Words: James Medd; Illustration: Daniel Clarke
Anyone who’s tried to buy a house or flat in London recently will know the feeling: there must be some kind of secret knowledge to which you’re not party that prevents you from ever getting close to the good ones. Well, there is. In the trade, it’s called ‘off-market’, and there are ways to access it if you approach the right specialists.
Banda Property is a boutique search and development agency. Part of its bespoke service involves sourcing properties for buyers, and in the past year, 63 per cent of purchases have been off-market, meaning they were never available for viewings or even officially listed for sale. And it’s a figure that’s been steadily rising since the company was founded in 2007 by Edo Mapelli Mozzi.
If the advantages for buyers are obvious, staying off-market can be equally good for sellers. ‘It’s about privacy,’ Mapelli Mozzi explains. ‘Even if you’re a very public person, one thing that’s private is the inside of your own four walls. You don’t want the world saying, “I saw your house in a magazine.”’ When you factor in the issues of security and of avoiding disturbing you or your family with people traipsing through your home, you see the attraction of allowing viewings by only a focused group of serious, certified buyers.
For Banda’s agents, it’s all about connections. ‘You have to ensure you’re at the top of an estate agent’s list after a valuation,’ says Sophie Roberts, Banda’s head of search and acquisition. ‘A lot of our properties come from agents saying, “I’ve got a one-off. Do you want to get in?”’
Equally, it can come down to legwork, often writing to every address in a chosen area. Looking for a family house in Fulham with a location brief of just 10 roads around the Hurlingham Club, Roberts went doorstepping: ‘I literally knocked on every door, spoke to the owners and, by the end, had a report of each street for the buyer, saying who was selling, who wasn’t and who might in the near future. The client then picked which to go for.’
Another route is research. ‘If we’re targeting a property,’ says Mapelli Mozzi, ‘we’ll go back through its history and contact the agents that last sold it. For a sales agent, that’s a great phone call to take, because it gives them a chance to get in touch with the owner and say they have a buyer.’
Banda is part of a growing market. ‘When we started, there were 10 companies like ours; now you’ll find 50 or more,’ says Mapelli Mozzi. During its eight years in business, it has spread its net, focusing not just on Chelsea, Belgravia and Mayfair, but taking in areas such as Bermondsey and Shoreditch, as well as properties in lower price brackets. ‘Previously, the belief was that, unless you had more than £2m, you didn’t need a buying agent,’ he says, ‘but now people come to us with £700k. The competition at the lower end of the market is so fierce that if you don’t have a buying agent, you don’t have a competitive edge.’
Last year, the company’s off-market purchases ranged from £770,000 to £15m. Banda claims two advantages over the competition. The first is that each of its agents takes on only four clients at any time, and the second is that it also offers a development service. ‘Before any client has offered on a house, we can give them a full plan of exactly what it’s going to cost and how long the process will take,’ says Mapelli Mozzi. ‘Even if it’s a straightforward purchase, we can look at detailed specifications and interpret them. We don’t have any ex-estate agents working here: we’re surveyors, project managers, people with experience.’ In addition, says Roberts, it gives them a whole new layer of contacts for off-market sales.
If a service such as Banda’s seems just another cost to add to the already-considerable expense of moving in London – a retainer of £2,000, then two per cent of any purchase price – bear in mind that it opens up a world of hidden properties. It also cuts out much of the miserable slog of house-hunting – after all, as he says, ‘Buying a house doesn’t need to be stressful.’