The London real estate market is a complicated one to navigate. It's very different than the United States.
Coming from a real estate background in the United States, there were some things that I had to get used to...new ways of doing things.
London is a fabulous city, but there are a few things Americans need to understand when they wish to enter the property market as buyers. (A lot of this applies to renters as well.)
NO MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE
In the U.S., agents share their listings (known as "Instructions" here) on a shared database called the MLS, or Multiple Listing Service. This doesn't exist in the UK.
So typically, an American coming to London will contact a real estate agency as a buyer or renter and then expect that they will be shown an assortment of properties based on their criteria. They are then surprised and frustrated when the agent only shows them a few things, or shows them properties that they haven't asked for. Buyers often don't understand why this is happening, and the answer is because of the lack of an MLS.
Agencies here will only show you the listings they have in their office. So, what that means for you as a buyer is that you need to go from office to office to see their listings. The other thing to understand is when the agent from the agency is showing you the house or flat, they are representing the seller, not you. You are then left to negotiate terms on your own without an agent, which is not a strong position to be in.
There is no escrow process as we know of it in the States. Even if you submit an offer and it is accepted, there is a chance that you can be outbid by another buyer (a practice called "gazumping"). After an offer is accepted, the deal goes to solicitors for conveyance, which can take three months or more to close. There are means to reduce the likelihood of being gazumped to replicate the "locked in" aspect of the US escrow, but once again, it is useful to have an agent on your side through this process.
HOW I WORK AS A BUYER'S AGENT
I am happy to help anyone find a home. I enjoy the challenge of finding the right place for the right person. However, one drawback with being a non-retained buyer is that there are some estate agents with listings who will not split their commission. They would prefer to wait for a buyer to walk into their office looking for that property than share fees with a buyer's agent.
One way to fix that roadblock is for you to be a retained buyer. This is an understood business model here whereby the buyer's agent (me) is paid by the buyer (you). That payment is typically 1% of the sales price (payable upon close of sale) similar to what a buyer's agent receives in the States. The benefit to you being a retained buyer is that I have more flexibility in terms of available stock. I can also more easily look for off-market properties. In addition, I will negotiate for you. Typical savings from using the services of a buyer's agent can be 10% or more. My goal is to save you time and money.