To stay atop London’s prime property market for thirty years requires a certain tenacity and success – and a vacuum-cleaner-like quality. ‘I was at a drinks party,’ co-founder Charlie Ellingworth tells Spear’s, ‘and I heard someone say, “I’m getting somebody to do a Property Vision service for me,” and I realised it’s like saying it’s a Hoover.’
(Presumably he means that Property Vision have now become a byword for prime London property finding, rather than that they have aped Hoover’s suction skills, though clearly a certain sticking power helps.)
Beginning as a two-man start-up (Peter Mackie was the other founder), the company has come to define property buying services over three decades in which London’s economy has changed as much as its skyline. The chatty anniversary press release that landed on Spear’s desk detailed a landscape in 1984 where ‘any office you rented had to have a telephone line already installed as the waiting list for a new one was a year. A mobile looked like a suitcase and the M25 wasn’t built.’ It also noted that the astronomic rise in property values between 1984 and 2014 was the inflationary equivalent of ‘paying £80 for a chicken in Waitrose and just under £10 for a litre of petrol’.
What has distinguished Property Vision is its non-sales-commission-based approach. ‘The reason we don’t do it [take commission from sellers] is because we work for the buyer. You have to make sure you align all your incentives: when you’re on commission, you’re under pressure to do sales, and we have to always be able to say to the client: “Don’t do this deal, it’s a bad deal.”
‘There’s an enlightened self-interest there: people are so amazed that someone is telling them not to do something that they’ll always come back. Virtue tends to be rewarded.’
The plan was simple: ‘The only clever thing we ever did’ was ‘give people a really good service and charge them accordingly.’ That dedication to service and client interaction comes across in Property Vision’s staff of polymaths rather than pink-tied robots and The Apprentice rejects.
Ellingworth himself is a published author, ‘Silent Night’ having been longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, and his team also boasts a former florist, an Irish grouse patron and an ex-tank commander. ‘We hire people for their attitude not for their knowledge. You can get knowledge but you’ve either got that work ethic, the servant’s heart, or you haven’t.’ The success of this belief is that the majority of their business now comes through past clients.
(He contrasts Property Vision with ‘cuckoo in the nest’ Foxtons – ‘We’re the polar opposite’ – for his emphasis on service over theirs on commission-taking.)
On the current fashion for empty houses as foreign-owned assets, Ellingworth says: ‘It’s disastrous for London and I totally disagree with Boris Johnson, I think he’s wrong. To have stuff bought and not lived in is bad all round. What’s the point? Why are we selling our souls for that?’
With a potential property bubble floating in the ether Ellingworth is fully aware ‘that if interest rates double from here, which is still not anywhere near normal, then it’s difficult to justify [current prices]. You want to worry when people say property only ever goes up – it doesn’t.’