Known for his discretion and prowess in sealing some of the capital’s chunkiest residential deals, Robert Bailey is no stranger to the biggest and most expensive properties around. He had a long spell at Knight Frank – he was head of its private office for ten years – where he set up the firm’s dedicated buying arm, the Buying Solution. He then struck out on his own in 2005 to found his own eponymous buying agency. Bailey describes 2017 as a ‘fantastic’ year for his growing boutique – the strongest in the past five, he says, thanks not least to a string of ‘very good’ deals. This included one ‘very big’ transaction for ‘one of the finest houses in Belgravia’ – but that’s all he’ll say about that, of course. Bailey’s not one to fire and forget. ‘A lot of our competitors are quite short-termist,’ he says. ‘The keys get […]
Welcome to the Spear’s Indices
Each issue of Spear’s Magazine contains an exclusive Index prepared by the experts at the Spear’s Research Unit identifying the very best providers of professional services to the high net worth audience. Comprehensive, authoritative and indispensible, these are the definitive lists of the top HNW advisers in Britain working in property, family law, wealth management, tax and trust, alternative assets and reputation management. Once a year the Indices are updated and expanded to form the core of the Spear’s 500, the bible of HNW advisers. Go to the drop down menu below for the latest indices of top professionals from the Spear’s Research Unit
Property Advisers 2018
MOST RECENT: Property Advisers 2018
Top 10 London Buying
Camilla Dell – a three-time nominee for Property Adviser of the Year at the Spear’s Wealth Management Awards – is described by peers as ‘tenacious and dedicated’. And her firm Black Brick, which she founded in 2007, is going from strength to strength. ‘We’ve done more transactions at £20 million-plus than we ever have before,’ Dell tells Spear’s. ‘We recently bought a house in Holland Park for £36 million, found a flat in Mayfair for just over £21 million, and we’ve just agreed a deal on another freehold house in Mayfair for £33 million – it’s a lot.’ Over the past 11 years Dell’s firm has emerged as one of the largest and most competitive property search firms in London – operating in a market which she believes has become all the more difficult to navigate for buyers. ‘Supply has become an issue right across prime central London,’ she explains. […]
Oxford graduate Naomi Heaton was all set on advertising – she was the youngest female director at Saatchi & Saatchi – but soon found that career trumped by an interest in property. She set up London Central Portfolio in 1990. ‘I got into buying, renovating and selling, and decided it would be more interesting running my own business than advising others on how to manage theirs,’ Heaton tells Spear’s. The company maximises returns both in terms of capital growth and rental yields. ‘We are managing properties for the long term,’ Heaton explains. ‘Other people may say they’re a “one-stop shop”, but they are generally outsourcing the refurbishment or interior design, or they’re outsourcing the letting and management to third parties. We do everything in-house.’ The firm is focused on central London (‘it’s an area of very limited stock with huge global demand’), but remains confident there will be growth. However, […]
A Spear’s Property Adviser of the Year award-winner, Nathalie Hirst began her career in property more than 20 years ago by relocating bankers from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and UBS to London. She later joined two of the best-known buying firms in London – Property Vision and Prime Purchase – before striking out on her own five years ago. Now an eminent figure in the business of relocating global HNWs to prime central London, she has a clear and important mantra: ‘I am a buying agent who only buys – and never sells.’ Hirst says uncertainty made for an ‘absolutely dire’ 2017, before sentiment lifted late in the year. ‘A lot of people have lost a lot of money trying to outwit the market – but I am absolutely confident that now is a good time to go back into the market,’ she says. ‘It may go down, but you […]
‘Safe as houses isn’t ringing true at the moment,’ says Tracy Kellett of the PCL market, but she explains this is more due to the SDLT regime and compliance than Brexit. ‘I’d take all the negativity around the market with a bit of a pinch of salt, because they [the values] will rise,’ she advises. ‘Unless Brexit is the bloodbath that it may well be, if it’s just a damp squib then logically speaking the summer of 2019… you’ll be looking at some uplift.’ For the time being, her advice is to futureproof yourself in case you have to sell in the coming years. ‘Focus on quality – quality in the property and quality in the area, so go smaller if necessary, but buy in the places where people will always want to live’. She elaborates: ‘You’re far better if you’re buying something that’s quality – a Victorian apartment in […]
‘It was our 15th anniversary at the end of last year,’ says Guy Meacock, ‘so we’re quite a young business.’ The firm was originally set up by Savills, the first of the major agents to set up its own buying side. Things have gone from strength to strength in spite of a few glitches in the market. Savills was initially ‘beaten hard’ for setting up the buying side, Meacock says, but today it gives him access to the impressive Savills network and its vast range of expertise, which the agent ‘values enormously’. Personable and full of good cheer, Meacock is nevertheless frank about the number of independents in the industry. ‘There are plenty who buy and sell, which has muddied the waters of what a buying agent was intended to do. To act for a buyer one day, then represent them on their sale a few years down the line, […]
