Online brands: a word from our peers ()
We’ve spent the last few months assessing the various factors at play in what is a challenging property market for buyers, sellers, agents and investors alike. With multiple concerns such as the global recovery from the financial meltdown in 2008, the onerous levels of stamp duty payable since late 2014, and the barely believable chaos since the referendum was announced in 2015 and Brexit confirmed in 2016, the market has been on the ropes and suffering. However in the past two to three years another factor has been at play in disrupting the once so reliable waters of UK property. Online agents have been the talk of the town. Sky-high share prices for brands such as Purple Bricks and Emoov have seen new challenges to traditional offerings. We asked four of our closest colleagues in the industry what they thought of the online agency phenomenon, and what the real trends are as the hubris dies down:
Marc Wiehe of Winkworth:
Online brands – they are not agents, they are brands – are proposing a subscription model and hardly anything else. They have individuals or very small teams covering vast areas of the housing market, leaving many clients feeling deserted in their hour of need, whereas traditional agencies have highly concentrated clusters of advisors providing critical analysis and focused local expertise. For online brands it’s all about winning the subscription fee – the registration – and that’s usually where the service finishes. The inexperienced seller is then left on their own to navigate their sale and deal with their potential buyer and often the chain breaks down because of this, causing further frustration in an already difficult market. It is confusing for sellers across the board, and I’d be interested to know the truth about how instrumental the online brands have been in making a slow market into a stagnant market. You can point at the crisis, you can point at stamp duty, and you can point at Brexit, but what about this new factor where sellers are suddenly asking if the ‘online revolution’ will enable them to save thousands on fees? This is a dream world. The real issue is that there are no cohesive industry standards. Proper regulation, where online brands would have to be 100% transparent about how many properties they are actually successfully selling, is the only way to protect consumers from the kind of claims being made. Until this happens, or until the industry rallies together against nefarious business practices that fleece young families of their cash, consumers will keep dreaming about a free lunch and that will continue to have a flattening effect on the market.
Bertie Russell of Russell Simpson:
As an agency whose reputation is built on repeat business and word of mouth we have never had a shop front in our 40 years of business. In keeping with modern terminology, this means we have been a ‘hybrid agency’, using both online and traditional techniques, since the dawn of the internet, which we started using some time ago to market our services and our client’s homes, and to develop our business. It is nothing new! I suspect the online property brands that survive will eventually become hybrid agencies of sorts. In my opinion online agencies have perfected the art of marketing themselves to customers without necessarily having the customer’s needs at the core of their objectives. Online agencies create their revenue through a subscription model with most charging their fee on listing rather than on sale which disincentives the company or individual from completing the main objective of selling the property. At Russell Simpson, we believe that in order to complete this goal successfully we require a full team of well trained and knowledgeable people to carry out the traditional tasks of valuation, marketing, viewing, negotiation, managing the transaction and in most cases assisting the buyer and seller alike through a complex process which usually is highly unfamiliar and emotionally testing. At present digital agencies are offering a fee at a cost of 5-10% of traditional costs but they are also offering a service that is 90-95% less effective with an enormous quantity of sellers being left with unsold properties resulting in the ultimate goal not being achieved. The customer’s needs must be placed at the centre of the equation. Online agencies have underestimated the emotional connotations around buying a home, particularly surrounding higher value property transactions. These are not simply financial or legal transactions and they never will be. Because of this we believe people will remain at the core of residential property, while updating their skill set and knowledge with digital technologies to improve the service for the customer.
Karim Bazzi of Homes One:
We see online property brands as being in start-up phase. They don’t know what they are here to do yet. They think they are agents but they’re not, they simply don’t have the manpower, experience or expertise… in the end, I suspect online property brands and traditional agents will merge and create a new hybrid model that has both dynamic technology and substantial teams of experts as standard. At present I suspect the onliners are selling very little real estate in central London, and perhaps only at the bottom end of the market. This is sad as consumers are presented with a very different story, and it is often young families working on tight budgets who are affected most. Paying £1000 to an online brand is pretty steep if they don’t actually sell your home. I believe it is better to get the result you want and then pay a commission… what needs to change is that technology could potentially remove a lot of the work involved, if there were proper, cohesive regulations and industry standards. This could reduce the price of commissions as the administrative load would be less and the process could be quicker. However I still believe that above a certain level, experts are needed to help buy and sell homes, as the price points fall into the once-in-a-lifetime categories. And no one wants to compromise such a significant investment. At present we are seeing hubris, and vastly inflated share prices of these online brands that are based on paying listing subscriptions rather than actual performance. Once people realize that it may well be worth paying 1 -2% for an expert we will see a return to the previous model, or a new solution emerge which consolidates the tech brands with the traditional. Either way I embrace any change within the context of integrity and transparency… and I suspect the online property revolution has someway to go with both.
