Today we interview Jonathan Hopper from Garrington, one of London’s foremost property finders. Originally founded in 1996 by TV property personality Phil Spencer, Garrington now have a network of regional offices across the UK. This means that Jonathan, as the company’s CEO and past recipient of the ‘Best UK Property Finder’ award, is perfectly placed to explain the benefits of using a buying agent. Below we talk about everything from how property finders can help you, to their relationship with estate agents.
JMI: What you do as a buying agent?
JH: Phil first set up Garrington because estate agents traditionally work for the seller. Therefore, all the help and advice available during the process is traditionally geared towards them. Garrington was established to level the playing field, so buyers have someone to look after their best interests, too. This service has proved incredibly popular. In fact, we now help buyers across the UK from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall.
JMI: What type of buyers do you help?
JH: It’s our job to find and secure properties. That means we can potentially help anyone. However, we typically help people buying at the higher-end of the market, especially the upper quartile. This isn’t exclusively the case anymore, as the pandemic has definitely increased awareness of buying agents, but it does tend to be higher value properties or those not being actively marketed on the online portals.
Although no two clients are the same, and each search is different, we help a lot of people relocating to a new part of the UK, ultra busy people who need someone to do the heavy lifting for them, or just people who realise that buying a property is a massive decision so they want an expert to guide them.
Interestingly, we also help home hunters who have been worn down by the whole buying process: buyers who haven’t been able to find what they’re looking for on the open market or have missed out on multiple properties they loved in bidding wars. These people want someone in their corner to reduce the chances of losing out again.
JMI: You mention off-market properties above. Is hiring a buying agent a good way to secure homes that get snapped up before they hit estate agent windows?
JH: Absolutely. Over 50% of the properties our clients buy never reach the open market. We hear about them through our network of contacts and pounce quickly before they’re advertised in public. This is especially the case with higher value homes, where the dynamics of buying property often differ due to the need for privacy and discretion.
The lack of stock on the market, which has obviously increased demand, also means that an increasing number of homes are being grabbed before they reach the portals. Buyers know that they’ll stand a better chance of hearing about these off market properties if they’ve got a buying agent working on their behalf.
JMI: Tell us about your process…
JH: Getting to know our clients is a big part of what we do. It helps us to establish an initial search brief and then refine it as we go along. That’s why we always accompany clients on property viewings. Gauging their reactions gives us vital feedback, especially as people might not be able to articulate what they’re looking for.
It actually takes a lot of emotional intelligence to be a good buying agent. You need to understand why your client is moving, and the experiences they’ve had along the way, to get a good feel for the person and the type of home that may suit them. In fact, as we near the end of the journey, we can often tell that a client is going to buy a particular property before we’ve shown it to them. It’s because we’ve got to know their likes and dislikes so well.
JMI: Does your service end once a property is ‘found’ or is there more to it?
JH: A buying agent, or ‘property finder’, does more that just find homes. We’re also there to offer advice from start to finish. For example, we handle price negotiations for our clients - which helps them to secure the right property for the right price - and we’re also on hand to help with any potential problems thrown up by surveys or conveyancing.
Having an expert intervene on your behalf, and talk to fellow property professionals one-to-one, can often resolve sticking points and get a purchase over the line. We also take the emotion out of a situation, which can sometimes be difficult for buyers and sellers, and navigate any disputes pragmatically whilst keeping everything in perspective.
JMI: It sounds like guiding the client is an all-important part of the job…
JH: Definitely. And this starts at the very beginning. The first thing we do is determine a client’s expectations and then tell them whether their expectations are realistic for their budget. This can save an awful lot of time. Nobody wants to go on a wild goose chase.
We also tell our clients what they need to hear as opposed to what they want to hear. So we’ll always draw our clients’ attention to negative points about a property as well as the good points. And if the property isn’t right for some reason, or the price doesn’t add up, we’ll always advise them to walk away. After all, we’re not there to ‘sell’ a property; we’re there to find them the right property. Every purchase has to pass the stress test.
JMI: You obviously represent the buyer, whereas estate agents represent the seller. So what’s your relationship like?
JH: It’s actually changed over time. Initially some agents were a tad wary. They thought buying agents interfered with their role and they pushed back a bit. However, over time, most agents have come to see us as allies. After all, we bring serious buyers to their door. Estate agents hate nothing more than time-wasters.
At Garrington, less than 10% of our clients pull out of deals once an offer is accepted. That’s because our buyers go into every purchase with their eyes wide open, confident that they’re making a good decision. The normal rate for people pulling out of deals is about 30% so there’s a clear difference between our buyers and the norm. In fact, approximately 300,000 deals fall through every year. That’s a lot of time and money wasted.
JMI: What would you say is the single biggest reason to use a property finder?
JH: Ooh, that’s tough. Different people will hire us for different reasons. Overall, however, I’d say it’s just having someone to represent your interests. Estate agents look after the seller, so shouldn’t you have an expert looking after you?
Because many buying agents used to be estate agents themselves, they can negotiate with them on an equal footing. For example, we have exactly the same industry data as they do; therefore we always see through the ‘selling’ and tell our clients precisely what we think a home is worth.
We can also give our clients an advantage in bidding wars and sealed bids situations. Believe it or not, it’s not always the highest bid that wins. Sellers are often attracted to a buyer’s position and want a secure sale. If we sense this is the case, we’ll make sure that your offer is positioned in the best possible way.
JMI: Finally, what advice would you give to potential buyers when choosing a property finder?
It’s important to choose an experienced buying agent with all the credentials. For example, all property finders must be registered with HMRC for money laundering and be a signed up member of a property redress scheme such as the Property Ombudsman. It’s also a requirement to be registered with ICO for data protection and have professional indemnity insurance in place.
It’s also crucial to choose a buying agent that you feel comfortable with. So don’t just choose the first property finder that comes along. Interview a few, ask to see references, and choose the person that seems to understand you the best. You’ve got to get along and you’ve got to trust them. After all, buying a home is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. Does that help?
JMI: It most certainly does. Thanks ever so much for your time.
JH: You’re welcome.