‘Every client has very subjective needs,’ says Sophie Rogerson, one half of the husband-and-wife duo who founded RFR Property. ‘You can have market behaviour, and changing geographies – but then you have the client’. The industry continues to fascinate the pair, who use a strong legal background – Richard was a partner at Macfarlanes – to provide a highly technical service to clients. That’s of particular importance to clients in such a complex market where value is only getting more complicated: ‘Certain stock doesn’t have a value, because it’s not desirable. It’s not purely mathematical any more.’ The Rogersons also note the complexity of the new-build market. ‘There’s this move to concierge living. It’s interesting: someone wise said to me it’s not about the development, it’s about specific units within the developments. The concierge living at the highest, highest end is very appealing to the US market,’ says Richard. ‘International […]
Thoroughbred buyer Roarie Scarisbrick paints a less than rosy picture of prime central London. Volumes of transactions have ‘significantly reduced’ – down 50-60 per cent in the £10 million bracket – since those happier days in 2014. ‘It was the last functioning year – there were no disasters, no stamp duty hikes and no serious derailments in the market,’ he says. But tough conditions thrill Scarisbrick, who relishes helping buyers through the property maze at a time when the disparity between asking and transaction prices has never been greater: ‘We make sure [buyers] really understand the context of the seller,’ he explains, ‘how long the property has been in the market and what they should pay for it.’ Scarisbrick says global HNWs are buying less speculatively than before: ‘They’re not just looking for new-build stock; they’re interested in the historical and architectural importance of central London.’ British buyers constitute a […]
‘I still am a one man band,’ the energetic Alex Stroud assures us. When Spear’s wonders how on earth Stroud had single-handedly acquired more than 130 properties in the past seven years, he says: ‘I’m just a workaholic; it’s as simple as that.’ And office hours often stretch past midnight on most days, he says: ‘It’s pretty hard.’ Are others in the industry toiling away similarly? In the difficult market, which he says has ‘bottomed out’ and will bumble along at the current pace, he answers no. ‘A lot of people don’t work hard and it staggers me,’ Stroud says. ‘Gone are the days when a selling agent could advertise a property and wait for the phones to ring – you now have to do a lot of lateral thinking, you have to unturn a lot of stones.’ Stroud appears to have a laser vision of prime central London, honed […]
When Spear’s catches up with Ed Tryon at 5 Hertford Street, he mentions that he’s a few books into discovering PG Wodehouse. But his portfolio is more new-build than Wodehousian at the moment. ‘It’s extremely seldom you’ll find somebody for whom both schools of thought will appeal: the traditional townhouse and newly built apartments,’ he explains. ‘That [new-build] market is one I’ve really focused on since 2011. I’ve bought nearly £200 million off-plan, which puts me top of the league tables.’ That’s driven by client demand. Tryon says he’s yet to be asked for a house on seven floors: he notes that many French clients have come in (‘We’re eternally grateful to Monsieur Hollande’), and new builds resonate with his international client base. ‘In the absence of the perfect option you have to look laterally, metaphorically and literally,’ he says. ‘Supply is so incredibly finite, it’s like Old Master paintings: […]
Top 10 London Selling
A property veteran of four decades, Glentree founder Trevor Abrahmsohn counts the world’s wealthiest as previous clients – Lakshmi Mittal, Simon Cowell and Ringo Starr among them. His firm enjoys a virtual monopoly on ‘Billionaires’ Row’, Bishops Avenue in East Finchley, where prices go up to and beyond £100 million. ‘How many estate agents know how to get a deal across the line?’ he asks. ‘Many of them are clueless as to how to master it.’ So what’s his secret? ‘A mixture of psychotherapy, extreme cajoling and applied salesmanship, all driven by an assertive, wellintentioned desire to get people out of their own way.’ Abrahmsohn describes the first two quarters of 2017 as ‘pretty dismal’ – but he agreed ‘about £100 million’ of sales in the second quarter, ‘which was very welcome. We weren’t expecting it.’ The bulk came back after Christmas: ‘I think people feel that Brexit is going […]
Andy Buchanan, who is known as ‘Mr Chelsea’, was in determined mood when Spear’s caught up with him. ‘It was irritating between Christmas and New Year because a lot of buyers seemed to be coming into the market. But [this year] is starting well.’ But that’s not to say it hasn’t been a tough time. ‘I’m afraid to say that the bigger buyers are complaining that there’s very little stock around, which is our biggest problem in the market,’ he admits. ‘Funnily enough, we’ve got some Swiss buyers who we’re trying to look after: there are only 16 houses in our category up to £8 million. But when they rented we saw over 40 properties.’ This is all part and parcel of what Buchanan calls the ‘unintended consequence’ of stamp duty. ‘Brexit is an excuse for people not to do something, but actually what’s behind it all is that there’s […]