At NVP we have always believed in traditional values, and as our website shows we rate handshakes over clicks any day. We also believe that online property brands are not online agents. Agents provide very tangible savings and expertise to their clients, especially in the mid-top tiers of the market, and the difference we make to people’s experience of the home-buying and home-selling processes can be life changing. Online brands are not providing this service. They are positioning themselves as doing the same, however the reality is they are playing a very different game to us – a different sport in fact. They advertise homes, but they don’t market and sell homes, at least not intensively which is what is required to compete. The media has not quite realized this yet, and when they do the narrative will shift and people looking to buy or sell their home will realize that they want a) less work to do not more, and more importantly b) the difference an agent makes can put five figure sums in their back pockets… and sometimes six or seven, and all for a small percentage of the deal value. Small teams of property experts cannot cover vast areas of the market like some online brands are claiming – rather medium to large teams are needed in order to comprehensively cover small locales. We can’t see technology changing that, at least not in our lifetime. When this much is at stake, people want to know that they are working with people, rather than data-driven robots with no grasp of emotional intelligence. Buying a home is an emotive thing as much as it is financial, and for these reasons you cannot discount real experience and expertise. Alongside all this we embrace technology, as it works arm in arm with the unique service and rapport our team has with our customers. It is here to support the provision of expertise and value, not to replace it.
Dear Friend ()
We began February by moving into our new offices, just along Montpelier Street towards Harrods, in the heart of Knightsbridge.
It’s an exciting move and expansion for us, and comfortably in time for our busiest season of the year, spring (although late Autumn gives it a run for its money these days).
The new office has a palpable sense of energy and enthusiasm to it, and the deal sheet is alive with activity.
Even though the market is officially still flat, things feel decidedly different to this time last year… here’s our thinking, with more detail on why this is happening, and a bit of history and heritage to our developing brand and business:
Bridging the gap:
We mentioned at the end of last year that our intention as a business is to bridge the gap between buyer and seller, and provide similar levels of service to both, due to the current nature of the value chain. Our intentions to build bridges go further back however, and with our recent acquisition of 32 year-old Hobart Slater estate agency, we have taken on an even deeper Knightsbridge heritage.
Originally, this area of London was a series of fields that connected the villages of Chelsea and Kensington, between which the now re-diverted Westbourne River flowed. Knights-bridge was called thus because of the bridge across the river between the base of the Serpentine at Hyde Park and Sloane Square (you can see the re-diversion clearly from the platform at Sloane Square tube station – a feat of Victorian engineering that remained undamaged throughout the blitz in WW2 – even with the rest of the station being destroyed, this subterranean aqueduct stood firm, the water continuing to flow).
Much legend surrounds the bridge itself. In 1148 Queen Maud is rumoured to have met to on the bridge with the citizens of London, to answer their frustrations. And what is more permanent in history is George II’s wife Queen Caroline’s intervention in 1730 to damn the river just north of Knightsbridge, creating the Serpentine, and preceding the major works of diversion in the Victoria era.
It is said that knights would use the bridge as they came to London before leaving for the crusades, to seek a blessing from the Bishop of Fulham. As ‘knight’ has also long been a terms for ‘local lad’ however, the veracity of this strand of the story cannot be verified. And of course when launching our business, after attending school in the area followed by two decades of property specialisation here, we took great care not to position ourselves in such questionable ways!
The bridge we provide these days is between buyer and seller, market to market, cycle to cycle and locale to locale. We are indeed a nexus between these different areas of the Royal Borough, and our specialties of Chelsea, Kensington and of course Knightsbridge, set us aside from the competition.
Our tips for thriving in 2018:
Succeeding in high end property this year is about three things: pricing correctly, immaculate presentation and truly proactive and open communication between buyer and seller.
With continued high levels of political uncertainty and jittery markets, property as a whole is likely to remain flat. We have not had such a plateau since 2009-2011, and common sense says it is a time to hold and trust in natural forces. The cycle is unfolding, and with clarity around Brexit forthcoming, and Trump’s White House tenancy careering out of control towards the halfway point, consumer and investor confidence will return at some stage.
Reinforcing that, the importance of taking the macro view is essential in areas of low pressure like the one we are in. In a long game, it’s important to remember that the market has not gone backwards, there has been no crash, and even in the worst of times back in 2009, prices did not collapse. Rather people these days just hold on to what they’ve got.
There is no point in creating more work than is necessary. In a market such as this, take time to consolidate and reflect, and plan for resurgence in the economy. At NVP we have done this by buying one of our competitors, investing in a new team and premises, increasing the levels of mindfulness we bring to servicing clients, and being more thorough than ever with our pipeline.
The scourge of such times is failing to harvest low hanging fruit.
Diversification is key. We have worked hard to secure a more even portfolio of interests, commensurate with the changing requirements of our clients. As we blogged last year, renting is a way of life for many, even in super prime areas. Long term hi-quality lettings have never been more popular, for clients who recognise the vanishing gains of yesteryear make buying less mandatory than it used to be. In our acquisition of Hobart Slater, NVP now has the definitive balance between both sales and lettings, for all dimensions of the hi-end market.
Our recent blogs:
From now until the end of March our fee down to 1.5%, for sole agency instructions!
Come and say hello.
