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Property: How to buy off-market

Move over Phil and Kirsty – meet Catherine Hutton and Alice Bubear, the expert home finders beating the market and securing the best properties

Hutton Bubear property finder

Hello, Alice and Catherine! So tell us, what is a property finder?

In a nutshell, we act on behalf of buyers making what, for most people, is their biggest and most expensive purchase. To help narrow down the search, we help with information about the different areas they’re considering, local schools, shops, community etc. In a hugely competitive market, the major advantage of using our service is that we not only do all the leg work for you but also make it possible for to buy off market or pre-sale, negotiate and work with clients managing chains and so on right through until completion.

Demand for your services has been off-the-charts this year – what are the big advantages of buying off-market?

Many of our buyers are time poor and don’t know the area and school run or commute times, so having a local expert on the ground to search for them is a massive advantage. We make sure they’re prepped and primed ready to move quickly. In a fast-moving market, this can make all the difference. Our ability to buy pre-market is something that wouldn’t be possible for most buyers too: our network of property agents will come to us with new instructions which we can present before they come to the market.

How does it work?

Most of our clients come to us through word of mouth. We’ll then either meet in person or via Zoom for a briefing and work together to get a strong, complete picture of what they’re looking for. Many of our clients are families so good schools are often a determining factor as it narrows down the search radius. We have great relationships with local agents and will letter drop too, if that’s what’s needed. As a point of principle, we also don’t take on more than one client in the same area or price bracket so there’s no conflict and our buyers can be assured we’re absolutely working fairly for them.

How do you differ from a ‘regular’ property agent?

Being on the side of buyers, rather than sellers, together with our years of experience in property means we always advocate for our client. This gives us ability to provide real choice at a time of intense competition and has helped many buyers avoid a bidding war. We act quickly and know what to do if the search does go to best and final bids. And no matter how far along in the process, we work with honesty, and we will advise clients to walk away if we feel that it’s no longer in their interests to proceed.

Post-sale we’re also happy to help clients. We have a strong little black book of contacts, from architects to interior designers and registrars at the local schools, which newcomers to the county find incredibly useful.

How long does a search take? And what does it cost?

On average, around six months. Of course, it helps to have everything ready to proceed and the post-pandemic property search has reduced availability and made it harder for some buyers with very specific criteria. In terms of cost, our fee largely depends on the value of the property and the search but it’s a relatively small commission. We’re a small independent team and, unlike larger rivals, we don’t have huge overheads, so we’re more competitive on that front. We also have a team of lawyers we consult on things like stamp duty which has helped us save quite considerable amounts for some buyers.

The property market in Hampshire is crazy right now. What advice do you have for buyers?

Firstly, to narrow down your search criteria as much as possible. If you have school age children, we’d recommend choosing the school first, then working out the area. It must be within a reasonable commutable distance. Buyers also need to be able to move quickly, especially in the current unprecedented country market. This means either being under offer or sold and in rented accommodation, ideally with a mortgage agreed or proof of finances in place.

What other differences have you noticed following the pandemic?

Buyers are much more prepared to move further out, which has allowed them to move to counties with great schools like Hampshire and Wiltshire. Previously, anywhere that wasn’t considered commutable just wouldn’t register with buyers. Now, people are realising they don’t have to be in the office five days a week. In some cases, they no longer need to travel to London at all.

Property prices have shot up too, by as much as 20% in many parts of Hampshire. But I think the initial surge is starting to slow and things are settling. Certainly, we’re now seeing slightly fewer buyers coming out of London compared with the recent influx. Most searches also now include working from home space and particularly an annexe as a requirement as this can have significant tax benefits.

What are the new local property hotspots?

There’s so much interest in areas that are commutable with good schools. The Candover villages have been very popular. And lots of interest in the New Forest too, as the commute is less of a barrier now more people are working at home or fewer days in London. Specifically, Brockenhurst, Lymington and Beaulieu (pictured). Being close to the coast is very desirable.

Alice and Catherine specialise in country property acquisitions across Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, the Cotswolds, Surrey, Sussex and beyond. For more info, visit www.huttonbubear.co.uk

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