I’ll be wearing a raincoat and carrying a paper open on the crossword page…

Yesterday morning having completed my Olympic training session (squeezing into those sparkly, high-legged numbers for the synchronized swimming is a challenge in itself, let me tell you), I was tucking into my beetroot and spinach smoothie-to be followed by a Nutella sandwich-as favoured by the new stars of the Rio Olympics and the interweb, the O’Donovan brothers, who have combined winning a silver medal in the rowing for Ireland with screen testing for a spin-off of Father Ted, when I came across an article in the Mail on Sunday called, “The Secret Agent”. Written by Marc Shoffman, this revealed to the plebeian masses, “the shadowy world of hush-hush home sales” Mail on Sunday, 13 August 2016. The secret squirrel routine used to be reserved for the seriously wealthy and/or famous, but is now being employed by those much further down the food chain, (not so much Hello cover as Angling Weekly or The Argus).

This involves buying agents. These apparently differ from the likes of me and the rest of the estate agent band of brothers in that they work for the potential purchaser “scouting the market for properties based on a brief and working to obtain the best deal for them” ibid Ok, I understand the cloak and dagger bit but the reasons as to why someone buying a three bedroom family home amidst the other 500 three-bedroom family homes on a (very pleasant) estate in the suburbs, left me somewhat bemused. “Rising house prices and higher stamp duty costs” ibid Run that past me again. As far as I am aware the SDLT (Stamp Duty Land Tax) as imposed by HM’s Government, does not differ whether you choose to buy a property using a buying agent, a boring old estate agent, or a mucker down The Dog and Duck.

 

Our buying agent colleagues, (or should that read ‘competitors’?) act–according to Mr Shoffman-in “mysterious ways”. Incidentally, for those keen on their religious trivia, ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways’ does not appear anywhere in The Bible and is one of the most repeated misquotes ever. Just as Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) never actually said, ‘Play it again, Sam’ in Casablanca. Anyway, back to poison-tipped umbrellas and Rightmove reports trumped up by the agents inputting the data…Such covert operating techniques by these 007 buying agents include using already established links with local estate agents- that will be classified as talking to them then and “picking up gossip at the school gates”-that will be classified as booking a one-way ticket to the Royal Gwent. As befits such dangerous, daring and nerve jangling work the buying agents earn handsomely for their efforts; a retainer fee plus commission of between 2 and 3 per cent. The latter did make me think that isn’t in their interest to get too good a deal for their client, as this would knock their commission fee. Cynical? Moi?

 

I do understand that high net worth clients, be they buyers or sellers, desire a certain degree of privacy surrounding their business dealings and any exchange of monies. This could be because they are about to off load the Current Mrs Celebrity Wife, (the curse of Hello strikes again), or they are about to go belly up courtesy of a large and unexpected HMRC bill (take note Miss Turner). There are many wholly valid reasons for transactions to be off grid and off the market, but I don’t see the practice spreading across Torfaen.

That said, there is always some character to whom the world of the dark arts and “If I tell you, I will have to kill you’ theory appeals. Having recently listed a property, I arranged to meet a potential purchaser for a viewing. The said gentleman had registered with us as a first time buyer and had confirmed that he had   a mortgage in principle in place with a hefty deposit. Jolly good; well done the team at Cheshire & Co for collecting the necessary information. But as I should have remembered from my days under canvas (I’m taking about living in the bundu living off snakes and leaves not buying a cake at the local village fair), one’s intelligence is only as good as the source. On meeting my eager-beaver first-time buyer I discovered that he was actually a middle-aged gentleman with several property transactions to his name, who wanted to buy a project £35,000 under the asking price. When I asked why he had engaged in such subterfuge he said that he, “didn’t want everyone knowing my business”. If his offer had been successful that would have included the seller, all the staff at Cheshire & Co, his bank manager, surveyor, lawyer and the 4 men he planned to employ to carry out the refurbishment. Not exactly, ‘everyone’, but a fair cross-section of the local demographic.

 

Now if the gentleman had asked me to keep the matter as discreet as possible I would have said ’of course’, whilst pointing out that once completion had taken place it would be a matter of public record. That one always gets them.

 

There is course merit in using all the tactics and services that are increasingly available, be you purchaser or vendor. But as in life in general, a certain amount of honesty and candour is required. Back to you, the ex Mrs Grant Bovey.