Interview: Savills' Co-Heads of Prime Central London discuss evolving markets & savvy clients

By PrimeResi Journal

Six months after stepping up to become co-heads of Prime Central London for Savills, Phillippa Dalby-WelshClaire Reynolds talk to PrimeResi about savvy clients, Superbrands, evolving markets, and what makes a prime location stand out

Phillippa Dalby-Welsh & Claire Reynolds are co-heads of Prime Central London Residential at Savills, responsible for running sales and lettings teams across PCL from their respective bases in Fulham (Dalby-Welsh, covering Bishop’s Park, Chelsea, Earl’s Court, Fulham, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Notting Hill and Sloane Street) and Marylebone (Reynolds, covering Hampstead, Primrose Hill, Maida Vale, St John’s Wood, Westminster, Mayfair and Marylebone).

The duo stepped up in January 2019 as part of a reshuffle of Savills’ prime London operation, which also saw the creation of new dedicated super-prime team, and the consolidation of residential agency and residential development sales.

Savills’ Prime Central London chiefs. Left-to-right: Jonathan Hewlett, Head of London Residential; Claire Reynolds, Head of PCL (North); Phillippa Dalby-Welsh, Head of PCL (West); Richard Gutteridge, Director, PCL

You both joined Savills fresh out of university in 2005, and were promoted to jointly head-up the Prime Central London operation at the start of 2019. What are the key changes that you’ve seen to the property market, and to the business of estate agency in that time?

Phillippa Dalby-Welsh

Philly: When I joined our Fulham office in 2005, London was well and truly on the up. Over the next two years growth was exponential in terms of house prices, pace and the sheer scale of demand. Demand drove the deals and often we were simply rushed off our feet. Of course it’s a different story today but one one of the main changes we’ve experienced as agents is developing an intrinsic understanding of the political landscape. Our clients are savvy and they’re well informed; they come to us having undertaken a wealth of research and that keeps us on our toes – we need to have such a forensic knowledge of the market and its influences to be able to best inform them. 

The property market is ever evolving and the industry continues to advance – it’s definitely exciting to be part of that.

Claire Reynolds


Claire: I started out in Esher, one of our Surrey offices, and while the job was fast-paced and challenging, it wasn’t what it is now. I’d undertaken work experience there for a couple of summers beforehand and that’s what really gave me the bug and confirmed that I wanted a career in property. Back then there was such high demand for properties that you’d take in an enquiry, show someone round a house, they’d offer and the transaction process would then kick in. It sounds simple but our skill was in handling the speed of the market and the heat of competition.  Several years later, the global financial crisis happened and everything turned on its head. It was a fascinating learning curve and the best way to develop a career in estate agency. The housing market changed from then on – we really had to hone our negotiation skills and build bespoke strategies for each sale. But it’s not just the housing market – the mortgage market has changed as well and we’ve seen how that’s affected things; buyers’ have had access to cheaper borrowing but there’s been tighter stress testing, too.  And one other thing that’s certainly changed is the increased science on price – before we didn’t fixate so much on £psf, but now it’s one of the fundamentals for us.

Savills has significantly expanded its “prime core” London residential business of late, and now claims to have the largest operation in the capital focused on this sector of the market. Given the challenging market conditions, what’s the thinking behind such expansion when others are pulling back?

Philly: Our London residential business has evolved tremendously over the years – we now have 40 offices across the capital and significant market share in the prime sector. For some time there has been a focus on pushing into the wider markets across London and that’s something that certainly fits in with Savills wider strategy, which is about operating in the key locations where our clients want and need us to be. As a business, we look to support clients throughout their entire property life cycle and developing our offering across all price ranges means we are in a position to be able to do that.  In a relatively short amount of time, the business has grown both in terms of people and coverage and it’s exciting to see that all develop. 

Savills was once again named as the top real estate brand in 2019’s “Superbrands” list (for the 13th time in row). How important is the agency’s big brand recognition and identity when it comes to winning new instructions?

Claire: It’s phenomenal to be part of a business which is recognised as a Superbrand, especially for 13 years running, and it’s something we are very proud of. Every day we are committed to providing our clients with a quality service and to be seen by them as being reliable in what we do. We want our clients to trust us, and for them to truly feel that we are the experts to help sell their home. A badge like this can certainly get us that initial call but then it’s down to us as individuals to win the pitch and demonstrate why we are the right team for the job. But additionally it’s not just about clients, it helps bring in new colleagues too who want to work for the best in the industry and develop their career here.

