Es­tate agents are des­per­ately seek­ing new ways to keep afloat

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - COVERSTORY -

Once upon a time they spoke their own lingo — gazump­ing, con­tract races and bridg­ing loans — but th­ese days your Lon­don es­tate agent is speak­ing a new lan­guage: a for­eign one. Yes, if you phone a branch of Dou­glas & Gor­don and say, in your best Rus­sian ac­cent: “ Ya kho­tel by kupit dom,” the es­tate agent at the end of the phone will know what you mean. “I want to buy a house.”

“We have seen 20 per cent more on­line reg­is­tra­tions from over­seas buy­ers com­pared to last year,” says Ed Mead, from Dou­glas & Gor­don, whose of­fice em­ploys Cata­lan and Gu­jarati speak­ers.

But in ar­eas less pop­u­lar with for­eign­ers, an A-level in French or Span­ish is not enough to keep an es­tate agent in busi­ness. Here, those pre­cious words “I want to buy a house” don’t seem to ex­ist in any lan­guage, so agents are adopt­ing other tac­tics.

One Wim­ble­don-based es­tate agent called SW19 has launched a scheme whereby it cov­ers the buyer’s stamp duty on any pur­chase, and charges it to the ven­dor on com­ple­tion.

Mean­while, Welling­tons has been host­ing US-style open houses at the week­ends. Last Satur­day morn­ing, a house on Mun­ster Road in Ful­ham saw more in­ter­est in the hour that it was open than many prop­er­ties on their books have seen in the past four months. “An hour is suf­fi­cient in the cur­rent mar­ket — it’s of min­i­mal in­con­ve­nience to the owner,” says Robert Sturges, of Welling­tons, who is open­ing a £320,000 gar­den flat in Bat­tersea to the pub­lic to­day.

Open houses are still not a very Bri­tish thing: “Peo­ple do not like view­ing houses with other po­ten­tial buy­ers around — it doesn’t work,” says Mead. But per­son­ally, hav­ing swung by a cou­ple of open houses in Man­hat­tan last week­end (I had a choice of 2,200), I came away think­ing they were a good idea. I didn’t have to reg­is­ter with an agent or meet the own­ers (who were prob­a­bly watch­ing with in­ter­est from the cof­fee shop across the street) and it seemed a good way of get­ting me, and dozens of other (more se­ri­ous) buy­ers through the door.

Robert Sturges uses the open house ploy for midrange fam­ily homes and low-priced prop­er­ties aimed at lo­cal in­vestors and first­time buy­ers. In­vi­ta­tions are sent to ap­pli­cants reg­is­tered on Welling­tons’ books, and posted through let­ter­boxes on neigh­bour­ing streets. “The good thing about open days is that it gives you the chance to present your house in the best pos­si­ble light,” says Ol­lie Hooper, of Huntly Hooper, a buy­ing agent who has at­tended an in­creas­ing num­ber of open houses this au­tumn. “It’s hard to keep a prop­erty looking per­fect over the whole time it is tak­ing to sell prop­erty th­ese days.”

Of course, if only one per­son turns up, it’s a dis­as­ter: “As a buyer, this strength­ens your ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion as you can see the lim­ited com­pe­ti­tion,” says Hooper. “But any­thing should be tried.”

Ed­mund Con­way re­turns next week

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