’Tis the season to play the property portals. January isn’t just for shopping the sales and booking cheap flights, it’s also peak time for property porn as more of us resolve to move house, invest in a buy-to-let or buy a summer home in the new year.
If this is your ambition for 2022, a casual scroll down the first page of Rightmove won’t get you far in this climate. The number of homes for sale has hit a historic low as most of the decent stock was gobbled up by lockdown relocators looking for a better life in the countryside or by the coast.
If you want to find the best home for you and avoid overpaying for it, you will have to get portal savvy. Here are some top tricks.
Play around with pricing
Most of us need all the help we can get to climb on to the ladder or to upgrade to our dream home. Daniel Lees, founder of Swift Property, a southwest London lettings agency, says there are ways to tell if a property has had a price reduction on the portals. If it has been reduced by 2 per cent or more, the listing jumps to the top of Rightmove and Zoopla and it will show on both portals that the price has been reduced.
If a property has been removed for at least two weeks and relisted, Rightmove will simply show that the price has been reduced, but Zoopla will show the full pricing history, including how much it has been reduced by. If a discounted property is relisted at a higher price, the listing on both portals will still show that the price has been reduced.
To find out which estate agencies are guilty of overpricing go to “find agents” on Zoopla (or just add a Chrome extension such as Property Log to see price changes). Type in the area and scroll down the list of agents. Click on an agency’s logo on the left and then on the number of properties it has for sale. Filter the results by “price reduced” to see how many of its properties have had a price reduction. To see how this compares with other agents, go back to the Zoopla homepage and search for an area under “for sale”. Filter for property status, then price-reduced and update the results. You will be able to see how many properties have been reduced in the area overall.
For sellers who may be open to negotiation, filter for older listings and search for properties below your budget. “This way you will see properties that might need renovating, as well as those where the buyer might be prepared to reduce the price,” says Marc Schneiderman, director at the estate agency Arlington Residential.
Find out about listings first
Once you’ve created a search area and filters for homes you want to see on Rightmove, click “Create an alert” at the top of the page. Choose “instantly” on the drop-down menu to be notified as soon as a home that meets your criteria comes on to the market.
Last month OnTheMarket added a number of features to its website. It now has properties labelled “Only With Us” that won’t appear on Rightmove or Zoopla for 24 hours or more (there’s a countdown clock ticking down to when it will appear on the two biggest portals).
It has also updated its “Reserve Buyers List” tool so you can register for a property that’s under offer and, if the sale falls through, be alerted when it comes back on to the market. Another tip is to follow local agents’ Instagram accounts, should they have one.
Be a smart searcher
Never underestimate the power of an advanced search. OnTheMarket added a “Wish List” tool in December that allows you to select desirable features and dealbreakers, then each property displays a score based on how many of your preferences it meets.
Most portals will allow you to search for keywords such as “garden” or “home office”. If you’re open to different locations, you can “draw a search” on Rightmove and search for homes in several areas at once.
If you’re picky, Zoopla’s map tool allows you to isolate a single street or group of streets. “Once you’re in map view, just click on ‘edit search area’ and ‘draw from scratch’ to mark out the desired area with your mouse and refine your search,” says Daniel Copley, consumer spokesman at Zoopla.
Flexible workers may want to use Zoopla and OnTheMarket’s “Travel time” tools, which allow you to select a preferred method of transport and how long you want your commute to be. Rightmove has a “Where can I live?” tool that factors in budget, bedrooms and the location of relatives or friends.
Figure out the floorplan
Floorplans are not always accurate: one in eight London homes were at least 100 sq ft different in size from estate agent plans, according to the property tech company Spec. It uses light detection, ranging hardware and AI to create floorplans and virtual tours, and claims that its floorplans are 99 per cent accurate and underwritten by a £10 million insurance guarantee. Its Spec “verified” logo can be found at the bottom left of floorplans on 40,000 property portal listings.
Check for old floorplans stored on the portals and compare with the existing listing or to alternative plans, like EPC plans, to see if there are discrepancies. Also, look for disclaimers on plans, such as “this plan is for illustrative purposes only”.
“When looking at floorplans check for the compass so you can determine the aspect from each room. A southerly aspect in the description might mean just one room is south-facing,” says Priya Black, head of new homes at Knight Frank’s Baker Street office.
Find a happy house share
Rental homes are also in short supply, so take back control by advertising yourself. SpareRoom allows prospective tenants to post a “room wanted” ad, and landlords to list rooms available to rent. Post about your preferences, budget, what you’re like to live with and what you’re looking for in a flatmate. Animal lovers can use the pet filter to look for a fur-loving landlord.
Renters can also use SpareRoom’s “Buddy Up” tool to team up with other room-seekers in a chosen area and price range. Don’t disregard people with different budgets from your own: remember that it’s common practice for rent to be split according to the size or desirability of a room.