The ‘armchair’ guide to viewing trips | How to plan a viewing trip

How to plan a viewing trip

Right now we can't jump on a plane and explore the place where we hope to buy a new home. This might be the something that we always recommend property-hunters to do, but that is only after some careful research and preparation. So, what better time than in lock-down to get online and do all the legwork ready to hit the ground running when travel restrictions ease up and you can get out to see all those properties you have been seeing online or discussing with your agent? Whilst everyone is desk-bound, this is the perfect time for all parties to have very fruitful discussions. But how to arrange a trip? Do you arrange to go on holiday and then factor in a couple of days viewing properties, or do you sign up for a viewing trip arranged by an agent or developer? It really depends how much hand-holding you want - or need. Here we provide some pointers to help you decide.

What is a viewing trip? 

Inspection trips, lifestyle trips, research trips, business trips - call them what you want, but the term ‘viewing trip’ does not necessarily mean a trip that is organised and paid for by someone else. However, we’ll start with the so-called inspection trips offered by agents and property developers. Inspection trips tend to be popular in coastal tourism areas, especially the Spanish Costas, the Algarve, Cyprus or south-west Turkey. They are less popular in rural areas, for reasons we will come onto. Inspection trips to tend to work most effectively at the low to mid end of the market and in areas where there are many properties available to view. They generally involve a mid-week trip by the buyer of between one and three nights, and are paid for, or subsidised, by the agent or developer. Buyers are generally met at the airport and driven around to see properties - between three and six a day. In the days of the 2000-2007 property boom, these trips were highly popular, with dozens of buyers being met off the plane by agents and then driven around new developments until they got out the chequebook. Tales of agents not letting buyers out of their sights as well as wearing them down with hard-sell techniques gave rise to a slightly negative image of such trips.

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New style trips? 

Aerial view

Yet much changed after the global downturn and this type of trip died out too. Now ‘viewing trips’ or ‘inspection trips’ tend to be more relaxed, with many agents realising that giving greater control to the buyer can reap richer rewards. “Trips are not as tightly controlled as they used to be - there’s the recognition that people want more freedom,” an agent that offers inspection trips to the Costa Blanca with flights and hotel costs covered. “We give people space - trips are often four days but people might have an afternoon shopping within that - and evenings are kept free - we might make recommendations for dinner, but we don’t pay for them.”That said, buyers might be expected to see six properties per day - depending on the distances involved, and the type of property. How long should they last? “We think that four days is a good length to build up a rapport with the buyer, and also make any related appointments such as setting up a bank account, meeting a solicitor,” he adds.

The 'business trip'?

Some companies have rebranded the trips to move on from the old-style hard-sell model. “We call them business trips because that is what they are - they involve professional appointments and are not to be confused with a holiday,” says Marc Pritchard of developer Taylor Wimpey Espana. “These days, many of our buyers prefer to come out and drive around under their own steam. If someone ends up buying on such a trip, we will often reimburse travel expenses, but not everyone expects that either.” He suggests that these organised trips tend to work best for properties under €150,000. “Trips to the southern Costa Blanca tend to work the best, and they will be two days, one night (and cost £169 per couple),” he adds. Some agents suggest these sort of trips also work better for those looking for holiday homes, rather than permanent relocation. “A big move like retirement involves far bigger decisions and more than one trip - you can’t be expected to plan out everything in two or three days,” says Angela Worrall of agent Ideal Homes Portugal, who offer three-night trips for £99 to £149 per person.

How do you decide what sort of trip to take? 

Couple and estate agent viewing a house

What sort of person are you? Do you not baulk at hiring you own car, driving around a new country and trying to find off the beaten track properties? If so, one of the types of trip described might suit you best. On ones that are completely arranged and funded by an agent it is quite possible that the company will not want to let you anywhere near competing agents - understandable if they are paying your way. If you are OK with this, then fine, but problems arise if you don’t fully appreciate the terms, and your expectations are different. If you want to go off and meet other agents, arrange your own trip, don’t try to sneak off (and word soon gets around in Spain as many agents know each other!) and also set out your stall - if you are not prepared to sign the sales contract before you get the back plane home then make this clear from the outset. Some agents admit that they don’t expect buyers on a hosted trip to go and see their competitors. It’s key that you do your due diligence on an agent before you agree to spend two or three days with them. How long have they been in business? If it’s less than a year you might need some extra reassurances. Test their knowledge on the phone beforehand, ask yourself - are they really listening to you?

The trend towards pay-your-way trips

If agents offer viewings trips for £99 per person - for flights and accommodation - it stands to reason that they will make their best efforts to recoup their costs by persuading a buyer to purchase a home. So the alternative to feeling this pressure is to pay for your own trip, something that agents such as Home Espana now suggest. “We might put buyers up in a hotel but these days we get a bigger proportion of people coming for a holiday and then spending three days with us, looking at properties,” says Clare Johnson. “In fact we definitely advise that people come out and drive around themselves for a few days before making appointments because they need to know what areas they like.”

Is it wise to go it alone? 