A property guru with an ‘encyclopaedic’ knowledge of Knightsbridge, Belgravia and Chelsea, Knight Frank’s new head of prime new homes has worked in London’s gilded postcodes for nearly 30 years, 18 of which he’s spent at Knight Frank. Rupert des Forges describes the extraordinary ‘product-led’ ascendancy of the prime new-build on the London market, from its lagging appeal only a few years ago to prized status today. ‘It’s a spreading of this fusion of hotel and residential culture that’s come out of Knightsbridge – it’s obviously absolutely central in Mayfair now, but it’s pretty hot in Marylebone and Kensington as well,’ he says, pointing to developments like Ronson Capital Partners’ scheme in Chiltern Place and Holland Park Villas in Kensington. ‘It is the trend.’ The churn, des Forges explains, is a sign of the times as much as anything: ‘The wealth is a bit younger, year by year – it’s […]
In 2009, when James GilbertGreen first started selling properties in Belgravia, the landscape looked entirely different. If someone bought in prime central London and then changed their mind, all they had to do was ‘swallow 3 per cent stamp duty and resell’, says Gilbert-Green, who has just moved from partner at Strutt & Parker to director at Savills. ‘There was no capital gains for foreigners, no inheritance tax – the market was going up 10 per cent a year,’ he adds. ‘Nowadays, the market is flat or negative, with maximum 15 per cent stamp duty. So if the market goes down 5 per cent you’ve lost 20 per cent just on that purchase.’ Despite these changes in property as an asset class, Gilbert-Green is still seeing a steady influx of big buyers looking to put down roots in London. ‘The great thing here in London is that the rule of […]
Gary Hersham is to taciturnity what Nijinsky was to dance: he is its complete embodiment. Talking with Spear’s, he does a decent impression of a man who would rather be doing anything else. But prickliness can be a badge of success. You get the impression he’d rather be selling houses – and he’s legendarily good at that. Perhaps that’s the problem – there are fewer houses to sell. ‘This year people have shied away from buying property or paying the original asking prices,’ he says. This ‘soft market’ is, in Hersham’s view, not so soft as buyers looking for huge discounts would like. Spear’s asks him about recent sales. After an alarming pause, he says: ‘There have been one or two big sales. We recently sold a flat in Eaton Square for just shy of £25 million – just under £6,000 per square foot.’ He has seen ‘huge rental enquiries […]
When Spear’s caught up with Jonathan Hewlett, he was in confident mood: ‘Without sounding cocky, we’ve had a good 2017, with better than expected results. We’ve been involved in the super-prime market in over 125 sales north of £5 million, which gives a total value of £1.4 billion.’ Impressive as that sounds, Hewlett is also mindful that it’s been a tough time, with the stamp duty hikes still causing a chilly market. On the other hand, he’s confident about Brexit: ‘Some things have been agreed, which is giving confidence to the banks.’ So what kind of market do we have? Hewlett says it’s still a ‘needs-based market, which is driven by business and education’, and he’s ‘known much worse markets’. On the international front, he explains: ‘There’s no one major player: south-east Asia are definitely still strong investors in new-build. They’re purchasing off-plan a year in advance, and we’re seeing […]
‘The stamp duty single-handedly brought the market to its knees,’ says the impressive Louise Hewlett. ‘As humans, we don’t change. What’s changed is how to finance [buying a home]: I don’t know if you’ve seen a mortgage form recently?’ she says, with a hint of a smile. Hewlett notes that these difficulties have changed the role of agent. It used to be a role of showing property. ‘I’m finding that that is no longer the case. We are everything to that person. [The client] has to trust you and for that period you’re the most important person in their life. You become the marriage counsellor, the school adviser. That’s what makes it so interesting. It’s all about the people.’ Nowadays, she says, ‘lateral living has become very popular’ with the typical vertical townhouse no longer a first choice. Hewlett, who both buys and sells (‘I am a traditional oldfashioned estate […]
While many boutique firms have been subsumed into larger estate agents, Russell Simpson, the family-owned firm started 39 years ago by property veteran Alan Russell, has managed to maintain its unique selling point as a top-end boutique agency. Jake Russell is approaching his tenth year with the firm, and has been a director for four. He stresses that ‘good advice, including market analysis and intelligence to ensure correct pricing, is vital for dealing with a complex and inconsistent marketplace where deals fall through all the time’. Specialising in house sales, Russell says Notting Hill, Holland Park, Kensington and Chelsea are consistently in high demand from both British and overseas buyers, noting that Britons have a higher tolerance for listed buildings and are more likely to buy in old Chelsea, while Middle Eastern and Chinese clients are more interested in Sloane Square, Knightsbridge and Mayfair. Despite tough market conditions, the firm […]
Thomas Van Straubenzee (above), is the former partner and co-founder of VanHan, who moved to Knight Frank shortly before Spear’s went to press. When we speak, he has just exchanged on a flat in Onslow Square for £5 million and has ‘a couple more exciting deals in the pipeline.’ VanHan, which he co-founded with Rory Penn in 2012, was doing so well in that it added a commercial division and a specialist lettings team before being bought earlier this year by Knight Frank, which was looking to build its global wealth team. ‘There’s definitely an upswing in properties which are selling off-market,’ Van Straubenzee tells Spear’s from his new office at Knight Frank. ‘Sellers aren’t keen to have pricing records in the public domain, but we have seen a steady trickle of properties – Russian, Indian, Chinese and American buyers are all taking advantage of the favourable exchange rate.’ Both […]
