What does selling off market mean?

25 November 2019, The Sunday Times

There are clear signs that “private” sales are going mainstream

By Melissa York

Pssst… are you “off-market”? No, I don’t mean married — is your house on a secret list of properties for sale? Though this practice sounds clandestine, all it means is that you’ve chosen to keep your house out of the public domain, away from browsing eyes on Rightmove and Zoopla and out of high-street windows. Instead, estate agents trade these homes among themselves, matching them with the requirements of registered off-market buyers.

While buying and selling this way isn’t new, there are clear signs that “private” sales are going mainstream. Once the exclusive preserve of oligarchs and celebrities who didn’t want the contents of their home splashed all over the internet, the practice has moved further down the market in recent years.

“We used to be dealing in £20m properties, but now it can be anything from £1m upwards,” says Caspar Harvard-Walls, partner at the buying agency Black Brick. He estimates that the number of off-market properties on his books has risen from a quarter in 2018 to a third in 2019.

“I was looking on behalf of a buyer who had a £4m budget. I found six houses that met their specific brief and not one of them was on the open market.”

And this phenomenon isn’t limited to the chattering classes in the capital. Agents at Carter Jonas in York have also noticed an increase in off-market sales in the middle market, up from 10% of listings to 15% over the past year.

While there are many personal reasons one might go off-market — security for starters, as you will discover in my feature — the internet has played a significant role. Selling your home is just a lot more public than it once was. Now any buyer can see how long your home has been on the market, how much you bought it for and the value of similar homes in your street at the click of a button and a scroll of a mouse.

In 2018, 26% of homes on Rightmove, the UK’s biggest property portal, sat unsold for more than six months. If a buyer sees this, they will start to think it isn’t selling because there’s something wrong with it and will sniff a discount in the offing. Properties that have had a price reduction on the open market are also doomed to a similar fate. Those kept off-market, on the other hand, retain a certain mystique.

In an uncertain time, perhaps it is smart that buyers are testing the water in this way, rather than hanging their dirty discounts out for everyone to see. Maybe this trend isn’t clever at all, but merely a sign of the times. Harvard-Walls links the rise in estate agents leaving big firms to set up on their own as independents to this trend. Like artisan coffee, craft gin and boutique hotels, perhaps going off-market with a buying agent simply seems like a rarefied, fashionable way to sell your house these days.

Speaking of hipsters, new research from Jackson-Stops has revealed an unusual penchant for high ceilings among millennials. The estate agency conducted a survey asking more than 2,000 UK adults to name their favourite architectural period features (niche, I admit). Lofty ceilings ranked fourth, with 28% picking them, behind bay windows (38%), grand open fireplaces (37%) and a country-style kitchen (29%).

However, when only 18- to 34-year-olds were included, high ceilings came out on top, with more than a third (36%) saying it was their most desirable period feature. Londoners were also especially keen on raising the roof (35%). Perhaps this isn’t such a mystery when you consider the cramped conditions in many new-build high-rise flats — the only option young people have in the capital if they want to purchase their first home using Help to Buy. A head-banging conundrum if ever there was one.

 

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