Unique Living
January 31st, 2019 | by Serge Cowan

I Wish I’d known This About Luxury Property 16 Years Ago

Think that estate agents are on your side? Think again. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in this industry, it’s that estate agents work for the seller – even if they say they work for the buyer! And as a result, it’s not a level playing field. That’s why we founded our international luxury property buyers advisory service.

We are the first property buyers advisory service in the world; it’s a title we created, after all. Over the last year we’ve successfully created a new sector within a sector. Except that, strictly speaking, the sector isn’t new – because we’ve already been doing it for years.

The difference is that, for the first decade or so of Unique Living’s existence, I called myself an Estate Agent. I chose not to differentiate from the others, mainly because it felt like a risk. After all, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?

But as time went on, I realised that the sales process was stacked against the buyer and that this wasn’t fair. The international luxury property investor deserved much better than that. As such, I took the decision to change Unique Living’s message and create an entirely new approach. Our motto from then on? We were ‘championing the buyer of luxury international property’ – without compromise.

But What’s Wrong with the Existing Set-Up?

Some estate agents out there call themselves “buyer’s agents”. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as they still have mandates to sell specific properties. The mandate means they are obligated to focus on selling a specific property (not finding the perfect home for you), which is a conflict of interest in much the same way as with lawyers – after all, you wouldn’t use the same lawyer for both buying and selling.  This system doesn’t work in favour of the person purchasing the villa or apartment at all.

These types of estate agents, (as ultimately that is what they are), are working with an agenda and not being entirely honest with their clients. As for ‘property finder’s’ service? They work with the buyer, which is great, but they also take their fee from the buyer. This means that, when you use their services to find a great villa, penthouse or apartment, you end up paying even more in commission – as much as 2.5% in addition to the 5-6% on top of the net price in commission to the selling agent, totalling around 7-8% in extra fees (plus VAT). It’s not a fair system at all. It’s ridiculous. At Unique Living we try to redress the balance between the buyer and seller.

Doing it Differently

We take our fee from the mandated estate agent, not the buyer. This is because the commission is high for sales, the local agents are happy to collaborate, and we can bring them the clients, who we guide through the entire purchase process. I also wanted to create a buyer’s advisory service – where the investor has a chance to explain exactly what they’re looking for, and we get the opportunity to gain better understanding of how to match their needs.

This means a more satisfied homebuyer, which is a big deal. And if the now owner of the house chooses to sell it in the future, they’re far more likely to use my services again to find the next property, and that’s invaluable, in my opinion. Our approach seems to be working so far. Just check out this lovely testimonial from one of our clients, Jonathan:

“From the very first meeting at our kitchen table Serge managed to capture our needs perfectly…Everyone in the office, the team locally on the French Riviera and their recommended Notiare went well beyond what anyone could reasonably expect from them – all done in good spirit and with no guarantee of getting their fee. I would thoroughly recommend them, as we literally could not have done it without them.”

You can read more like this here: https://www.uniqueliving.com/testimonials/

I see myself as a mediator between the buyer and the seller, and sometimes between a husband and wife or other family members. Our goal is to ensure that everyone is happy with the final deal and that no-one feels ripped off. Most estate agents operate as salesmen and that’s not their fault; that’s how the industry is set up and that’s what they’ve been trained to be. I prefer to champion the buyer while supporting the seller, and to bring some common sense to the market.

My Advice?

I’ve learnt over the years to stick to my guns and operate in a way I feel comfortable with. When buying a villa, I’d suggest you opt for a similar approach. Don’t let yourself be bullied by over-aggressive estate agents; it won’t serve you well in the long term, our local offices all follow the same ethos. Enter the sales process as honestly and authentically as possible, because this will help you to find the right property for you and your family dynamic. And remember, there is no rush. This is an important lifestyle choice – take your time with it.

Also, it’s important to stay true to your convictions. If you don’t feel well served by your estate agent, seek help or a second opinion elsewhere. This is something we’ll do for you, so in reality you don’t actually even need to speak to the estate agents.

The Proof is in the Pudding

When Unique Living first shifted to become a genuine source of support for the buyer, we all knew it was a risk. However, it’s a risk that’s paid off. This last year has been a resounding success and we’ve been delighted not just with how many sales have gone through, but also with how many clients have benefitted from our services. Sometimes it’s good to shake up the status quo a little bit, and we’ve proved that it can produce real results.

What have your experiences been like with estate agents? We’d love to hear what you think about the industry – and hear your stories, both good and bad.


Serge Cowan

Serge Cowan

Managing Director and Founder

Serge has an extensive marketing background, after a broadcasting career, Serge moved into marketing where he worked for BSkyB & a number of leading Public Relations agencies.
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