More than four out of five buyers in the UK rely solely on traditional high-street estate agents to help them find a new property. This is despite estate agents' interests being far more closely aligned with sellers - the people who pay their fees - than buyers.
It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that 42% of people end up regretting the speed or price of an offer they've made on a property. Nearly a third (30%) of buyers admit they negotiated an offer for the house they eventually bought after just one viewing.
So, who can buyers turn to if they need help navigating the property market? Step forward buying agents. Hannah Aykroyd, managing director of Aykroyd & Co, says having dedicated professionals representing buyers is crucial.
"You have advisers for any other asset class, so why wouldn't you do the same for property?" she explains.
Hannah makes a compelling point. Firms such as hers work on behalf of buyers, focusing primarily on the acquisition and management of prime central London (PCL) properties. Rental search, tenancy management and vacancy management services are also commonly available. But what do buying agents do?
Sending out the search party
Buying agents scour the market for properties that match a prospective purchaser's criteria. Many of these homes are off-market, meaning they aren't advertised through online property portals such as Zoopla and Rightmove.
Companies leverage their comprehensive network of industry contacts to uncover hidden gems in the capital and other sought-after locations. Buying agents then preview suitable properties to narrow down the search; it's not uncommon for some teams to examine 40 or 50 properties before shortlisting roughly 8-10 for client viewings.
"There's a world of difference between looking at brochures, floor plans and a few pictures - and actually going in, seeing how the volume of a space works and understanding how everything adds up to meet your client's needs," says Mark Parkinson, Head of London properties at Middleton Advisors.
His agents view all properties that closely fit the client's specifications, as well as inquiring into others that are perhaps more on the fringes of the brief.
"Around 10% of the properties we buy every year for clients are what we call 'lateral thoughts'," he says. "These are properties the client would never have thought to look at themselves, but which are potentially attractive based on our understanding of the client's goals."
Once the right property has been found, negotiations begin. Buying agents spend a considerable amount of time researching the property, talking through comparables with clients and coming up with a successful strategy. This means learning as much as possible about the seller: why are they moving? Is there a chain? Are they upsizing or downsizing?
The residential property industry had remained relatively unchanged for more than 50 years. But it now offers speed, flexibility, access to information and solutions that fit your needs.
Hannah emphasises the importance of getting the best possible discount for buyers. She says people really benefit from having a knowledgeable advisor fighting their corner.
"Buying agents provide objective, expert advice and have the buyer's best interests at heart. This gives our clients extra confidence that they're making the right choices and not paying more than market value."
Buying agents earn their fees in various ways. Many take an initial retainer, which may be returned after a successful transaction, as well as a percentage of the final purchase price as a success fee. Some buying agents also take a proportion of any savings they secure for their clients against the original asking price.
For many buyers, the fee is a small price to pay for dependable guidance and representation in a fast-paced, competitive and often uncertain PCL property market.
Buying and selling homes in the 21st century
Investec's Buying a Home in the 21st Century report recently explored the many ways the property market has evolved since the turn of the millennium. Technology has had a significant impact on every step of the process, from property searches all the way through to exchanging contracts.
"The residential property industry had remained relatively unchanged for more than 50 years. But it now offers speed, flexibility, access to information and solutions that fit your needs," says Emily Cvijan, private banker for private equity individuals at Investec.
"Today, a tick-box solution won't work. You need tailored insight."
Perhaps it's this desire for better insight that has spurred growing interest in buying agents. According to Mark, seeking out the right properties is just one part of why clients use these services. Reassurance is another.
"Quality buying agents have done their due diligence; they've completed their KYC (know your client) and anti-money laundering protocols. They'll also have lawyers teed up and the right finance in place."
- Simon Ayerton
"In an uncertain world, our clients really value our advice. They come to us just as much for that as for the finding process. It's all very well finding somewhere, but is it a viable asset? Can they get it for the right price? And are they going to be able to sell when the time comes? We can help them answer those questions."
Even those who represent sellers recognise the need for buyers to have access to expert advice. Simon Ayrton, Director of Ayrton Wylie, said buying agents have an important role to play, particularly at the top end of the market.
"Buyers who have a clear vision of what they want - but are time-pressured or unfamiliar with the landscape - absolutely do need help," he explains. "They need a strong understanding of the market from somebody on the ground before they make important financial decisions."
Contrary to what you might expect, Simon says his business enjoys working with buying agents. They typically represent committed, serious buyers and can provide a detailed brief of what their clients want.
"Quality buying agents have done their due diligence; they've completed their KYC (know your client) and anti-money laundering protocols. They'll also have lawyers teed up and the right finance in place," he says.
"Ultimately, they can deliver a really efficient process as a part of their role to the buyer."