Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Special Agent Kellett

Like most men, I'm somewhat averse to asking for help.

I'd rather get lost than ask for directions. I'd rather wrestle with my own worries than share them with anyone else. And I usually prefer my own opinion to those of any genuine experts.

Foolish. And dangerous too. Especially where health or money's concerned.

So for this do-er upper project I am at least pretending to ask for some help. First up, and possibly the most important member of the team, is our buying agent.

Buying Agent???

What the hell's that, most of our friends have guffawed?

Well, think of estate agents as The Seller's Agent...and you've pretty much got the idea.

They work for us, the buyers. Refining our brief. Sifting, short-listing and pre-viewing potential properties. Keeping an ear out for stuff coming on the market. Checking out the trade websites (Lonres). Looking at local comparables in terms of achieved prices. Persuading agents we are serious, cash buyers. And, finally, hopefully, negotiating hard to make sure we get a good deal.

This last part isn't quite such a likely role in a market where the asking price can be just the starting point. But if you're going into a sealed bid (and more about those later) you need nerves of steel and some good advice.

Up to 70% (apparently) of Prime Central purchases are now done with the help of a buying agent, and indeed most people who came to view our last London home came with their own buying agent.

The role is a relatively modern invention. But a good one I think.

Such a good one, in fact, that for a couple of years I and a young Aussie called Murray, who lives in St Tropez, set up as buying agents ourselves. We weren't, it has to be said, always hugely successful.

There were one or two decent sales and a few troublesome rentals, but more often than not the extremely rich proved impossible to satisfy. And all to often the houses for sale in St Tropez were so drop-dead horrible I wasn't surprised.

When we found ourselves having spent nearly two years trying to acquire, unsuccessfully, the same €25m house for a Goldman's boss, I'd pretty much had enough. We're still keeping an eye out on behalf of a couple of clients. But the market down there has been hit hard by Hollande's new tax regime.

Acting as buying agent, we found this very rare old St Tropez
bastide for a UK buyer.
Once owned by Ms Bardot, no less.

An early ad for our buying agency in the FT.
Like most of my ads, nice but largely ineffectual.

For our Do-er Upper project however, we needed a buying agent who knew London property better than us. Someone who would help us be ruled by our head rather than the heart.

Fortunately, I'd been following one on Twitter (@buyingagent) for over a year. I liked her tweets, her blog, her sense of humour and her no nonsense approach to the business. When we finally met Tracy Kellett of BDI Homefinders, I also came to like her.

Many in the property industry will already know Ms Kellett; her blog is both award winning and extremely funny.

She's a canny and relentless operator in a hugely frustrating and often thankless job.

Already Tracy's knocked our brief into better shape, told us in no uncertain terms to forget anywhere but Prime Central, and made it very clear that what we're looking for is practically impossible to find.

Strangely, this honesty has made me much more optimistic.

For all of the above, however,  I still wouldn't ask Tracy for directions. It seems her Range Rover is fitted with a special taxi driver's sat nav that will take you the longest way round to any destination.

Apart from that, you can't go wrong. I don't think!

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