Peter Wetherell knows Mayfair like nobody else, as his Twitter handle @mayfairguru suggests. He has focused on the area for his entire career and has joked that if he had to quit his job, he would be ‘practically unemployable’. That seems rather unlikely. The 2017 Spear’s Property Adviser of the Year sees the prime central market as having reached its low point (‘People have got bored of waiting, they want to move on with their lives’) but says real growth might be a long way off yet, thanks to the tax flux of recent years. ‘If you don’t like the aspect of your garden… you’re just not going to move at the moment because the transactional costs are too great. You’ll end up 15 per cent poorer,’ he explains. Nevertheless, as Wetherell points out, Mayfair outperformed the rest of prime central London over the past 12 months, capping a decade […]
Top 10 Country
‘It is fun,’ says the genial Philip Eddell, who has a long and storied career in rural estate management. Formerly of Knight Frank in Hungerford, Eddell saw that clients had a natural interest in the mansion house. The pivotal moment in Eddell’s career was acting for Madonna and Guy Ritchie during their (mainly successful) attempt to have the right to roam restricted on their estate. ‘That was a good watershed moment to identify ourselves more specifically with the mansion house,’ he recalls. He now has unmatched experience in improving the running of large homes. ‘You can walk into houses and tell when there’s something not right,’ he says. ‘You could argue we’re creating Downton Abbey for someone. You end up running a small business and basically a privately owned hotel, and if it’s badly run your idyll isn’t so much of an idyll as it should be.’ For Eddell, the […]
Director Jonathan Harington is a rare breed – a peer called him ‘a bastion of discretion’. Clients, too, are known to shower the veteran adviser with praise, but one has gone as far as to give him a personal ranking. ‘I have placed Jonathan in my “Tiger” class,’ one client says. ‘These are people who make things happen – without him I believe that we would not have had the energy to do the deal.’ He’s made many things possible, including the expansion of two of the industry’s ‘Big Three’ firms over a 40-year career. Starting out as a seller, he singlehandedly set up the buying arms of Lane Fox (now Strutt & Parker) and Knight Frank, before founding Haringtons in 2004. The former Coldstream Guards officer’s enhanced visibility in the market means many deals are done off the radar. It’s no easy task these days, compared to when he […]
‘We’ve found that there was an acute lack of stock in the country market’, says Ed Heaton. That, he says, combined with the fact that there are quite a lot of buyers in the market who are ‘almost apathetic’ about making a decision about properties, made for a difficult 2017. However, Heaton has noticed an increase in the number of buyers wanting to buy farms – mixed-use properties which encompass both a residential and an agricultural element – for tax purposes. ‘If they’re buying high-value property, savings can be significant’, he notes. Clients share Heaton’s frustration with the market. ‘House buying is difficult: the right one is hard to find and then even harder to buy successfully, particularly as most of us are rank amateurs in this field,’ says one. ‘But having Ed going out to bat for you tilts the game much more in your favour. We have already […]
Knight Frank boasts more than a century in rural property – and country hand Clive Hopkins has seen more than a quarter of it from within. Hailed as ‘terrific’ and ‘seriously good’ by industry experts, he heads the firm’s farms and estates division – a specialist team within its London HQ. He speaks of a ‘challenging’ 12 months: demand may be low, but supply is low too. ‘The market is very short on stock,’ he says. Gone are the days when you could estimate the cost of a patch across the country: ‘Pre-2007, say, it was £3,250 an acre – that could apply to parts of East Anglia, Devon or parts of Yorkshire. Now, there’s no consistency. Last year it varied from £5,500 an acre in South East England to over £17,000 an acre. That variation plays huge in the market.’ That requires far greater clarity when advising clients: not […]
Once dubbed by an industry peer as ‘the most proactive buyer in Hampshire’, Tom Hudson knows a thing or two about the country market. ‘There’s a lot of overvalued stock right now,’ he says. ‘Our job is to do as best we can for our clients – which usually means buying at the best possible price. Since Hudson co-founded Middleton Advisors in 2008, the firm’s client base has continued to expand, and so has the team. ‘Tom has built a team of excellent property professionals who are some of the best in their field,’ says a peer. The firm sources half its properties off-market, which requires excellent contacts, a nose for matching client to property, and hard graft. His advice to buyers: ‘Don’t compromise on the really key boxes you want to tick – be fussy, but at the same time, don’t hesitate if you see something that fits the […]
