When it comes to moving long distances, relocation agents can cut your costs.
PAYING A search or a relocation agent to find you a new home might seem an expense you can do without, but in many cases it actually pays to pay someone else to do the legwork.

A relocation company's expertise goes far further than just finding a home. It can negotiate a favourable price, being more detached than a purchaser who is likely to be ruled by his heart rather than his head. It can oversee the purchase of the property and, if you have a family of school age, it will source and report on local schools.

A relocation agent can work out where it is best to live logistically if you have to commute, check out where the best golf course or tennis club is, help with removals and find out anything else you might need to know about a new area.

If you live the other end of the country, or are coming back to England from abroad, finding out this sort of information is time-consuming and expensive. The relocation agent can be there to hold your hand while you become acclimatised to the new area, too.

"Relocation agents are considered by many to be a luxury, but retaining an agent to work on the purchaser's behalf is likely to save money, even after the payment of fees," says Paul Greenwood, of Stacks Relocation. "We aim to save our clients' money on two levels. First by cutting down their expenses during the search and, second, by being in a strong position to negotiate the best possible price to secure the property once it has been found."

If long distances are involved when looking for a property in an area well away from your current home, the costs can add up. Many properties put forward by estate agents are not what is required and can involve endless wasted journeys.

Mr and Mrs James White, who had lived in Yorkshire for 20 years and spent family holidays in Devon, decided to look for a house there to which they could retire. For the first three months the Whites went property hunting under their own steam, driving down to Devon on six different occasions, clocking up some 4,500 miles and hotel expenses of around pounds 600.

On their last visit, they were about to put in an offer of the full asking price for a house when someone suggested they should contact The County Homesearch Company for a second opinion.

"We were able to take quite a detached view of the property," says Fiona McLellan, who runs the Devon office. "They were anxious to get the matter wrapped up and were prepared to offer the asking price of pounds 165,000.

"By sitting down and looking at detailed comparables which were available to us, we took over the negotiations and saved them pounds 7,500 on the price."

Should you be buying from overseas, then the money spent on looking for property can be even more horrendous. "Buying a property can be a daunting prospect at the best of times," says Philip Selway at Charterhouse International, which is based in Bath. "But when considering the matter from the other side of the world, the related costs such as flights and hotel accommodation, not to mention the time element, make it not only disconcerting but very expensive."

Charterhouse reckons a relocation agent can save clients based in Hong Kong, for example, pounds 8,000-pounds 10,000 of these related costs, as well as a considerable amount of time. When it acquired a country house for such a client with a budget of up to pounds 500,000, the requirements were faxed to Charterhouse and the sale concluded in three months. The purchaser viewed the property once, while on a business trip.

"Also, purchasers from abroad are less confident that they can buy a property at the right price," says James Wilson of Lane Fox Acquisitions.

"I recently bought a house, which was not on the open market, for someone living overseas at significantly less than the quoted guide price. If there is competition for a house, then someone like myself can tip the balance because the agent knows I have a serious buyer and can act quickly."

On average, relocation or search agents charge between 1.25 per cent to 1.5 per cent of the purchase price; in London this is more likely to be 2 per cent and often there is a minimum charge of between pounds 1,000 and pounds 2,000. Most companies charge an up-front fee of pounds 200-pounds 500, which may or may not be deducted from their main fee. And the majority of these agents will require you to be a cash buyer.

To find a reputable relocation agent, you can contact the Association of Relocation Agents. This body also publishes a Foreigners' Guide to the United Kingdom (price pounds 5), which explains all that someone coming into Britain will need to know about living in the country, from tax matters to schooling.

Stacks Relocation: 01666 860523 Lane Fox Acquisitions: 0171-499 4785

County Homesearch Company: 01872 223349

Charterhouse International: 01225 482727

Association of Relocation Agents: 01273 624455

House-Hunting Costs Mount Up

London-based family looking for a second home costing about pounds 200,000, in Devon.

u Six visits by car to the area around Exeter (round trip estimated at 340 miles) based on AA's figure of 33p per mile pounds 673

u Three overnight stays for two people at a modest hotel or B&B

pounds 150

u Four conversations a week for a duration of five minutes with estate agents in Exeter area

pounds 104

u One survey on what turns out to be an unsuitable property

pounds 400

u Part solicitor fees pounds 250

Total: pounds 1,577

Source: Stacks Relocation