Claire, you were instrumental in opening Savills’ Marylebone office in 2013 – just as the area became one of the coolest locations on the planet, led by the opening of Chiltern Firehouse and the launch of The Chilterns by Galliard. And Philippa, you’re now overseeing the Notting Hill patch – which has been out-performing the rest of PCL by some margin in the last couple of years. What’s the secret sauce that makes one location out-perform its neighbours? 

Claire: What’s been amazing about Marylebone is the influence of the Howard de Walden estate which has heavily invested in making it what it is today. They have cultivated the area to create such a great village atmosphere,  the high street has a brilliant selection of hand-picked shops and restaurants and they’ve really thought about what works and what people want in their day to day lives. Marylebone does have all the right ingredients to it, too – it’s sandwiched between Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, some of the world’s leading universities are close-by, it has brilliant transport links across London, the country and to Europe too with the Eurostar. So it’s not become super cool by chance but the lifestyle offering has made it a place where people want to live and spend their time. And then the new developments, they’ve helped put Marylebone on the global map and what’s really quite astonishing is how it now rivals some other prime areas in London that have been established for a lot longer. Over the last five years, it’s been a bit of a star performer – while prices have come down by 19% across PCL and 23% in Mayfair, in Marylebone we’ve experienced smaller falls at around 7%. Then looking at a £psf basis, Marylebone offers better value, too, at £1,600 compared to PCL’s £1,800 and Mayfair at £2,300. 

“There’s two things that can make a location stand out against its neighbours; whether it delivers value and the type of housing stock it has”

Philly: And speaking more generally across London, there’s two things that can make a location stand out against its neighbours; whether it delivers value and the type of housing stock it has. Obviously Marylebone is a great example of the former and then when it comes to housing stock, it’s really interesting how that can follow consumer trends. In some markets, there could be huge demand for people wanting lateral living space or investment properties, in others you have people wanting long-term family homes. Having a diversity of housing stock can ensure appeal  throughout trend periods and across market conditions. So that’s where places like Notting Hill and Kensington came come into their own, because they have that diversity on offer.  

Which areas of London are you tipping for the next market renaissance?

“Buyers now are a lot more footloose and open to cross-capital moves, especially if they can see the difference it’ll make to their life”

Claire: One of the brilliant things about working at Savills is seeing our business move into and grow in new areas. While nothing new, if you look west, you have places like Ealing and Acton which with Crossrail on stream will transform, both in terms of their accessibility and their local offering. The prospect of being able to get into central London in a little over ten minutes and the City in under twenty, now that is incredibly exciting and almost life-changing for parents who want to be able to get home to see their kids after work. The fact that the housing stock is rounded too with Victorian and Edwardian properties as well as new-builds means there is life cycle property there if people want to stay in the area. And in the same vein, if you look east there’s neighbourhoods like Victoria Park and Hackney which are considered to offer relative value when compared to similar London locations. The fact that they’re in the shadow of the City, have a good local scene and period properties make them serious contenders to people that hadn’t previously considered these spots to live. Buyers now are a lot more footloose and open to cross-capital moves, especially if they can see the difference it’ll make to their life.

Philly: Coming back into prime central London, with price falls over the last five years even a traditional location like Chelsea looks like relative value now and that’s led to demand. Given that prices there have corrected more than the PCL average, according to our prime index, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen some re-focussing on the area.  

Pundits have been calling the bottom of the market in PCL since early 2017; what’s your view on the sales and lettings market in the coming year, and what longer-term effects do you think Brexit will have?

Philly: From a sales perspective, what we’ve seen from the first quarter of the year is that the prime market held up reasonably well – certainly the rate of price falls have slowed. According to our research, average values are down around 11.9% across London compared to their 2014 peak and what’s that meant for buyers is that they are recognising that prime London is looking like relatively good value. And then looking to some of the pricier postcodes, there’s a sense that the market could be at or close to the bottom. As ever, what’s traded well is attractive stock that is sensibly priced but we’ve definitely felt that over the last few months the gap between buyer and seller expectations has narrowed and that has translated to deals being agreed. 

Although prices are stabilising, Brexit uncertainty inevitably continues to be a factor for buyers and sellers. Encouragingly across London new buyer registrations are up significantly; some of those are trading if they need and want to move while others are simply taking a ‘wait and see’ approach until there’s more clarity. We’d expect that once there is, the demand we’ve seen coming in will culminate in an uptick in transactions. 

How important is social media for you when marketing a property for sale or rent? Which channels get the best results (if any)?