During his 20-plus years in the rural property business, Alex Lawson has seen a growing interest in landed estates as people become more aware of the diversity that rural land offers, both in terms of property types and the potential for income generation. Landed property, he believes, is also relatively insulated from economic cycles. Lawson heads up the national farms and estates team at Savills, specialising in selling ‘the biggest and best country estates and farms throughout the UK’, he tells Spear’s. Recently he’s seen an upswing in buyers from the financial sector ‘creeping back’ after practically disappearing in the wake of the financial crash – and he’s also seen current landowners whose land has been developed, and they want to use the ‘financial windfall’ to buy up more land. Lawson stresses that there’s more to it than negotiating a good price. ‘A lot of what we sell can be […]
Sporting estates specialist Andrew Macpherson has a reputation for making rare deals happen. Still, one client followed the CKD founder’s advice with caution: ‘If the grouse come back, I’ve got a great deal; if they don’t, I’ve brought a pup.’ He need not have worried: three seasons later, ‘the first day yielded over 250 brace’. Although grouse moors and agricultural estates are rare, Macpherson never allows clients to compromise on the quality of a purchase. ‘That only comes with considerable experience,’ another testimonial reads. ‘While we were keen, the more he got to know us, the more he encouraged us to exercise caution and, ultimately, restraint.’ Macpherson is often lauded for his lateral thinking and loyalty to clients, as he personally ‘abhors’ conflicts of interests in the marketplace. Acting mostly on repeat business and referrals, he’s known as a ‘master dealer’ by peers, with expertise in the farmland market, major […]
Times are changing in the estates world. ‘We’re having to be more inventive – and slightly cleverer,’ says Mark McAndrew, Strutt & Parker’s estate and farm department head, based in Mayfair. ‘It’s not the people phoning up and saying “I want to sell my estate”,’ he explains. ‘It’s people who are sort of thinking yielded over 250 brace’. Although grouse moors and agricultural estates are rare, Macpherson never allows clients to compromise on the quality of a purchase. ‘That only comes with considerable experience,’ another testimonial reads. ‘While we were keen, the more he got to know us, the more he encouraged us to exercise caution and, ultimately, restraint.’ Macpherson is often lauded for his lateral thinking and loyalty to clients, as he personally ‘abhors’ conflicts of interests in the marketplace. Acting mostly on repeat business and referrals, he’s known as a ‘master dealer’ by peers, with expertise in the […]
If you were looking to sell a house in the country, the chances are that someone at some point would recommend you speak to Rupert Sweeting. Recently promoted to become Knight Frank’s national head of country sales, he has been living and breathing the countryside for his entire adult life, having joined the firm from the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester 30 years ago. In the newly created role he oversees the firm’s £5 million-plus countryside transactions. ‘I’m out on the road a lot more and seeing a lot more people and 2017 was better than the previous year,’ he says, clearly pleased. It certainly helps that HNWs have been taking advantage of the disparity in value between London and the country. At the £5 million range, he highlights the ‘50:50’ split between British and overseas buyers, while above £10 million, international UHNWs now account for 60 per cent of […]
‘In the face of significant economic headwinds, we’ve managed to keep our heads well above water’, says Charlie Wells, who has been a director at Prime Purchase for seven years. Wells is widely respected for his work ethos and extensive knowledge of the country market, most especially in the area of farms and estates. For him, the biggest impact on the business in the past 12 months has been the lack of available stock. ‘People have an almost exact picture of what they want – a square Georgian house with a nice long drive,’ he says. ‘And if they have a £20 million budget, they’ll probably want a house that’s worth £30 million. Honesty and integrity are key, and we have to manage our clients’ expectations.’ Wells, a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, has been seeing substantially more American clients than usual, driven by the strength of […]
Top Recommended London Buying
‘London is still very attractive, people still feel safe to invest their money here,’ GL P founder Giuliana La Pera Davies enthuses. Indeed, business has been good for the firm, which advises a wide range of global buyers. ‘We have a very eclectic range of global clients,’ says Giuliana. Husband James Davies has seen a surge in Turkish liberals and adds that discreet Italians are a force to be reckoned with: ‘ Europeans stay out of the headlines; they’re not as exciting for the media as the oligarchs or the brand name billionaires.’ The duo remains cautious: ‘Asking prices are inconsistent,’ they warn. ‘That’s where our experience comes in — understanding the intrinsic value of an opportunity.’
A recent rebrand saw Jo Eccles’s company expand to offer a wider residential advisory service. She manages hundreds of buildings across London, such as a Mayfair house rented for £40,000 per week. Eccles is advising clients to make the most of cheap borrowing and build or review portfolios. Clerkenwell is an example of a good bet: ‘If you’re buying, want good capital growth, and a good renting yield for London, you can get a 4.6 per cent gross yield there, which is really compelling.’ She has also been ‘really busy’ with executive relocations as ‘we’ve positioned ourselves as a go-to relocation agency’. Clients include Google, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Linklaters and Aesop.
