Substance triumphs over style in a risky market
Nervous buyers are increasingly seeking advice from buyers’ agents, writes Valerie Shanley
Carol Tallon and her business partner Orla Fitzmaurice of The Buyer’s Broker: ‘Industry professionals have become more co-dependent’

The smell of roasted coffee, vases of tastefully arranged lilies, scented candles, a roaring fire. During the property boom, it was considered that you had a better chance of selling your home if it was well presented, and then some. Vendors confident they would reap back any outlay would even go so far as to hire someone to do the makeover for them. But if the reign of the property stager is long gone, this difficult market has seen the rise of a different sort of expert – the buyer’s agent.

Hiring an agent to negotiate a purchase is not new of course; perhaps two of the best-known practitioners are Channel 4 presenters Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer of the television show Location, Location, Location. Here , several similar companies have found that the uncertainty in the housing market means nervous buyers are increasingly seeking their advice. Mulvaney and Casey have been in business almost a decade but say they have just recorded their most successful year yet.

“We’ve had more buyers, but with less money, yet we’re still doing better than before,”.

Buyers now contrast more sharply than ever with their opposite numbers, it seems. Even after three years of falling prices, vendors are still finding it difficult to come to terms with values, adds Mulvaney, and she has straightforward advice for them: “If they won’t sell for market value then they should take the property off the market.”

But back to the buyers who are in a stronger position than before – are they a tougher lot, unlikely to be persuaded by the presentation tricks of the past?

“Buyers will compromise on a lot less now. They don’t feel under the same pressure compared to four or five years ago,” says Michael Grehan, managing director of Sherry FitzGerald. “There isn’t that sense of urgency. Whatever of presentation, there is a lot of forensic examination and they will build any refurbishment costs into any offer.”

Price is the priority, more than ever, but while everyone knows that nothing sells for its asking price these days, no-one (other than people directly concerned) can be certain what exactly a property finally sells for either. So how do buyers’ agents advise their clients?

“There has always been a certain amount of sharing of information between auctioneering bodies and mortgage providers,” says Carol Tallon, a former legal consultant who set up the Buyer’s Broker four years ago. “There was never really a reliable system regarding selling prices at any stage, but now with fewer transactions, industry professionals have become more co-dependent.”

Those negotiating for buyers agree that the presentation tricks of old – coffee and flowers – won’t wash today. But that doesn’t mean that how a property looks is irrelevant. With so many probate properties on the market, there are still those unable to visualise the potential of something that has been gathering dust for years, while the vendors of such properties can be extraordinarily lax, says Tallon.

“One ex-corporation home with a big garden we were negotiating on was already a great bargain but in awful condition. If the ground floor was bad, when you went upstairs the bedding was so rumpled it looked like someone had literally just got out of it, or was perhaps still lying in it. And the fact that it was an executor’s sale, where someone had just recently passed away, turned off any of our buyers completely. For their part, the executors and beneficiaries, by not putting in any effort to at least tidy and clean the property, lost out by up to €40,000 on their selling price.”

Not surprisingly, buyers’ agents say the estate agents working on behalf of vendors often cramp their style.

“You have vendors who genuinely need to sell at realistic prices and believe it or not, they are hard to find. And that’s because there is usually an estate agent in the way who is still trying to get the highest price possible by feeding prospective buyers with a lot of untruths instead of being straightforward,” says Mulvaney. “The property market would be a lot easier if people were just honest. Plus buyers are so bored of the brochures that show photos that look nothing like the real property, and the descriptions that are virtually the same in every brochure in the office window.”

There are two very reputable auctioneering firms in the capital where agents are trained in photography. Their images present a vendor’s property in the best possible light, occasionally using a wide angle lens to enhance spaciousness, or software to make that lawn greener, the sky bluer or to delete that wheelie bin that’s ruining the look of the garden. Naturally, sellers expect estate agents to present their homes in the best light, and a little enhancement is acceptable. But Tallon says the buyers’ agencies take a more caustic view of glossy brochures and touched-up imagery.

“It’s obviously best for the vendor, and you can’t fault that. But as a rule, we tend to dismiss those brochures because the property is over-hyped. A prime example is when you go in and discover the rooms are much smaller.”

But Graham says that buyers too should be wary of ‘over negotiating’, and that the important things to consider in a home remain the same for buyers. “The baked bread, freshly roasted coffee are irrelevant. It’s the big things that are constant, such as the address, whether a house is terraced or semi-detached, the floor space, if it has a south-facing garden – those are the things that are still crucial.”

Can’t sell?

what buyers’ agents would tell sellers…

? Be realistic – nothing sells for the asking price. Set it at market value but build in a discount as well.

? If you are going to the expense of hiring an estate agent, then take their advice.

? Presentation – think basic. Tidiness always counts. Make the rooms clutter-free and give the property a top-to-toe clean, but don’t bother putting money into redecorating.

? If your neighbour’s house sold but yours still hasn’t, find out what is making the difference.

? Be prepared for the long haul – the property that sells within three months these days is a rare specimen indeed.

… and what buyers’ agents
tell buyers

? 2011 will see even lower prices, but that means it’s more important than ever to have finance in order and be ready to go.

? Vendors and agents will ask for proof of finance before committing to sale-agreed status (many sales fell through last year because buyers’ finances were not watertight).

? Know your vendor’s situation as best you can. Information may not be forthcoming from their estate agent, but you can always ask; knowing who you are dealing with gives a better insight on how to purchase.

? Forget apartments. The most active market now is in two- or three-bed houses, often with gardens. Good examples are the well-established ex-corporation areas in Dublin such as Cabra, Stoneybatter or Inchicore, and priced at €250,000 or lower.

? It’s definitely a buyers’ market, but that also means buyers are more accountable for their actions now and can’t really blame developers or bankers. So get as much information on a property, take your time and ask yourself honestly if it ticks all those proverbial boxes.

January 2, 2011

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