The head of Savills’ super-prime lettings division discusses how demands are changing amongst high net worth tenants, the oft-overlooked PCL neighbourhood primed for growth, and achieving success in the world of top-end property…
What are the key trends you are seeing at the upper end of London’s rental market right now? And what long-term effects do you think the pandemic will have on the sector?
I think one of the biggest conversation topics we have had with tenants in the past year has been ‘can I walk to work or walk my children to school from here?’ Generally people have always wanted that sense of neighbourhood living but the ability to stay on foot rather than using public transport or driving is something that is definitely more apparent since the start of the pandemic.
People have really missed being able to travel and many of our clients will have previously tended to spend time in various cities around the world…Once international travel is permitted again, I do think they will make the most of a change in scenery and type of property they choose to live in
One of the great things about renting is that people can have a bit of fun with it – it’s such a great aspect of our job. This can mean taking a penthouse in a vibrant part of London or moving to a completely new part of town and getting to know a new area. People have really missed being able to travel and many of our clients will have previously tended to spend time in various cities around the world. Once international travel is permitted again, I do think they will make the most of a change in scenery and type of property they choose to live in.
But in some senses – the general requirements of tenants haven’t particularly changed. For example, in terms of the desirability of certain property types, I wouldn’t say we’ve seen more people wanting either a flat or house. We’re seemingly spoilt in that there will always be a range of people in the market, too.
Generally most people will want a lease of 2+ years though and the vast majority will expect properties that are furnished. What I would say is that interiors are where we have seen changes in the last few years – people do expect high quality furnishings, fixtures and fittings, similar to that of a 5* hotel but with a homely feel. Landlords have definitely taken notice of this, even down to things like scooter storage for kids and dog showers.
International tenants play a key role in the PCL lettings market; what are you predicting for the market when Covid travel restrictions ease?
A lot of the conversations we are having with clients at the moment are around how much they are looking forward to coming back into London and living the lifestyle here again.
Once international travel is permitted, I’d expect we will see an even bigger spike in activity. This means we may well see a high number of UHNW’s all searching for a property at the same time. My advice to landlords is that they should start looking at getting properties ready now – it’ll be key to be ‘match fit’ for when people start to arrive in London.
Obviously given the level of the market that we operate in, we do deal with off-market properties regularly. I would recommend to anyone on the hunt in London to get in touch with agents in order to go through these – an online search may not show you half of what is potentially out there. We’re already doing transactions from late summer and even October.
What impact – if any – has Brexit had on demand from overseas?
It was certainly something international tenants raised in the past but now, it’s not tending to play a part in people’s decisions to move here. We’re so lucky to have a wonderful education system and London’s schools are some of the finest – it really is such a driver in many people’s relocation to London/the UK .
Talk of Brexit might change once we return to more ‘normal’ trading conditions but most clients tend to see London as a key global city to live and work in.
Mayfair in particular has seen a slew of super-prime developments in recent years, including No.1 Grosvenor Square and the Four Seasons Residences; which forthcoming PCL schemes are you most looking forward to seeing?
Over the past few years, it has been fascinating to see these flagship developments come to the fore – all of them world-class and each with its own selling point, style and personality. As well as those on Grosvenor Square, you also have Chelsea Barracks, Holland Park Villas and some other really exciting build-to-rent products.
Ultimately, they all have something very special and unique about them which will appeal to different types of tenants or buyers. For some, they want that full scale offering while others prefer a boutique development – whatever their choices, they’ll end up living in somewhere where every single thing has been thought about.
It is near impossible to pick one – all have their own merits and it really is a privilege to be involved in such phenomenal developments.
Much has been made of the ‘race for space’ over the last year; which are the most popular PCL neighbourhoods for HNW tenants right now, and has this changed in recent years? Do you have any tips on areas to watch?
Kensington, Notting Hill and Holland Park are places that I get asked about almost daily – they’re such classic, leafy village neighbourhoods so it isn’t much of a surprise that they are so popular, particularly because the schooling in the area is extremely good, too. We are actually seeing such high demand that tenants are needing to act very quickly to secure something – this leads back to my previous point about speaking to your agent early.
We also get lots of people interested in living in Belgravia, Chelsea and South Kensington. These are again, such wonderful areas of London – giving one that village feel, while also being in the thick of it for the social experiences London brings.
You really can’t have a bad time in Mayfair
Then of course Mayfair is top of the list for many. It has such a range of properties and it’s so close to some of the best shopping, members clubs and restaurants, making it such a perfect base. As I always say, you really can’t have a bad time in Mayfair.
In terms of areas to watch – W2 is definitely somewhere we’re keeping an eye on. It’s a location that doesn’t get talked about as much but it’s on the north section of Hyde Park, Mayfair is close by and it does have quite a neighbourhood feel too around Connaught Village. I’d say that could be ‘one to watch’ – again, you’ve got properties that will appeal to different audiences and it’s accessible to lots of other destinations easily; Knightsbridge, Regent’s Park and Marylebone, for example.
If you could make one policy change to improve the lettings process for tenants and/or landlords, what would that be?
Ultimately legislation is in place for good reason but speaking as a dog owner and knowing how many clients want to bring their pets with them, it would be good to see more landlords open to letting their property to a tenant who has pets. We are getting an increasing number of enquiries through from people and they can find it a struggle to get somewhere suitable. Although not a policy change, I think it would make a real difference if more landlords were happy to do this – they can make adaptations to their properties and also put clauses in place if need be.
Your team has grown significantly in recent years; how hard is it to find and retain top talent at the moment?
It all comes down to culture and if someone is a good fit. It’s what is at the heart of our team growth and it’s so important that someone coming in shares the same values and ethos as us. We are privileged to be dealing with some exceptional clients so we have to be trustworthy and discreet at all times. Ultimately you only want to do that recruit once – and then encourage and support the career progression of that individual so you do want to get it right.
Which key skills and qualities are required to become a top fee earner in the PCL lettings market?
I’m a firm believer that you just have to play things with a straight bat. I really do feel that if you do the basics well, you are an honest person, don’t cut corners and always do things in the correct format, you will definitely see fruits of your labour. Plus you have to have a client first attitude – this is essential.
If you demonstrate these things, you can do exceptionally well.
Which is the best property you have ever let?
I couldn’t pick just one – it’s too hard.
Turning this question on its head – I’d say that the best transactions are the ones where you are working with a client and you have some form of set back – maybe missing out on a bidding war or something similar.
99.9% of the time, everything works out as it’s supposed to (I am a fatalist – you have to be in this job)
I would say that 99.9% of the time, everything works out as it’s supposed to (I am a fatalist – you have to be in this job). It’s only natural that people put their heart into any transaction – we all imagine life in a new property before we have even got there so it’s always special when someone is settled after a bit of a twist and turn along the way. It’s a great feeling to hand over the keys and know how much it means to the tenant moving in.
You are part of the Savills Private Office, acting as the key contact for super-prime lettings; how does this service differ from the traditional agency offering, and what are the key benefits for HNWIs?
The objective of the Savills Private Office is to provide a 365 degree service across the business – it means that when someone comes to us with one or several property requirements, they have access to our global team of real estate specialists via a single point of contact. It’s all about opening up different facets of the business while making it easy and straightforward for the client. It’s a discreet offering and wonderful to be part of.