Warnerheath founder Chris Jones sees a silver lining in uncertainty: ‘It’s helped to strengthen the case for independent buying advice,’ he says. ‘This is a time where good buying agents can demonstrate their expertise and secure the best value for clients.’ Jones advises H NWs from the worlds of finance, sport and the arts – a natural calling, it would seem: ‘I have seen Chris in action on a number of transactions and he is fantastic at sniffing out the very best properties in the best streets, given his clients’ briefing on price and location,’ one market observer told Spear’s. ‘He has done nothing other than impress me by his unusually high level of client care and service.
There’s been a genuine need to buy in London, especially in the final quarter of 2017, Charles McDowell says. ‘ Purchasers perceive that prices have been adjusted enough to make it attractive,’ he adds, telling Spear’s of a slew of new Middle Eastern and Far East clients. Nonetheless, the market had suffered a long-term impact since 2014. ‘It basically goes in the order of George Osborne’s [SDLT changes], Brexit, and the fear of Jeremy Corbyn,’ McDowell says. Will the prime central market ever return to normal? ‘I think we have a new normal,’ he says. ‘It will have its good times; London still remains very popular with people from all around the world.’
‘Pre-2014 prices just don’t exist any longer,’ asserts Caroline Takla, the founder of The Collection LL P. Despite a significant adjustment in expectation from sellers, she remains optimistic: ‘Once our new relationship with the EU has been established, I see no reason that we couldn’t return to double-digit growth,’ she says. For Takla, the past six months have been ‘really exciting’, with a number of big exchanges going through before the end of 2017: ‘Our clients are predominantly based overseas, so when the pound takes a bit of a battering, we see increased interest. Right now, we’re handling mandates from half a million to £40 million – and everything in between.
It’s not too much to say that Johnny Turnbull was one of those who invented the rarefied profession of the buying agent. One fellow adviser calls him one of the ‘behemoths’ of the profession and while a second observes: ‘He might not do lots of deals, but the ones he does do are whoppers.’ Turnbull is noted for his intimate knowledge of the streets of prime central London, and for his expertise in the £20 millionplus range. Recent acquisitions include a £45 million development opportunity in Oxfordshire. But West London is his haunt: witness recent purchases of a £10.5 million Pont Street Mews house and a £15.5 million townhouse in Upper Phillimore Gardens.
Top Recommended London Selling
A lot of people selling at the moment are circumstance-driven and I enjoy doing the utmost to help,’ says David Adams, director of Humberts’ Mayfair office. Adams is increasingly selling beyond central London, such as in Henley, Ascot and Southampton. He is also selling more new builds than in the past, when he was specialising in second-hand prime central London apartments. ‘Quite a few developers are giving me properties because of the success I’m having in setting record prices. I set the record price in Nine Elms last year and in Canary Wharf.’ The challenge and variety of his work ‘makes life considerably more interesting’, he says.
Alex Christian has been in the industry for 20 years (11 of them at Savills). He’s now a director in Savills’ London Private Office and focuses on buyers looking to spend ‘usually north of £20 million’. ‘The market’s been dire since Osborne put up stamp duty and implemented capital gains tax and inheritance tax for foreigners – we lost the foreign buyers overnight,’ he says. ‘But post-Brexit, with the fall in the value of the pound, they’re starting to come back.’ Christian says that with low levels of stock at the top end of the market, people who previously would only look in Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia will now go further afield in the search for the perfect home.
Shaun Drummond has been at Harrods Estates for almost 20 years. Now its London residential sales director, he oversees four offices: Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Kensington and Mayfair. This breadth of coverage gives him a rare insight into the trends driving London’s super-prime market, and he notes that while Kensington and Chelsea remain the stalwarts for domestic buyers, international clients gravitate towards Knightsbridge and Mayfair. Drummond and his team can provide a wealth of additional services, such as interpreters, interior design services, property management, and even chartering an Air Harrods helicopter to view potential properties.
‘Who else has got four children [out of six] working for them, and a daughter-in-law?’ says Alan Russell, who has indeed created something of a dynasty since starting Russell Simpson in 1979. ‘My wife heads up our lettings department – so it’s very much a family business. But we never fight, we’ve never had an argument, and we all have a similar work ethic, so it works well.’ Russell admits that the market’s been fragile: ‘We’ve done pretty well, considering. Each sale is an achievement in this market.’ He sees the drop in prices in prime central London as an opportunity rather than a setback, with new overseas buyers arriving all the time.
Ross Ward’s company, a pioneer in property consultancy, is all about rock ’n’ roll. Pereds has helped the likes of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin (all friends of founder Perry Press) find and sell discreet homes. ‘ Our US P is us, really,’ Ward has said. These days Ward deals mostly with entrepreneurs. He still helps rock stars, but not many display wealth the way the rock aristocracy did in the Sixties. ‘They’re just not rich enough!’ he laughs. Finding ‘decent’ houses is increasingly difficult, he says – the stagnant market is ‘the new normal’. At the very top end, however, prices haven’t dropped much: ‘I don’t mind a larger gap forming between the very best and the rest.’
