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The Secret Agent

June 3, 2011 10:02 pm

Too candid – and on camera

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Being on television is not always the best way to advertise one’s professional services

“It does seem expensive,” my client said. And it’s true: the 3,000 sq ft stucco-fronted house at £8m is – but the market remains absurdly buoyant. I’ve had to learn to get over my own horror at the cost of property in London – how does anyone apart from an uber-financier or oligarch afford anything?

The truth is there are parallel markets in operation. London shifts as new areas are colonised by professional families in their thirties – Acton to the west, Hackney to the east, Brixton to the south and Highbury to the north. One generation ago these were not enviable places to live; now they are subject to gentrification.

The traditional exclusive areas of London – Mayfair, Belgravia, Chelsea, Kensington and Holland Park – are so highly priced that you’ve needed either to have inherited or made a fortune to buy there. I remember when the £1,000 per sq ft benchmark became acceptable for special properties in around 2001 – agents collectively inhaled with astonishment.

Now, just a decade later, One Hyde Park goes for £6,000 per sq ft and a bog-standard house in Chelsea or Kensington warrants £2,000 per sq ft. As I warn my client, there doesn’t seem to be any slowing-down.

London remains a truly enticing place to live. People may moan about the climate, but it’s moderate. In London, a liberal progressive society is much in evidence; it’s rich in culture, history, fine dining and entertainment; there’s ethnic diversity; the parks; the architecture; the tax advantages given to non-domiciled residents; the fact that it is the financial centre of Europe and perhaps the western world; the geographical ease of getting around the globe – whether to the former Soviet Union or the Arab world.

You can see why anyone, having made their first fortune, would choose London as a place to live or at least have a residence. And there are ever more new fortunes in the world. It is worrying, as the schism between the very wealthy and poverty-stricken grows, dividing the world in a way that can only see us career towards a global implosion of sorts – but those thoughts are not for this column.

A former client comes to mind – one who came via this column and has subsequently become a good friend – who bought her flat at (we thought) the top of the market some 18 months ago. It’s a lovely pied-à-terre, full of charm, with views of greenery and grand ceilings – but only one bedroom. I realised that the value of the flat would now be up at least 15 per cent if she sold it today. I keep this in mind when advising my current client for it proves that every time we think we’ve reached a peak, we have not.

. . .

I’ve been thinking of my clients past and present, as a television production company is badgering us to make a series of reality TV programmes – though they are framing it as a very classy reportage-type affair.

I’ve always said no to television in the past. Once exposed, there’s no going back and, despite one former client now filming her own fly-on-the-wall programme, the majority of my clients turn their back to the camera. The persuasive flattery that the company has employed has allowed the dialogue to continue: “We’ve come to you as you’re known to have the greatest integrity in the London prime market ... we want to show that there are decent people working in the property industry ... you and your work partner are both so attractive, the nation will fall in love with you.” At this point what had been persuasion turned to sycophancy. I concluded what we would have done anyway: to say no.

Yet I did chuckle to myself as I walked around a house with a client the next day and imagined us being filmed.

“I must have a room for massage,” he said as we perused a Georgian villa. “Have you ever had ... ” he paused, for he has a slight stammer, and so, presuming that the next word was “massage”, I responded with a “yes”. The next word but one was indeed “massage” – but preceding it was the word “tantric”.

“Oh good,” he said, and proceeded to lecture me in graphic detail (his stammer having now disappeared) on the techniques used and how they aroused his sensory pleasures. I found it somewhat interesting but realised that the sales agent was looking on in stunned horror. I thought of a camera crew catching us engrossed in a conversation of erogenous zones. Perhaps it was not the best way to advertise one’s professional services – at least not of the property kind.

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