A well-known saying in estate agency is that first-time buyers are the sellers of the future. If we believe this to be true, then leaving a positive lasting impression with those stepping on to the housing ladder is a vital part of a transaction for agents.
These days, first-time buyers are likely to be long-term renters with pressures on their finances. And while they might be a bit older than they used to be - at an average age of 33 (37 in London), according to the English Housing Survey 2018-19 - you're likely to be dealing with people who are largely unfamiliar with the buying process.
So, what are some of the issues facing first-time buyers and how can agents ease the pain, making sure the process is less intimidating?
What is ‘normal’?
In a recent interview I carried out with a first-time buyer, which you can view at the bottom of this article, they raised a very interesting point about not knowing what 'normal' is when taking their first steps on the property ladder.
The buyer told me that she looked to the agent to explain to her each step of the process. In doing so, this created a feeling of trust between buyer and agent.
An example she gave in which she didn't know the ‘normal’ route to take was the key exchange. She collected the keys directly from the vendor, which is fairly unusual.
Due to some complications in the transaction and some disagreements between the parties, this caused the buyer to feel intimidated when meeting the seller with no agent present.
If the buyer had known that the keys are usually picked up from an agent's office, they might have been able to avoid this unpleasant experience, which would have left them with an even more positive opinion of the agent.
By expanding this way of thinking across the whole transaction, there are many ways in which you can help first-time buyers feel more comfortable and confident.
When it comes to buying a property for the first time, ignorance really isn't bliss - so make sure you do all you can to educate applicants about how the process works, expected timeframes and what 'normal' is.
Tailoring your service towards first-timers
The needs of all buyers are different and so by having a game plan when it comes to working with first-timers, you can make sure the service you provide ticks all their boxes.
For example, you may want to put more emphasis on the Energy Performance Certificate. The general consensus is that by and large younger buyers are more interested in the energy efficiency of a property than their older counterparts. This trend is only set to grow as the population becomes increasingly conscious of the environment.
Another extremely simple point, which many buyers are not aware of, is that agents act for the seller and not the purchaser. It may seem ridiculous to us in the industry, but making this clear to first-time buyers from the get-go could reduce confusion and problems further down the line.
You can always refer them to Move iQ where they can access my series of home buying checklists, viewing guides and advice on budgeting. Or create your own, it's an opportunity to provide future sellers with branded information that may leave you front-of-mind as a selling agent in the years to come.
Conveyancer choice is crucial
Another pain point raised in the interview featured below, and by many first-time buyers I've spoken to, relates to choosing a conveyancer.
Unlike sellers, who will need to select their agent and spend time getting their property ready for sale, buyers will have more time to research solicitors.
Of course, most agents will have a list of recommended conveyancers, which could be all the buyer needs to make an informed choice.
However, it's also beneficial for agents to stress the value of the relationship between buyer and conveyancer. Encourage them to meet first (I suggest virtually) or have a phone call, provide them with some questions they can ask and remind them not to base their decision solely on price.
First-time buyers are likely to be working closely with conveyancers for months - so the relationship needs to be strong to help get the deal done! Circling back to the idea that first-time buyers are future sellers, it could reflect badly if the buyer falls out with a conveyancer you have recommended.
As with all professions, there are good and bad conveyancers, but helping buyers to understand what they need to get out of this relationship, together with the importance of selecting one who is going to provide the appropriate level of care could heavily reduce the chances of them making a decision they come to regret.
Buying property in a post-virus market
It's great news for all of us that the government decided to reopen the property market on May 13, but helping first-time buyers navigate through a post-Covid-19 market is now a new consideration for agents.
Data from Rightmove shows that almost 11,000 new sales listings came to market within the first week of reopening, taking the overall value of stock on the portal past the £230 billion mark.
During that week, between May 13 and May 20, demand for property was up by 7% compared to the same period in 2019 and up 120% compared to the previous week.
A significant proportion of these eager house hunters returning to the market are likely to be first-time buyers and many of them will have doubts and concerns that agents will need to address.
There's the obvious health and safety guidelines that buyers need to be aware of and we don't know how long social distancing rules will affect viewings for.
On top of this, first-time buyers may have more concerns than usual about the state of the market or financial matters.
Good estate agency relies on long-term relationships and effective communications, so easing the pain for first-time buyers of the present could start to build your sales pipeline of the future.
*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch – sign-up here.
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