Self-confessed ‘property geek’ Geoff Wilford has been working in the prime central London market since 1999. He is increasingly focusing on £10 million-plus properties for both buyers and sellers, and often off-market. A standout recent transaction was buying a £7 million home in Portland Road, Holland Park – valued at £2,000 per square foot, which Wilford believes ‘was a record for the road’. His advice is honest and clear: ‘Buyers have probably another six to 12 months where it’s likely to be a market that’s in their favour, and I think they should take advantage of that.’ Wilford predicts that March 2019 will be a turning point when the market bounces back.
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‘Yet another year of challenge in the property world,’ Nigel Bishop says of 2017. ‘There’s still this hesitancy, this lack of real commitment, [caused by] the slightest sort of wobble in the news or the stock market.’ Bishop often has to remind clients that ‘it’s more important to go forward in life’. It’s what 45 years in the industry have taught him. ‘It might be ten years before it’s really better, in which time you put your life on hold [otherwise].’ Many buyers are young people moving away from London but still wanting the ‘café culture’ in the countryside, he says. ‘Accessibility is hugely important – they don’t want to spend their weekends cutting grass and mending fences.’
With 20 years’ experience and living in the middle of his patch, Adam Buxton is well placed to advise his clients. The stone farm and manor houses of the Cotswolds remain popular, as do properties in northern Oxfordshire. ‘A good family house with an appropriate amount of land, perhaps with an annex or cottage, is always sought after,’ he says. He has also recently dug out several ‘marker houses’ for clients. Buxton’s clients range from young professionals moving out of London with families to HNWs seeking a country retreat. His former experience as a land agent helps when buying estates and shoots, and he recently bought a grouse moor for a client.
Stuart Cole started out selling ‘pretty cottages and farmhouses in Cornwall’; now he represents some of the finest super-prime homes outside London. How was 2017 for him? ‘The first six months were tough,’ he tells us. ‘However as the market adjusted to SDLT and Brexit negotiations developed, sales picked up and the resilience of the main estates of St George’s Hill and Wentworth meant a busy end to the year.’ That, and the fact that the market ‘has come off in real terms by about 30 per cent for overseas buyers’, is creating optimism. ‘It does feel like the bottom has been called or we are bumping along the bottom,’ adds Cole, who is also a Knight Frank ambassador for China.
‘I like a challenge,’ agricultural savant Philip Harvey tells Spear’s, as he speaks of one of his greatest successes: buying Nyetimber CEO Eric Heerema’s first vineyard. The mandate was initially difficult: ‘I couldn’t find any, it was so frustrating.’ But he persisted, approached songwriter Andy Hill, former owner of the fizz brand, and completed the purchase after ‘a year of battling’. ‘Since then I’ve been helping [Heerema] grow the vineyard into the major operation it is today,’ he says. ‘All my clients agree that they can’t get rid of me. I’d hate it if a client ever built a swimming pool, extended the house or wanted to buy the land next door and didn’t ask me for my advice.’
‘A poor market is a good time for quality to shine,’ says Alex Newall, managing director and founder of Barnes Private Office. ‘The bottom of the cycle is a great time to invest for the mid-term.’ And he is worth listening to: he has an impressive record in advising affluent individuals in prime central London and Surrey. He sold £70 million-plus of property in 2017 and had £42 million under offer by the end of January 2018. Newall purveys ‘a boutique approach with an international network of 70 offices’, which he says represents the ‘best of both worlds’. When not spending time with his family, he loves shooting and racing.
We ask Jess Simpson why she left Strutt & Parker to set up her own gig, to which she replies that independence is ‘a really hot topic’ in the industry. This is due to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ new guideline, which is putting ‘very strong restrictions’ on agencies who buy and sell at the same time. ‘It gives independent buying agencies like me a real opportunity,’ she says. Advising sophisticated buyers now needs more finesse: ‘It seems like people’s requirements and their wishes are becoming more extreme and diverse, along with their wealth.’ Some whimsical demands include wanting land for ‘growing truffles, rearing camels and building treehouses’.
