keen on building/DIY projects, they might only impinge on your life for a few months out of maybe a decade of living somewhere. Most properties can be improved and the money you invest now will give you a good return in the medium to long term.
10. The garden question. If you find somewhere with outside space this will benefit you not only while you are living there but also when you come to sell. A flat without outside space in more leafy or residential areas may feel like good value but it could be less liquid in future, although if it is close to a park or river walk this might help. That said, there is a big difference between buyers’ expectations in Mayfair or Soho and Chiswick. You will pay a premium for a rare garden in central London but there will always be buyers with different priorities and budgets so go with what suits you and don’t pay more for a garden you won’t appreciate.
11. View more than once. Look around and experience the inside and outside of a property at different times of the day and week to uncover what it’s like during rush hour, school time, weekends and see if there are noises and vibrations from Tube, trains or buses. Take a friend or relative who isn’t going to be living in the property for a second opinion or, even better, employ a professional advisor. I always recommend a client see a property at least twice because you see more on the second viewing but I think three or four viewings would be fine. Agents get a bit twitchy if you view a property more than five times.