Alternative ways to find your perfect property

Letter dropping

When the purchase of their new home fell through, PR managers Andy and Agatha Poole were faced with a bit of a problem. The sale of their two-bedroom cottage in the Cheshire village of Broadbottom was proceeding nicely, but when they revisited the estate agent's windows there was nothing suitable.

There was one street in particular that the couple were interested in, so when they heard a rumour that the owners of one of the houses were considering moving on, they knew they had to act fast. "It's very rare for people to sell and in the last four years only one house had been sold on that road. You don't need an estate agent round here," adds Andy.

So the couple put a hand-written note through the letter box telling them they were keen to buy, and already had a buyer for their property. "Two weeks later they invited us round for a cup of tea and they decided to sell to us," says Andy. The arrangement worked well for both Andy and Agatha and the sellers. "If the house had gone on the market it would have sold in hours and it saved them between £4,000 and £5,000 in estate agent fees."

Andy and Agatha moved into their new, three-bed house in October 2007. "I would definitely recommend letter dropping. If this hadn't worked we would have gone along a few streets putting notes through all the doors," says Andy. He adds that the fact that they didn't need to use an estate agent was a definite plus. "Lewis Hymanson and Small, a firm of solicitors in Manchester, handled everything for us, so it was very easy."

Home-finding companies

Emma Backhouse had been looking for her perfect property in London for six months with fiancé, James Cotton, but simply could not find it.

"I was certain I wanted a two-bed flat with some outside space, but didn't know where," says Emma. "Fulham would have been my first choice, but there was no way this was possible on my budget of £350,000. I looked in every pocket of London, from north to south and east to west, and just could not find anything in the time I had to look. What's more, the value of our deposit was going down daily as house prices continued to rise."

Desperate to buy her dream London home while it was still within her financial grasp, Emma followed a friend's advice and started researching home-finding companies. "A friend of mine who had used one bought a £1 million home and was charged a ridiculous 3.5% of the purchase price in fees."

But Emma found that this wasn't always the case. After searching online she came across BDI Home Finders, and company representative Tracy Keller came to meet her one Sunday. Contracts were signed and BDI began to look for a property on Emma's behalf.

"Although I saw several properties with Tracy, I opted for the second one - a two-bed garden flat near Battersea Park in south London," says Emma.

BDI was also able to reduce the price of the property from £330,000 to £321,000. "We exchanged contracts and left the rest to BDI. BDI charges a fixed £1,500 plus VAT to search for your home, regardless of how long it takes. When the property is bought BDI will then take 1.25% of the purchase price plus VAT.

"But it was worth every penny," says Emma, "especially as they were responsible for knocking £9,000 off the asking price. We saved nearly double what they charged."

Keeping it local

Cardiff-based lawyer Fflur Jones is not your average first-time buyer. In 2006 she bought a five-bedroom Grade II-listed property in Llanuwchllyn, a village near Y Bala in north-west Wales where Fflur grew up. On top of this the house - called Gwyndy (meaning White House) - is one of the most historically significant properties in the whole of Wales. Yet she paid less than £200,000 for it. So what's the story?

"Being proud of the language, culture and history of Wales and having studied history at university I always had a particular interest in Gwyndy," says Fflur. "The house was built in 1908 in the arts and crafts style for Sir OM Edwards - a great ambassador for Wales."

During the 1950s the 10-bedroom Edwards' home was split into two: half was rented out, and the other half, Neuadd Wen (meaning White Hall), was later sold. Then, last year, Sir OM Edwards' grandsons decided to sell the remaining half of the property, which was now in need of extensive renovation and repair. But the family's paramount concern was to find the right buyer.

"I'd heard Gwyndy was for sale but I thought it would be way out of my price range," says Fflur. "I discovered that the family was very keen to sell to a local resident who took an interest in the house and its history - and preferably one that spoke Welsh."

Gwyndy is still currently uninhabitable, but things are moving. Fflur is waiting on builders' quotes to renovate the property, having secured listed building planning consent for some changes within the property, including installing two windows in one of the bedrooms to maximise the stunning view of Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake). The property will then need to be rewired, re-plumbed and re-decorated from top to bottom.

Gwyndy came with two plots of land that Fflur also intends to build on, but is waiting to be granted fullplanning permission, which, as the property is situated in the national park of Snowdonia, can be a lengthy process.

Phil Spencer's top tips

Phil Spencer is co-presenter of Channel 4's Location, Location, Location. Here are his top tips for buying in a competitive market.

  • When you register with estate agents, make sure you go in and speak with them personally. You are more likely to be top of their list of people to call when a suitable property comes up if you have met them face-to-face.
  • Make time for viewings - it is best to try and do your viewings during the week rather than at weekends when everyone else is viewing. In today's competitive market properties can come on to the market and go under offer in the same day.
  • Your second viewing should be at a different time of day from your original visit. In summer, when it's unlikely you will ever see a property after dark, it can be a good idea to make your second viewing as late into the evening as possible. It's not just light levels that alter with the time of day, so do levels of traffic and neighbour noise.
  • If you see the home of your dreams, be ready to move quickly.


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