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The Secret Agent

June 10, 2011 10:01 pm

A rain cloud over Belgravia

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My real work starts as I set out looking for a new property – fortunately I’m an optimist

It’s a universal truth that whatever your budget, it’s never quite enough. At the moment we have various searches on, ranging from a pied à terre for £2.5m to a bachelor pad for £5m, a family house for £10m and various oligarchs/sheikhs looking in the £30m-£50m region. They’re all proving tricky to find – though we’re inching closer on two of the searches. Some of what we do is what I call “management expectation” – helping clients understand what their budget will get and luring them to the appropriate area/size/condition accordingly. Our real work then starts as we set out finding the property – fortunately I’m an optimist by nature. That’s part of the job, though – you want someone to be realistically positive: it should, after all, be a pleasurable adventure looking for a new property.

Historically, a £5m-plus search was enough to satisfy “the hunter” but no longer as stock dries up and prices rise. Yes, we’ve seen a good Belgravia flat for our bachelor – it’s laterally converted over two buildings, with two bedroom suites, a study, double reception room and kitchen but there’s no outside space, and it’s on a relatively busy road. For close to £6m I think our client is justified in wanting a bit more of “wow” factor. It’s a nice (my friend Louise despises it when I use that word for she feels it damns by faint praise) flat and will suit someone but it doesn’t have that something, that je ne sais quoi.

Equally, when you see the right thing you have to move. “Gird your loins and prepare to jump in when you fall for something,” I want to tell my clients from the outset. But I have to be careful as even if this is sometimes the right advice I can’t be perceived as a “pusher” – that’s not what people want. We’re there to encourage when the right property appears and prevent over-paying and highlight overlooked flaws if an irrational coup de foudre has occurred.

I found the perfect family house for one client that cost £9m – situated in a white stucco street in South Kensington equipped with everything such a house demands: gracious master suite, first floor drawing room, staff bedroom, children’s hang-out room, three upper-floor bedrooms and family kitchen. It was compromised by a tiny north-facing garden but it was immaculate and well proportioned. I was the first to view it – my client booked an appointment to see it 48 hours later but within 24 hours it had an offer over the asking price and was taken off the market. Even in these fevered times that was a shock. If I’d have known I would have gone to collect my client by car immediately, though she was saved an inevitable bidding war.

. . .

It was relatively recently that – much like the Linda Evangelista quote of 1990, when she told Vogue that she and her fellow supermodels “don’t wake up for less than $10,000 per day” – my business partner and I concluded that we didn’t undertake searches for less than £2m. We do have Boy Wonder (the third arm of the search team) to undertake budget requirements. We concluded it better to be the master of your market-sphere rather than spread your knowledge and contacts too thinly.

Inevitably, serendipity has to play its part in the olishiekharch (my generic word for oligarchs and sheikhs) search, as such clients are only in London for four to six weeks a year and during that time they have packed diaries – shopping and more shopping – and house sales occur on a whim. I had a deal fall apart recently as it started to rain while we were in a Belgravia mansion – they were about to offer the asking price but decided the house too wet, as if London’s rain clouds particularly targeted that street, forsaking all others. It was hard to argue with that logic.

There has been one notable exception to financial constraints in my property dealings and that was a man in his early twenties – funded by his parents – who ended up spending more than £50m for a house. I questioned the price and scale of the house with his parents – for he lives alone and, yes, is in his TWENTIES. They looked at me somewhat blankly, as if to question, “Why wouldn’t we be spending that?”

I said to them: “Where does he go from here? He’s 22 and you’ve bought him one of the best houses in London.”

“He goes to the best house,” his mother responded quite simply. I concluded not to spend any more time arguing myself out of a commission.

secretagent@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/secretagent

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