From A Distance: The reality of remote buying

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The concept of buying a property without setting foot inside is not a new one, says Jo Eccles, but doing so successfully requires intricate, specialist knowledge - and a great deal of trust between client and advisor...

Written by

Jo Eccles

Managing Director & Founder at SP Property Group

Jo is the Managing Director and Founder of SP Property Group. A regular commentator in the national press and on television shows, Jo’s early career was on the trading floors of two leading investment banks. She then moved into the property world where she worked for a specialist property PR agency, representing many leading property developers and London estate agents. Jo established SP Property Group in 2006 in response to regular requests from her ex-banking colleagues to provide an all encompassing residential property advisory service. Jo has a BSc (Hons) degree in Banking and International Finance from Cass Business School.

The past month has seen a huge rise in the number of virtual viewings in lieu of buyers and agents having the ability to physically look round properties during the lockdown. Whilst this concept might be new and somewhat alien to some buyers, it has long been an effective way of showcasing property, particularly where overseas purchasers are concerned.

Over the past 14 years we have purchased for numerous clients who have never seen the property they are buying.

SP Property purchased a house in Notting Hill for just under £5m for an American client last year, who made the decision entirely based on the team’s recommendation, videos and a FaceTime walk through

We purchased one house in Notting Hill for just under £5m for an American client last year who made the decision entirely based on our recommendation, videos and a FaceTime walk through. We arranged a viewing tour of the shortlisted properties and, rather than our clients physically sitting next to us in the chauffeur drive car, they were with us virtually via Facetime for the entire two-hour property tour. They made a decision after that and we handled the entire purchase remotely.

For our larger investor clients such as family offices, they will usually give us a mandate and we will acquire an entire portfolio for them remotely. These buying decisions tend to be very numbers driven and they take less interest in visiting the actual properties themselves,

We buy for many smaller, individual investor clients who are often buying for children and grandchildren. But where they are buying purely as a rental investment, they will also sometimes buy remotely, given they will never inhabit them themselves.

For example, we acquired a buy to let investment flat for a couple based in Scotland who had been recommended to us by their private bank. We advised them on what to buy and where, we selected the property and on completion, our property management team rented it out. We still manage the flat and our clients owned it for more than four years before they ever stepped foot through the door to see what they had bought.

Equally we are currently under offer on a rental investment in Clerkenwell for a client buying for her young son. The agent was nervous that our client had not seen it in person, so our client had to confirm in writing that she was happy to proceed and that she understood she would not be allowed to view it at any time before she exchanged contracts – the agent would only recommend the seller proceeded with us if our buyer was essentially barred from viewing until after the purchase was legally binding.

A first situation for us as buying agents, is we are due to exchange next week on an apartment which neither our client, or indeed us, have viewed. Our client is looking to acquire two identical properties for her two granddaughters. We are already in the process of purchasing one flat in a development, and there was an opportunity to buy the flat directly below but we had a very short window to do so.

Because we know the development so well, we and our client are happy to exchange completely unseen

Due to the coronavirus lockdown, no one has been allowed access, but because we know the development so well, we and our client are happy to exchange completely unseen.

Whenever we buy remotely, it’s a reminder and testament to the trust our clients put into our knowledge of the market, the integrity of our advice and the way we present the numbers and property information which makes decision making possible without physically viewing.

Further Reading

Virtual Sanity: On video viewings & caveat emptor March 2020