Peers praise Stuart Baldock for his ‘unparalleled knowledge of the market’ and ‘excellent negotiation’. He acts for British-based and international buyers investing in second or third properties in Paris, St Tropez and the Alps. A recent memorable property was an ‘olive growing estate in Provence which began as a farmhouse and was restored over the years’. He says he’s ‘enthusiastic about the next 12 months because France seems to be in such a good place’ and speaks highly of Paris, where French buyers have boosted the market and contributed to rising prices. ‘Everyone knows what they can get out of Paris – it’s a romantic city, with wide beautiful boulevards where people spend a lot of the time sitting on the pavement having a glass of wine, and that’s a lifestyle choice,’ he says. Since the Brexit vote, clients are now more inclined to take their time with a purchase […]
Few feel the pulse of global wealth like David Forbes, who possesses perhaps the most enviable contacts book in world property (having more than 600 offices with 30,000 people in 60-plus countries at your fingertips can’t hurt). His sales days may be behind him – but that didn’t stop him generating £1.8 billion in opportunities for Savills in 2017. The head of its Private Office, Forbes acts as a single point of contact to UHNWs in their quest for ‘exceptional’ real estate – be it an island off the coast of Africa or a polo estate in Argentina. ‘You have to be a complete chameleon, doing what I do,’ he tells Spear’s. ‘You have to be as comfortable dealing with an old duchess in Tuscany or someone from the music industry in St Tropez or someone from the film business in Los Angeles and New York. You have to tune […]
International UHNWs looking to buy or sell property in Europe could do worse than speak to Mark Harvey. He is responsible for Knight Frank’s European sales business, managing its dedicated international London team and overseeing the ‘smooth functioning’ of its pan-European network, specifically involving the sale and purchase of prime residential homes across France and Spain. ‘After a wave of populist results, it was a relief to see Mr Macron’s victory having such a positive influence on European sentiment,’ Harvey previously told Spear’s. As Brexit plays out, he says, an increasing number of clients are looking to re-adjust their position to reflect the new world order. ‘After several years of softening prices, we are seeing a marked return of the UHNW to the secondary homes market,’ he says. ‘As the world becomes ever smaller and better connected, it is all the more impressive to witness first-hand the extraordinary breadth of […]
For Sarah Conway, MTG’s head of real estate, recent work includes advising on transactions valued at over £10 million. ‘That’s where we found there was value for money for international buyers with the currency play helping them,’ she explains. Conway knows all too well that property is highly personal. ‘You can buy the biggest buildings and it’s all on a commercial base – nobody will have any emotion about it. But the CEO of a company who decides to buy his beautiful apartment or beautiful house? It’s an emotional thing.’ She works closely with private wealth colleagues when property matters intertwine with tax, trust and family governance issues.
From the ‘Middle Eastern prince and princess’ and London-bound billionaires to ‘traders and investors buying buildings from overseas’, Ian Cooke is your global go-to. ‘I love the breadth of UHNW clients we see day-in and day-out,’ he says. ‘The insights, opinions and approaches to deals from these individuals make life interesting and enjoyable – certainly never dull but sometimes rather full-on!’ Cooke has seen a ‘very significant’ cash surge into London from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Turkey. Brexit hasn’t deterred them as they ‘operate on a global stage and see Brexit-related currency advantages in moving funds into sterling assets’.
‘We did the two biggest estate purchases last year,’ reveals Simon Pring, a partner at Farrer’s since 1995. ‘Both exchanged on the same day, which was rather nice – about 10 per cent of the UK land market for the year.’ Pring advises on development opportunities, diversification and intergenerational tax planning. The work is challenging as ‘it depends on where you are, what you can do, what’s economically viable – it’s all about geographic location’. He has expertise in mineral exploitation and highlights recent work on the Sirius Minerals potash mine in Yorkshire. ‘That’s a fascinating, massive project and does show that we can do really big things in this country,’ he says.
‘We’re seeing lots of high-value tenancy agreements for individual houses or apartments,’ Michael Ranson says – a result of SDLT, Brexit and some international people not wanting to take a long-term view about buying. Ranson also advises on country property, recent work including ‘really sizeable country deals’. ‘Once people fall in love with a house and estate and commit to it, they tend to really commit to it… in a way that maybe in London they don’t do so much at the moment,’ he says. A peer highlights how Ranson explains ‘incredibly technical detail with a deft touch, tailored perfectly’. His practice also extends to real estate disputes.
For Henry Stuart, a highlight of the past year was working on an acquisition of ‘what one agent described as the most perfect house in London – and was priced accordingly, north of £60 million’. He notes that properties around £25-30 million are the sort of values transacting, though perhaps not the values sellers would have hoped for two or three years ago. ‘But they’re still going on and there is activity in that market, although perhaps not the volume we’ve seen in the past,’ he adds. Head of real estate at Withers since 1991, Stuart says his work interlinks with international tax, English wills and citizenship issues. The link between property and family law is also strong.
‘I love doing the deals,’ says Sonal Thakrar. The past six months have been ‘brutally busy’ for her and her team: ‘We got more than our fair share of the market in terms of the high-value transactions’. The head of Mishcon’s residential property group says her work often involves multiple jurisdictions or particularly complex structuring. She has recently worked on several SPV deals: ‘We simplify the transaction because we do not need to overlawyer or overload it.’ With a peer describing her as a ‘dynamite conveyancer and hugely energetic’, it may or may not come as a surprise to learn that she’s also a yoga teacher – yoga is a ‘massive’ part of her life.