'We have always wanted to create the best independent, boutique agency in PCL': PrimeResi meets Alex Bourne & Richard Douglas of London House

By PrimeResi Editor

'We have broken records in almost every part of Prime Central London over the last few months'

The super-prime specialists behind “people and lifestyle-centric” boutique agency London House discuss the realities of building a new property brand, overcoming market uncertainty, and their recent run of record-breaking deals…

Douglas (L) & Bourne (R) were previously directors at top-end PCL agency Beauchamp Estates

Your firm launched in 2020 and has since completed some big-ticket sales and lettings in areas like Notting Hill, Regent’s Park and Marylebone; how would you describe current conditions at the top-end of the market, and are there any specific areas of PCL you are expecting to outperform in the coming years?

Prime Central London has always had a universal appeal and for the most part bucks most trends, so it won’t be surprising to know that we have continued to do fantastic business at the top end of the market for both sales and lettings. We have had a significant number of buyers coming from overseas saving almost 20% on the exchange rate which has helped maintain the prices at this top end of the market. We have broken records in almost every part of Prime Central London over the last few months despite the negative stories in the press.

We have broken records in almost every part of Prime Central London over the last few months

You have amassed nearly a quarter of a billion in resi sales between you; in your experience, what key skills or attributes do top property brokers tend to share?

The best of the best are creative and the only word to use to describe them is that they are all ‘operators.’ The agents doing the most business are not always the ones talking about it. The London Market reflects our culture and will always have an element of discretion to it unlike other markets around the world where the culture is more extroverted. It is essential to build a strong network and become more of a property detective than a high street estate agent.

Can you talk us through the recent rebrand; what prompted the refresh, and who are you looking to target with the new look and feel?

We have built a business on building strong long-lasting relationships and we wanted to build a brand that reflects that. As agents we are marketeers, and our job is to present our clients properties in the best possible way and there is no uniform way to achieve that as every property, client and buyer is different. We wanted to build a brand that felt friendly and had a touch of class.

What are your ambitions for the firm over the next five years?

We have always wanted to create the best independent, boutique agency in Prime Central London connecting our clients and buyers with the best people in the industry. A one stop shop for all your Prime Central London requirements if you will. We have never wanted to build the next large corporate estate agency. You’re only as good as your weakest link so growing too large and watering down the experience of dealing with us has never been something we have aspired to do. We hope in five years time to continue to offer the best property service for our clients.

Which have been the most seismic market shifts in your careers, and how do the events of the last two years compare?

The 2008 crash was without the question the toughest market we worked through and taught us so much. The most amazing thing was how quickly the market recovered. More recently Brexit was challenging. Any kind of uncertainty can be tricky but the more experienced you become as an agent and more importantly if you are able to build strong long lasting relationships with both clients and buyers then any difficult period can be successfully navigated. Agents are notorious for overpaying for their personal properties because we know that you can never go wrong buying in Prime Central London in the long run.

Agents are notorious for overpaying for their personal properties because we know that you can never go wrong buying in Prime Central London in the long run

The business of estate agency is shifting, embracing new technologies and adapting to new regulations. Which have been the biggest changes that you’ve seen, and do you have any predictions for the future of estate agency?

The biggest change to the Prime Central London market other than social media is the shift towards brokerships and collaboration with other industry experts. There are a lot of good operators out there who can set up on their own but not everyone wants the headache of running their own business. However, it is very difficult to create business from a standing start so working in partnerships offering marketing solutions and support staff is the way agency is going.

People want their own voice and identity, so you won’t be able to find the best operators working for the large corporates anymore.

How important are property portals, such as Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket, to the prime and super-prime market? What proportion of your instructions are off-market?

Everyone loves to window shop and if you are looking to buy a property in Prime Central London you will likely find your way to one of the main property portals. However, at the very top end of the market properties are bought and sold via trusted advisors whether that be an agent, search agent or intermediary.

Having an agent with a strong trusted network is essential to unearthing the most exclusive properties. Being at the heart of the Prime Central London market allows us access to 99% of the off-market instructions. There is rarely a property that we do not have access to.

One of the agency’s instructions on Harley Street, Marylebone

How much of a role does social media play in your marketing campaigns? Do particular channels tend to achieve better results?

Social media and the ability for agents to self-publicise properties to an ever-increasing audience has changed the dynamic of the sector. It’s shone a light on a previously very private world, giving consumers a view into some of the world’s most exclusive and expensive homes. It’s relevance and importance increase daily. Instagram as well as platforms such as Pinterest and LinkedIn are now stalwart tools in our marketing mix, whilst it’s not for us as agency, early adopters and certainly those working in the mass-market are also readily using TikTok.

The critical thing with social media is to ensure it befits the brand, it’s not reflective of London House and our values to be present on some channels, Instagram works well for us, it’s a gallery of our successes, properties and allows us to algorithmically target neighbourhoods and wealth demographics, which previously was an expensive and laborious process. There’s a democratising nature to social media in that it enables agencies of all lineages to reach and expand on its target audiences globally.

I would say, though we’ve not had a cold sale (someone we’ve never spoken or liaised with before) directly from social media, it’s been a contributor to our publicising our properties, particularly to international audiences.

Which new developments have you been particularly impressed by in the last few years? And which forthcoming projects should we be keeping an eye on?

The new development scene in London keeps expanding and evolving. London’s heavily benefited from the branded residential movement that started over a decade ago now. It’s rare for a new hotel to launch in the capital without a residential component to it, which has driven up standards across the board. We also seem to be seeing the conversion of real cultural landmarks, which is exciting.

The Old War Office, Battersea Power Station and Regent’s Crescent all being fantastic examples of listed and landmark buildings being given a new life. We’re looking forward to seeing The Glebe, as well as seeing what REDD does with One Palace Green and K10, Kam Babaee with Doughty House in Richmond. On the branded residential front, hard to miss that The Peninsula and its residences will be launching this year.

One Palace Green in Kensington

A significant number of top agents have left the corporate world behind to start-up their own US-style brokerage operations lately; do you see this trend continuing and is it a good thing for the sector – and also buyers and vendors?

We touched on this briefly earlier, but it’s definitely something that is happening in the London market, and we’ll see more of in 2023. Yes, in general it’s a good thing as traditional agency structures, particularly at the larger agencies is extremely rigid and fixed. We’re living in a more creative and flexible age and the workplace should reflect this, brokerage models allow a degree of entrepreneurship for everyone involved and naturally they mean a larger slice of the reward for a job well done.

That said, greater governance is needed, like with anything you need a level of quality control as not every agent approaches agency with the same level of care and attention. We are not a showy society so we personally believe the best in the business take into account the necessary discretion required to operate at the very top level.

Younger buyers, particularly from the tech sector, are increasingly making waves in the PCL market; what are the new generation of elite buyers looking for, and how do their purchasing habits differ? Are you seeing any other notable trends at play in the prime market right now?

Culture and more culture, they want to feel part of a village and a community. The 15-minute city could not be truer for the next generation, they want their social and work life within easy reach. We’re seeing an increasing list of clients seeking a high street location with a high density of independent shops and hospitality, they want to shop small and feel local.

Electric charging and sustainable business design is also factoring, which is something we’re expecting to see on request lists more in 2023-4. The younger generation is driving a change, whether it be enquiring about Passivhaus or greener energy sources (mainly ground source heat pumps).

I would say on the whole that clients are moving away from hotel-like homes, they want their homes to feel like a home and are seeking this in both the fabric of the property and the interior design.

The younger generation is driving a change

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Be kind – always.

Further Reading

Former Beauchamp duo launch new luxury estate agency (May 2021)