Gary Hersham on mega-deals, expansion plans & the future of luxury real estate

INTERVIEW: A titan of the super-prime scene, Gary Hersham has been brokering mega-deals for the last four decades – and remains the first port of call for many of the world’s wealthiest househunters. PrimeResi caught up with the enigmatic Beauchamp Estates boss to discuss expansion plans, breaking records and how the coronavirus has been changing aspirations in the luxury real estate market…

A titan of the super-prime scene, Gary Hersham has been brokering mega-deals for the last four decades – and remains the first port of call for many of the world’s wealthiest househunters. PrimeResi caught up with the enigmatic Beauchamp Estates boss to discuss expansion plans, breaking records and how the coronavirus has been changing aspirations in the luxury real estate market…

  • You founded Beauchamp Estates over 40 years ago; what keeps you motivated?

    Hersham celebrated four decades in business in 2019 with a retrospective of Beauchamp Estates’ biggest deals

Drive and a fundamental dislike of losing a potential deal: whatever the issue, I will always seek to find a solution and bring it over the line.

Wherever I am in the world I make it my business to see what the latest product in the market is – whether that be Miami, LA, New York, London, Paris, South of France, Athens, Italy.

  • You have brokered some of the most high-profile sales around the world during that time; do you have a personal favourite, or one that holds a unique significance?

I have had the opportunity to be part of some amazing deals, visit some of the most stunning homes across the world and have become friends with some truly inspiring and influential people.

Though spoilt for choice, the story of my acquisition of Britannic House West will always stay with me.

I first heard about it from MSN, who came to discuss two residential towers of 600,000 square feet. ‘Gary’ he said, ‘you’re a good agent – why don’t you find me an investor who will buy Britannic House West, and by that I mean put up all the equity, and allow me to be the developer, on the basis that I get 50% of the uplift in value?’

I was introduced to the chairman of EIE, a Japanese company, and it was clear that they wanted a trophy asset, an image of which could be hung on their boardroom wall. As I understood what they were looking for, my presentation on the purchase of Britannic House was approved and I was told not simply to negotiate the acquisition but not to lose the asset.

I arrange to meet Paul Gattrel Head of Property at BP and the steering committee in charge of the sale of this asset.  ‘You’re too late’ were his words. ‘We are processing offers as we speak.’

On my return to my Cadogan Street offices I had a brain wave. Why not ask EIE to send BP a non refundable deposit of £1m simply to get them to the table? If terms were to be agreed, that deposit would form part of the purchase price. If they were not, BP could keep the £1m in any event. EIE said this is an excellent idea but we just want to refine it and give you £2m to pass to BP.

We completed the purchase of Britannic House West some six weeks later for a figure to the order of £200m. Certainly the single biggest property sale of the time

We completed the purchase of Britannic House West some six weeks later for a figure to the order of £200m. Certainly the single biggest property sale of the time.

Britannic House West may be my most memorable transaction but not my most unusual instruction. That distinction goes to record producer Trevor Horn, who asked Beauchamp Estates to find a buyer for the legendary SARM Recording studio equipment; consoles, booths and panels, where the original Band AID recording was made. The visitors’ book read like a who’s who of the recording industry; The Rolling Stones, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, The Eagles, Cher, Queen, George Michael, Genesis, Bob Marley, Barry Manilow, Seal, The Pet Shop Boys, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Gary Barlow, Olly Murs, Robbie Williams, Rihanna and One Direction!

  • How does the Coronavirus crisis compare to previous challenges faced by the luxury market, and what lasting effects do you think it will have on the sector?

    Beauchamp Estates’ offices on Curzon Street

The London property market has seen downturns previously: the oil shock in the 70s, and more latterly the financial crisis of 2008 – on every occasion the UK and endured. While Coronavirus is an attack on an individual’s well being and health, its impact is also economic: you can’t put a price on your health.

Covid-19 has changed aspirations in the luxury market, prior to which large lateral apartments were the most desirable, now we are seeing a resurgence of the demand for houses with gardens, and properties that offer entry points and amenities that are contactless. Hotels, such as London’s Tree House Hotel in Marylebone, are already exploring the use of mobile phone apps that will allow guests to reserve, check in, open their room door and control everything in the room, order room service, check out and settle their bill, all from their mobile phone.

The longer lasting effects will be a demand for anti-viral and Covid-safe environments, both in regard to design and application of technology: contactless entry and exit of properties, air filtration system, passive house grade windows and doors, all helping to provide a secure and safe environment.

  • Has the pandemic forced or prompted you to make any changes to your business model – the adoption of new technologies, for instance – that will endure beyond lockdown?

Beauchamp Estates has been using virtual viewing technologies for quite sometime, driven initially by the fact that many clients are either split between multiple homes and/or travelling for work.

Prior to Covid-19 virtual viewings were offered on selected properties, now this is standard for all and something which most certainly will be part of any buying/letting process beyond lockdown.

