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Finding a property

We explain how to find a property, from websites and property auctions to private house sales, buyers' agents and more

In this article
Coronavirus (COVID-19) update Finding a property: where to start Using property websites such as Rightmove and Zoopla Register with estate agents Video: insider tips from estate agents on property viewings Estate agent tactics to watch out for
Buying through an estate agent: your rights Other ways to find a property: auctions Leafleting to find a property Hiring a buyers’ agent Developers’ websites Private house sales

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update

Along with other shops deemed ‘non-essential’ under the new rules, high street estate agents have closed their doors for the time being.

You can find out more of the latest updates and advice on our dedicated Which? coronavirus information hub.

Finding a property: where to start

When you're hoping to buy a house or flat, the first thing you'll need to decide is which area (or areas) you want to look in. 

It costs an awful lot of money to buy a property, and if you're a first-time buyer you'll only get your stamp duty discount or exemption once, so it's worth buying somewhere you could realistically stay for a good few years.

This means you need to think about your future needs, as well as your current ones. Are you likely to have children, or start commuting to a different workplace? These kinds of questions could all impact the type and location of property you go for.

  • For tips on choosing a location, read our guide on finding the best places to live. It also has a tool to look up key stats on the area where you're thinking of buying.

 

Using property websites such as Rightmove and Zoopla

Once you've settled on an area, it's time to start house-hunting.

Most people start their hunt on property websites such as Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket, which list properties being sold by estate agents and developers that advertise on these sites. Rightmove usually has the most comprehensive listings, so is a good place to start.

You can filter your search to only include properties matching your budget and minimum number of bedrooms.

Tip: set the maximum price a little higher than your actual budget. Sellers can end up accepting less than the original asking price.

You can also set up alerts on the property websites, so you'll know as soon as a listing that matches your criteria becomes available.

House viewing from property websites

Online listings will usually include photos, floorplans, descriptions and key stats such as nearby schools. They can also give you a good flavour of the types of properties available for your budget.

But it's really important to get out and view properties in person too, as they'll often be very different in the flesh. Read on to find out how to actually set up a viewing.

Register with estate agents

People nearly always sell their homes through estate agents, and this means you'll need to register with agencies to be able to go on viewings.

When you start your property search, register your interest with estate agents in your desired areas. This won’t cost you anything or create any obligation on your part – it just lets agents know that you’re looking.

If you can, visit the estate agents’ offices and register in person. Being able to put a face to a name can work wonders in building up rapport.

You don't need to stick with one agent - the more you register with, the more likely you are to be called when your ideal property goes up for sale.

It’s worth sharing your back story when you register, as it can help the agent understand your needs - for example, if you want to move quickly to start a new job, or if you’re willing to compromise on size to live near a popular school.

Keep in touch

Estate agents often call registered buyers about new properties before listing them online. In a thriving market, the best places can get snapped up before even making it onto websites like Rightmove.

This means it's worth keeping in regular contact with agents, so you’re front of mind when new properties hit their books market.

Watch the video below for insider tips on securing an early property viewing.

Video: insider tips from estate agents on property viewings

We spoke to estate agents on how to be one of the first to get a viewing when a property becomes available.

Estate agent tactics to watch out for

No matter how friendly they are, estate agents are there to represent the person selling the property - not buying it.

However, some operate more ethically than others. Tactics employed by less scrupulous companies can include:

  • Pressuring you into making an offer before you’re ready, perhaps by implying that there are other interested parties;
  • Getting friends or family to attend auctions or viewings, to make the property seem more in demand than it really is;
  • Downplaying defects (although they are legally obliged to tell you about any problems they’re aware of);
  • Encouraging you to make more compromises than you'd originally planned;
  • Pushing you to increase the size of your offer before actually passing it onto the seller.

Can you offer less than the asking price?

Remember that an asking price is just that.

Most estate agents are paid on a commission basis, so the more they sell the property for, the more they'll earn. However, estate agents are legally obliged to pass on all offers to the seller, no matter how low.

Do your own research into the property's value. Our guide for sellers on how much their house is worth has pointers on this.

Don’t exceed your top budget, no matter what the agent says.

Buying through an estate agent: your rights

Most of the legislation in this area aims to protect the seller against dishonest practice, meaning there's limited protection for buyers.

However, estate agents are obliged to:

  • Use clear contract terms.
  • Pass on your offer promptly – they can’t hold it back simply because you don’t want to use their other facilities, such as their recommended mortgage broker or solicitor.
  • Reveal any financial interest they have in the property that you’re looking at.
  • Answer direct questions accurately and reveal defects in the property that could affect a buyer's decision.

To avoid disputes over whether things have been verbally agreed, record details of any conversations you have, including who you spoke to, on what date and what was said.

All estate agents have to be members of an ombudsman scheme that handles complaints - currently either The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme.

Some agents are also members of the NAEA Propertymark, which has a code of conduct that agents are obliged to follow.

 

If you've been given false information by an estate agent...

 

You might have a claim against the agent under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs).

If you suspect that an agent has acted in breach of these regulations, you should contact the local authority’s trading standards department.

Other ways to find a property: auctions

Property auctions can be a quick way to buy a home, as you'll generally get the keys within a maximum of 56 days of the auction.

But they're not for everyone, as some of the properties offered can be in poor condition that sellers have struggled to shift on the open market.

And if you make a successful bid, you may have to sign a contract as well as pay a deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price) straight after the auction.

Leafleting to find a property

If there’s a particular area or building you want to buy in but there's nothing suitable for sale, you could try dropping leaflets into any properties you think might work.

Be sure to include:

  • A brief explanation of the type of property you're looking for (e.g. at least three bedrooms and a garden).
  • Anything that makes you sound like an appealing buyer (e.g. if you're not in a chain, or are a cash buyer).
  • Your contact details.

Hiring a buyers’ agent

Buyers’ agents will search for a property on your behalf, using their contacts to find out about properties that haven't yet hit the open market.

They're particularly useful in the prime market, where some properties aren't publicly listed at all.

A buyers' agent will also make your offer on your behalf. This can give you an edge over other buyers, as agents are experienced in negotiating and securing properties in competitive situations.

Fees for using buyers' agents

Buyers' agent fees can either be fixed, a percentage of the purchase price, or the saving you make between the asking and purchase price.

Check whether they will benefit from a commission if you buy a property they recommend. Ideally, their only payments would come from you, so you know they’re acting in your best interests.

Developers’ websites

If you’re looking to buy a new-build property, developers’ websites can be a good place to look.

Buying in a new development might involve buying a property before it’s been built, which has its pros and cons.

Private house sales

Some people choose to sell their homes privately, rather than through an estate agent.

Private sellers might advertise their property in local newspapers, or on classified advertising websites such as Gumtree.

Find out more: private house sales

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