As a business social media has become a vital tool for us, for many reasons.  Within the context of selling and letting property, it’s now very much part of the wider marketing mix for Savills. We constantly think about the touch points we have to engage with clients and what we’ve found is that when it comes to social media, people use it in their personal lives and there is an expectation that the brands and businesses they interact with and use should be active on social media, too.

“Instagram provides the perfect way for our current and would be clients to see the properties that we have on the market, at a time that suits them”

Ultimately, one of the principle ways we use it is to be able to raise awareness and highlight the properties that we are instructed to sell or let. And in a relatively short amount of time we’ve made some real in roads, particularly on Instagram which is the channel we see resonate the most with our client base. We now have over 50k followers but that’s a number that continues to grow –  the team heavily invests time and resource into curating the feed and it’s cultivated a strong following. When we look at the stats, it’s clear that Instagram drives a significant amount of traffic to our website listings but not only that, it generates enquiries and interest in our instructions from people, too. Instagram provides the perfect way for our current and would be clients to see the properties that we have on the market, at a time that suits them. And with people’s busy lives, that’s really important. 

What makes a great high-value sales agent, in your opinion?

Philly: There’s definitely a number of components that come in to play here. Certainly, one of them is having access to the broadest range of potential buyers and clients. It’s fantastic to be able to take a property on and know that you have several buyers who it could work for, particularly at the top-level where there is a smaller pool of purchasers. That’s definitely where our global network comes into its own as well; building internal relationships could ultimately lead to the buyer who simply wouldn’t have come up otherwise. You also need to think laterally about opportunities and be pro-active when it comes to preparing a property for market. That could mean researching the street a property sits on so that you know all the ins and outs of the hyper local market and be in a position to advise accordingly.  

Claire: And to add to that, expertise and knowledge, a deep understanding of market, good listening skills, great attention to detail and service standards are also some of the fundamentals. Being an excellent negotiator and being able build a rapport with clients is so important. 

Roughly what proportion of PCL buyers would you say are represented by buying agents, and has this changed in recent years?

Claire: Certainly for buyers’ searching across the golden postcodes and some of the more traditional prime addresses, it could be as high as 60 to 80%. Over the last few years, there has been a rise in the number of buying agents operating across London – there’s many established and experienced ones out there who we have built long-term relationships with. 

What are the biggest mistakes that property vendors make when dealing in the PCL market?

“There’s only one opportunity to launch a property so taking the time to consider the strategy is essential”

Claire: Getting the pricing right is just so key when it comes to achieving the right premium, especially given current market conditions. There’s only one opportunity to launch a property so taking the time to consider the strategy is essential; sometimes a vendor may well fall short on seeing that wider picture. Having a sensibly set launch price will help create competition and in turn, buyer confidence and it’s that which will help produce the best possible end results for the seller.  Along with what we know about the patches we operate in, our research department puts out some phenomenal reports about what the market is doing and this is such a valuable resource and tool to educate our clients with. 

And what about the mistakes that buyers make?

Philly: If there was one thing which can happen quite frequently, it’s buyers’ deliberating too long on a property. Sometimes they’ll decide to hold off on making an offer until someone else has, and they may well then find themselves in a competitive bids situation which could unravel beyond the level they’d initially intended to park themselves at. If a buyer sees something they like, it ticks the boxes both of heart of head then they shouldn’t hasten to make an offer, otherwise they could well find themselves missing out on their dream home. 

Where would you buy a home now, given a super-prime-sized budget?

Claire: If I could pick anywhere to live in London, it’d have to be Little Venice. I love its garden squares and the village feel,  the white stucco architecture is beautiful and there’s a real community vibe too which for me is important in a place to live. And with my estate agency hat on, Little Venice offers better value for money than some of its neighbours, too, so still has a way to go in terms of growth. 

Philly: What’s so special about London is our green spaces, even in the heart of the capital. So, if it were me, I’d choose Holland Park. You get leafiness on the doorstep and brilliant independents nearby for day-to-day. It’s a family friendly place to live and of course, the properties there are incredible. But I could quite easily choose somewhere with iconic status, that’s listed or perhaps a new landmark – so perhaps Chelsea Barracks which is set to be a world-class place to live. There’s definitely something in the rarity value, a property that will stand the test of time and remain interesting and the wonderful thing about London is that there’s some brilliant examples of that all over.  

Phillippa Dalby-Welsh Co-Head of Prime Central London, Residential
  • 191 New King’s Road, London, SW6 4SW
  • +44 (0) 20 7731 9414
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Claire Reynolds Co-Head of Prime Central London, Residential
  • 22 Devonshire Street, London, W1G 6PF
  • +44 (0) 20 3527 0401
  • LinkedIn