Beauchamp Estates initially offers applicants virtual viewings and then a physical viewing: all done in accordance the Covid safe procedures.

Viewings are not the only aspect of property purchase and sale to have benefitted from technology since lockdown, with valuations and legal completions also being undertaken electronically, which has greatly improved the process.

  • Your clients have included captains of industry, political figures and celebrities; what is the key to gaining the trust of high-profile individuals, in your experience?

While Ultra High Net Worth individuals may live a life quite removed from the majority of people, they too have preferences, likes, dislikes and things they want to do and achieve. In working with them it is important to appreciate and be mindful of their particular position, preferences, sensitivities and situation.

Firstly, UHNWs are usually short on time as they have full schedules with a wide range of people placing demands on their time: from business colleagues and potential collaborators, to charities and family members, all calling for time and attention. While their time may be short, they will expect and require flexibility on scheduling from others. 

The very wealthy are able to buy things on a whim, responding immediately to new needs they have just discovered, turning their perception of what they want into immediate reality

They may have no immediate need, but this can change at any moment, so any time shared with them should not be wasted and is an opportunity to build a relationship and show them the latest and newest relevant instructions.  I have had calls from clients on a Sunday, stating that they have no interest in buying anything, but that they have 30 minutes free later that day and can I show them something: I have made the time, shown three properties and on occasion made the sale. The very wealthy are able to buy things on a whim, responding immediately to new needs they have just discovered, turning their perception of what they want into immediate reality.

Regardless of how little or how much time you are afforded with a client, even in the absence of a brief, the key is to make effective use of it: know your market, be available, be flexible, be subtle, be deferential but never obsequious and always remember they are in the driving seat.

  • Beauchamp Estates has just opened a second office in France; do you have any plans to expand the network further?

Yes.

Following office openings in Tel Aviv and St Tropez Beauchamp Estates is looking to extend its network in areas relevant to our client base and are considering additional locations in the Cote d’Azur, Greek Islands and Portugal: Beauchamp Estates has always desired a USA West Cost office, and a partner in South America and Asia.

  • What makes a great sales or lettings negotiator?

Market knowledge, client empathy, flexibility, patience, determination,persistence and stamina.

  • Your recent successes have included the sales of Villa Les Cèdres and 2-8a Rutland Gate – two extraordinary properties that made international headlines and set new records; how do you value something with zero comparables?

Global market knowledge, both in respect of ultra prime and unique properties and an understanding of its value to a potential buyer.

2-8a Rutland Gate sold for a record-breaking £200m earlier this year
  • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Never miss an opportunity to meet or be introduced to a person. Once the moment has passed the same opportunity will not present itself again.

  • You’ve been involved in some of the most high-profile new development launches in the capital; which current or forthcoming schemes have the potential to set new benchmarks?

New Development Schemes can impact the market in a number of ways including the creation of new ‘destination’ addresses and set new benchmarks for standards of finish – both in terms of interiors and tech.

Queen Anne’s Gate has set a new benchmark in London for luxury residences, as the first residential scheme with interiors by Linley. The exceptional new homes are set behind a historic original façade, created by one of Britain’s most celebrated building dynasties.

Islington Square has also set a new benchmark for mixed-use schemes of scale, creating a desirable destination address in a part of Islington that was previously not seen as such.

Shortly coming to market in Knightsbridge are two very different, but equally desirable schemes: Lowndes Square, an exclusive development of five super luxury residences, interior designed by 1508, with underground parking and Beaufort Gardens, a collection of nine perfect pied a terres, town houses, lateral apartments and a stunning duplex penthouse with large terrace.

Queen Anne’s Gate
  • Beauchamp Estates has been called on to provide insight and data as part of the Bank of England’s advisory panel; are there any particular policies you would like to see changed in order to improve how the prime property market functions?

The impact of Covid-19 has demonstrated clearly how more transactional based processes can be undertaken electronically – this is something which should continue to be explored and deployed, easing the process for buyer and vendor.

Unquestionably the pandemic has wrought a significant impact on the UK’s economy, which will need to regain lost ground in the coming months and years: a key driving force and barometer of success will be the UK’s property market. For this reason the prevailing punitive Stamp Duty Land Tax regime should be reviewed and used to encourage inward investment, not deter it.

  • We’re likely to see some significant tax increases to help pay for the costs of the pandemic; what would you do with property and wealth taxes if you were Chancellor?

There needs to be careful consideration of direct domestic/resident tax policy versus non-domicile and prevailing indirect tax regimes as the UK moves forward post Covid and post Brexit; if we wish to prosper the UK will need a dynamic and equitable regime.

  • Given an unlimited budget, which particular property (UK or overseas) would you personally buy tomorrow, if it came up for sale?

I would very much like to buy a spectacular traditional home by the sea, a ‘pied a l’eau’, in Italy – ideally by the Ligurian Sea. Ideally this would be set in several hectares of land, where my wife can have a vegetable garden and orchard, but the house has to be state of the art internally, with swimming pool, large terrace and tennis court.