The off-market approach to property sales and purchases

There’s a lot of talk about the off-market sales approach at the moment for many reasons, not least the fact that in a saturated market, finding that extra point of difference and generating exclusivity is paramount in boosting the likelihood of a sale’s success.

According to Hamptons International in a recent article in the Telegraph, so far this year, one in four sales above £1 million have taken place “off-market” , which is a sharp rise from the 14 per cent recorded in 2007.

‘Off-market’ simply means properties that are never promoted on the open market. They are not advertised in newspapers, placed on portals, in agents’ windows or even on their websites.  They simply trade by word of mouth and via tight personal networks of contacts held in little black books.

More than ever, this current climate is ripe for off-market sales, because there’s so much, dare I say, stale property listed on-market. It’s saturated at all levels, and particularly the PCL £2million+ sector, which is awash with stale stock.

This and the age in which we live of limitless means of private communication and networking through social media and other has led to an appetite for off-market sales.  It extends to how buyers search as well, often using the help of intermediaries whom automatically have direct feeds to the off-market property gems.

When I set up my business, my intention was to offer a boutique service akin to a private wealth manager.   I envisaged much of my business being derived from property acquisition on behalf of discreet, discerning and time-poor clients.

As it happens, while I have indeed assisted a number of such clients, I have been more been sought out by sellers who have asked me to act in an off-market capacity on their behalf.  This of course is a very good option for motivated sellers. Sellers like and want an off-market approach for the same reason as buyers – exclusivity, discretion and enhancing demand for their property.

This route gives them the opportunity to sell their property without anyone really knowing; without their home being bandied about the internet or flashed around in magazines.

Off-market equates to precision marketing and this in turn delivers what the on-market approach just can’t deliver.  They like the boutique service approach and to know that their property is quietly placed, offered to the right people at the right time and in the right way. It’s about controlling supply in order to optimise demand.

For the buyer, there’s most definitely the privacy element, plus the opportunity to access the pick of the crop ahead of anyone else. And on a simple level, it is human nature to enjoy something that no one else can access.  Similar to purchasing a unique gem, the enjoyment of the purchase is everlasting.

Typically, both seller and buyer are being represented by a specialist, tasked to meet their individual needs, to find them a property or a purchaser through their black book of contacts, while operating with complete discretion.

Sellers expect me to be at each viewing, but they don’t want to be on every property portal.  It raises the bar of estate agency even higher.  I, and they, have invested days and often years in our working relationship and over time they refer to me as their trusted advisor.  This takes time.

Because it is usual for both parties to be represented by professionals who are looking both of their clients’ best interests – discretion and best service, it usually equates to a very efficient process from the point of offer to completion.

One observation with the growing appetite for off-market sales is that many buying agents, often known as ‘retained agents’, are becoming selling agents.

While it’s relatively easy to cross over from selling to buying, the reverse isn’t that simple. It takes years of agency experience to know how to trade and succeed in the off-market arena.

If you’ve ever watched documentaries about the art world, then you’ll appreciate the similarities with the property world: The majority of the high value, highly prized works of art are never seen in an auction or indeed in any gallery. The best is only ever seen by appointment, by direct invitation and will never be put on public display.

These paintings trade discreetly behind the scenes and just as a Matisse may change hands without anyone knowing, the same is true of many PCL residences.  It’s a specialist approach that requires an extremely experienced pair of hands to know exactly how and when to present a property via the off-market route.

If you’re a buyer or seller and need advice on off-market sales or purchases, please give me a call.