Couple on beach

Ask yourself what is the most practical solution for where you are looking to buy too - and how much time you have to spend looking for a home. One agent suggests that it can take buyers a long time to find their bearings - without expert help. When you are in the car with someone for hours on end you can squeeze them for every bit of local information you might need to know.That is what the trip is for. But it might take you several days to track down the people you need to see, coordinate viewings and arrange appointments. How organised are you? You also have to take into account cultural differences on time schedules. If looking in Spain, for example, bear in mind that Saturday is a half day - some agents/businesses still shut between 2 and 3.30pm for siesta time. The same goes for closures during lunchtimes in parts of France.

How much time to do you need?

Not allowing enough time for the viewings, is a common mistake that buyers in France can make.France is a vast country and whilst a journey might only be a couple of inches on your map, travelling time between properties is always longer than you think, particularly in rural France.“You should allow enough time to visit the property and to also get a feel for the town or village and general area,” suggests Joanna Leggett of the agent Leggett Immobilier. “France seems to operate on a different timescale to the UK and you definitely don’t want to rush your viewings - don’t hurry, don’t worry and allow time to smell the flowers along the way.”

How to prepare for a trip - finance

Piggy bank and calculator

Because viewing trips can take up a lot of their time, buyers will often be pre-qualified to ensure they are in a financial position to buy a property. Financial readiness is important. ‘Don’t book a trip until you are ready to buy,” suggests Angela Worrall. “If you need to sell a house in the UK first, to release finance, then do it first. If you are not ready to buy it can be a waste of time. If you are getting a mortgage to buy, we don’t expect it to be fully agreed, but a deal needs to be ‘semi-qualified’.”Wherever you are looking to buy, you can put yourself in a strong negotiating position by having your financing sorted out in advance, too. Also, beware when working out what you can afford, that buying in Spain will require extra costs of around 13.5 per cent of the sales price. So if have a budget of £150,000 for your new home, buying a property at £150,000 will entail around £20,000 of fees, so that might mean that you are looking at a sales price of around £130,000 not £150,000. The main reason that inspection trips can ‘fail’ is that buyers are not ready financially, report agents. Or property hunters are just so-called “tyre kickers” who are not really serious about buying yet are happy to spend three or four days being driven around looking at houses.

How to prepare for a trip - research 

Couple researching on laptop

What should you know before you go? To make sure you the right type of properties are going to be lined up, make sure the agent knows what you want. Write down a list of “must have’s” for the property - these are things you’re not prepared to compromise on and usually include things like the number of bedrooms, size of the kitchen and proximity of local bars, restaurants and shops.To go with this you should prepare a list of “nice to have’s” which could be things like a swimming pool, mature garden or countryside views. Some buyers have these set in stone but many will actually change their requirements when they are getting serious - and of course many properties are simply a “coup de couer” and love at first sight.Also be realistic in your expectations - especially about what you can afford. Are you going to be able to get a beachfront home with your budget? A good agent will listen to your requirements carefully and will know what might suit you before you do. They should want to get a feel for your lifestyle, hobbies, and how you want to use your new home. Once that has been taken on board you need to know what will you be seeing. Get a schedule and property details in advance so you are on the ‘same page’.

Making the most of your trip

Approach it with a clear and professional head and make the most of your three or four days’ trip. Extracting local knowledge from the agent showing you around is key, suggests Joanna Leggett of agent Leggett: “Our agents live and work on their patch - use their expertise.They will be able to tell you the best towns, markets, restaurants, schools and a million other things - don’t be shy in asking their opinions. Quiz them on what an area is like “out of season” as well as mid-summer.Research will pay dividends.”Make sure the agent clearly outlines what service charges you will incur when buying a certain property - never a popular subject! Agents have been known to develop sudden amnesia when the subject of service charges for new schemes are raised. You need to know these before you can seriously consider your ongoing costs of ownership of that property so request an approximation or estimate in writing. But you, the buyer, must also be open to get the most out of your time. “Understand that the agent is there to help you find your ideal home but they cannot help you if are not honest about what you want, whether it’s the type of property, or the budget you can afford,” says Angela Worrall. “Of course it’s common for buyers to change their mind when they start seeing homes, but it’s up to the agent, early in the trip, to get a feel for what they do want.”Take pictures and notes - can you remember clearly what have you seen the day before if not? On the financial side, keep receipts for costs incurred as property-hunting “expenses” can often be taken into account by the taxman, especially in Florida. Trips can also be used for other practical tasks - opening a bank account, sorting out a mortgage, a lawyer. It is quite common, assuming that a suitable property has been found by the second day, that the third and fourth days of a trip might be spent making appointments with such professionals, or even meeting rental agencies.

Get the most from your viewing trips

• Do your research first and don’t take a trip before you are fully ready

• Allow yourself enough time on a trip - allow some wiggle room for travel delays or appointments running late•Understand the basis on which the trip is booked - should you pay your way for complete freedom?

• Find out and agree the proposed schedule before you go.

• Maximise the fact-finding function of the trip, taking notes and photos to help you compare properties.

• Don’t feel pressurised to make a decision before you get on the plane home.

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Liz Rowlinson