This article was first published in The London Magazine in Jan 2017.
No one knows better than the estate agents working in central London the demand for 24/7 viewings. Lulu Egerton, a partner at Strutt & Parker in Chelsea, was once asked to show a well-known American buyer around a property at 6.30am on a Saturday, which meant arriving at 5.30am to ensure the property was ready.
The only time he could fly in from the US to view the house was overnight on his Gulf Stream, with a two-hour turnaround, recalls Egerton. “We paid for the owners of the property to stay the night in a nearby five-star hotel. The American arrived with his security detail, in two blacked-out cars, who checked the surrounding area before the buyer got out of the car. He looked around the house twice before bidding over the asking price, securing the purchase there and then. We shook hands and he returned to the private airfield and flew straight back to the USA. I was home by 8.30am.”
This punishing demand for an all-hours service is set to become much easier to fulfil with the launch of Viewber, a viewing service that allows estate agents to pay other people to conduct viewings on their behalf. As the name suggests, it’s a service for property viewings. These “Viewbers” are responsible individuals all local to an area where a home is selling. They show prospective buyers around for a small fee when an estate agent isn’t available, whether it is late on a weekday night or early on a Sunday morning.
While Viewber was not set up to cater for prime central London properties, from April, Viewber Elite will do just that. These Viewbers will be former estate agents or those who have been on the Viewber books for more than six months. “This service will mean central London agents can more than ever offer an ‘any hours, anywhere’ service,” says Viewber founder Ed Mead, a former executive director of Douglas & Gordon.
This could include showing a house within minutes of a high net worth individual with a short attention span expressing an interest. The local Viewber can hot-foot it to the property and let themselves in via a police-approved key-safe outside the building.
Gary Hersham, managing director of Beauchamp Estates, has received calls from applicants standing outside the property they were interested in, asking if they could view it then and there. “Regular practicalities, such as weekends or after-hours, do not come into play,” he says.
“Once I was given so little notice that I was out running when I got the call and just continued running to the appointment,” says Rachel Thompson, partner of The Buying Solution. “Much to the amusement of all, I turned up rather red-faced in my running shorts.”
But will people with extremely expensive properties agree to someone who isn’t their agent carrying out the viewing and to having a key-safe installed outside their home? Brendan Roberts, director of Aylesford International estate agency suspects not. “These houses are likely to be large, with comprehensive control systems and an abundance of personal items and will need to be shown by someone fully familiar with all the details. From my own experience, there are those who conduct a viewing in an incredibly thorough and professional manner pointing out all the relevant features in a relaxed and comfortable way and those who are not so familiar with the property where the viewing is not as successful. I think both sellers and buyers like to build a relationship with the agent and prefer to be as discreet as possible.”
Of course, it’s not only agents who dislike 6am Sunday viewings: sellers aren’t always happy about it either. Sometimes heaven and earth must be moved to get a seller to agree to a Sunday viewing – only for a client to cancel last minute. This happened to Charlie Wells, managing director of Prime Purchase, who resolved the situation by still going to the house, but “with a bottle of champagne and an apology. The vendors invited me in for a cup of tea and we ended up selling the property a year later to another client.”
This is a real voicemail forwarded to us by a frustrated buyer... he subsequently asked the agent why they don't use Viewber - they do now!
So, what do you currently spend on sending staff out on viewings?
How does booking a viewing with Viewber work? For clients, it’s as simple as clicking a button but here we also explain what happens after the booking is sent.