Advice from UK homeowners?

After 6 years as an expat in London, it is time to bit the bullet and start looking for a house. Although I am really impressed with the amount of information about individual properties available online, I don’t really know much about the way the system works over here.

In Canada, you sign on with one real estate agent and he or she works for you; organizing visits to properties regardless of which agency holds the listing, advising on what he really thinks the property will go for, negotiating on your behalf etc, guiding you through the process right up until the closing.

Is it true as I have heard, that here the agents work only for the seller and that you need to register with each agency in order to view their properties? If they only work for the seller, who advises you on how well a property is priced and who steers you away from properties that have hidden defects? I know I could ask them theses questions but I don’t want to look like a complete n00b when I go to the first agent.


Incorrect. You go in and you express an interest and they show you the properties thy think might fit. You can sign up to be on their mailing list or whatever.

No one. It’s all caveat emptor. At some point you get a professional in to inspect the property. There are Home Information Packs as well, of course.

To concur with Quartz, you should bear in mind all the time the fact that the estate agent does not work for you as a buyer. Their contract is with the vendor, they will be paid by the vendor, and their responsibility in the process is to get the maximum possible value for the vendor. They do have a legal responsibility, the Property Misdescriptions Act not to make legally misleading statements about a property, but other than that, you’re on your own. Don’t expect any level of impartiality from them - in fact, as a vendor I’d be pissed off if they were offering impartiality. The fairness of the property pricing just comes down to whether or not you’ll pay it.

I’ve also got the impression (from this board, mostly) that real estate people in the US particularly have some sort of qualification, or licensing - is that the same in Canada? It’s not here - although there are often mutterings about revamping the industry, you still don’t need any qualifications or approval to work as an estate agent. There is an ombudsman scheme and a trade body, but not all estate agents will be part of it. Just don’t expect any real protection for you as a buyer.

As Quartz says, once you’ve found a property you might like, you would need to get a survey done. This is almost always (there’s bound to be an exception) after you’ve made an offer on the property. It’s understood that the offer will be contingent on survey. There are a number of levels of survey you can have done, and the cheapest seems to be evidence of nothing more than the fact that the property exists. More expensive options will be more detailed but they still won’t guarantee to catch everything. You’ll probably want a solicitor to do the conveyancing, although theoretically it’s possible to do it yourself. The solicitor gets involved once an offer has been made and accepted, and will handle the legal searches and contract exchange. I’ve always found them to be a good source of information in the process, and, as they DO work for you, you can assume they’re on your side.

Generally speaking, once you’ve decided to make an offer on something you can ask for the vendor to take it off the market. They may or may not do so, depending on the relative strength of your positions. Bear in mind that in England at least, they can still break the agreement and not sell it to you for any reason or none, right up to the time that the legal stuff with contract exchange goes through. There are lots of ‘first time buyers guides’ to this stuff online, and I’d recommend having a look. They’ll help you work out what your tactics should be, and as you’ve spotted, there’s really nobody who’ll help you out, unless you get very lucky with a friendly estate agent who’s prepared to go the extra mile for you. Here’s one for starters.

Yes there is a licensing system in Canada although I don’t know how hard the exam is.

Thank you for clarifying everyone’s role in the process. Thankfully we’ve been lurking on long enough that we have a good idea (I hope) of what’s a fair price in our neighbourhood.

What a buyer can do is purchase an option. Basically, you pony up a mini-deposit, which you lose if you pull out for any reason.

I’ll just add the traditional caveat that the Scottish system is different, although that obviously doesn’t matter in this case.

There are people who will act for you, the buyer. They will discuss your preferences with you, find properties and arrange viewings, and negotiate on your behalf. If you’ve ever seen Location, Location, Location - that’s what Phil and Kirstie are. Needless to say, you pay them.

This might be useful if you’re looking for this sort of service.

It’s worth noting that the deposit is usually not that mini. The amount demanded is usually of a sufficient size to deter you from pulling out.

Note: I’m familiar with the Australian system, which is similar, but not identical, to the British one.

These people are called “buyer’s agents”. Be warned, however, that they’re usually paid a percentage of the cost of the property you buy, and that they therefore have perverse incentives: they are rewarded most for getting you into an expensive property quickly.

In Australia these days you don’t typically “sign up” with a real estate agent - as has been said, they work for the buyers. You go onto one of the two major websites, find properties you’re interested in and then spend your entire Saturday racing from one Open House to another. Private showings of houses are much rarer, especially if the house is currently occupied.

You’ll also want someone in the UK to brief you on a quaint custom called “gazumping”.

Thank you, BigNik, I knew there had been a recentish thread on it but couldn’t remember the word “gazumping”.

The search brings up a couple more.

Just work on the basis that the deal hasn’t been done until the contract’s signed. My solicitor told methat once the price was agreed I should give them eight-hour contracts - drop it in at 9 a.m. on the day in question, accompanied by a bank cheque for the deposit. I’d then arrange to pick them back up just before the estate agent closed, stating that I may or may not be back the next day, but that I wouldn’t guarantee the offer wouldn’t change tomorrow.

This put the onus back on the seller, and in one case I withdrew the offer because I found a better place. I also found that the estate agent got a lot more nervous when I dropped the offer document off and at the same time asked to see another place that they were offering.

In another, I updated the contract on the second day to push out settlement. As the sellers had already bought a new place and were desperate to settle on a precise date, it got them to stop stuffing about.

There are also plenty of websites that show properties from lots of different selling agents.

Globrix is a good one, with a Google Maps search facility.