Much like the original bridge, we are a meeting point for people in this area of London to access truly high end property intelligence, swap stories, and trade in some of the world’s most exclusive properties.
We’d love to see you soon.
Nic & Patrick
T: 020 7581 8277
New Address, New Era ()
We still have a little more building work to be done but are delighted to announce that we are now in our new premises at 6-8 Montpelier Street, just along from our former office in Knightsbridge, having acquired the prestigious Hobart Slater agency.
Robert Hobart and Roger Slater have been a pleasure to work with, the transition could not have gone more smoothly, and their expertise will always be welcome.
So we now have a bigger team, more properties on our books and a smart new office; not a bad way to begin the year. We do hope you will stop by to say hello soon.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh, from Nicolas Van Patrick ()
In the expanding NVP team we have at least three wise men!
With the season in mind, and looking ahead at 2018, we gathered those minds around the walnut in Montpelier Street to see what we had to offer you, in terms of festive cheer.
There are three main points for investors to be aware of… so you might say this is our gold, frankincense and myrrh:
The £40bn trigger
The sense that at the very least we have a divorce agreement from the EU is easing fears of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Added to this Tory rebels have now insisted on having a final vote on the bill, helping to ensure that Theresa May is making headway towards an agreeably diluted deal – one that is unlike anything we originally feared. This is great for London property, maybe not in the immediate term while the details are still uncertain, but certainly in the mid-long term, and perhaps before the end of 2018. Obviously the pivotal trade talks are yet to come, however we have noticed a late-year rally as the divorce bill was finally settled, and everyone can see that effectively we are headed for a super-soft Brexit, which will not be too far apart from our super-soft membership… We are going from being a member who never really joined, to a leaver who never really left! This is putting minds at rest. With an agreed divorce settlement, and trade talks allowing, what has been avoided are the two worst-case scenarios: the ‘no-deal’ Brexit and the ‘hard’ Brexit. There has always been a sense that with greater partnership Brexit could be navigable from a business perspective, and thankfully it looks like that partnership may be achievable.
The cheap pound is swaying international buyers off the fence and into action. And while the above news about Brexit should see sterling recover to its true value (that’s providing Bitcoin doesn’t take over the world), you could say this is unlikely for at least the next six-nine months, while uncertainty over the exact details of Brexit remains. What this means is, together with the plateau in prices we have seen since the general election, that anything up to a 5-10% uplift can be had for those converting foreign currency. And while the very top of the market is robust, deals are available properties in the £3-5m price band, due to the length of the plateau we are in. Combined with weak sterling it’s not uncommon for us to see the best deals being done in a decade. It takes a savvy client to take advantage of such opportunities, however with the right advice there are deals to be done.
The Saudi Wave
We are experiencing a wave of interest from the middle-east and especially Saudi Arabia, largely due to the political unrest that is currently playing out across the region. With many of the Saudi’s ruling elite currently under lock and key at the Ritz Carlton, reportedly being asked to hand majority shareholdings to the state, there is an unprecedented climate of uncertainty in what was once the most stable economy in the region. Added to which the new crown prince is rumored to have spent £300m on a palace near Versailles, £500m on a yacht and £450m on a da Vinci… And all since the summer, while preaching austerity!). Many Saudis already have London homes, and even with Brexit threatening the UK’s own stability, London looks more attractive than ever to the middle-eastern buyer… Added to this, NVP is based in the heart of Knightsbridge, just opposite Harrods, and as such we are partners of choice for some of the biggest deals being done in the area. We have seen viewings from middle-eastern buyers spike in recent months and we offer a welcoming, experienced hand to anyone who is threatened by political upheaval, and keen to invest in a safe and secure foothold, in central London.
We’ll be in touch again in early 2018, and between now and then we wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a healthy and prosperous turn of the year.
Nicolas Van Patrick acquires Knightsbridge perennial Hobart Slater ()
Montpelier Street based Nicolas Van Patrick (NVP) have purchased Hobart Slater, one of the original two Estate Agents who specialised in the Knightsbridge area.
NVP have acquired both the business and premises, and in doing so added one of London’s most well-established property brands, together with a team of four agents who will double the size of the NVP team.
Having exchanged contracts on the final day in October, the deal will complete on 31 January 2018.
Says Nic Pejacsevich, one half of the NVP directorship:
‘This is the result of conversations between the NVP team and Hobart Slater, about things we all respect and cherish and want to see cultivated in London property. It is the culmination of an ongoing friendship and knowledge transfer between our businesses in which we have unparalleled local knowledge and market penetration.’
Continues fellow NVP director Patrick Alvarado:
‘Independent agencies are rarely bought without losing their independence. However in this case we have the chance to not only conserve the independence of both businesses, but also enable NVP to take a quantum leap, purchasing well over three decades of experience in London’s prime residential sector. Not bad for an agency established in 2014.’
The outgoing directors, Robert Hobart and Roger Slater, will be welcome in the business moving forwards at their own discretion.
Jointly they comment:
‘It’s a pleasure to sell our business to NVP. The team there enjoy what they do as much as we always have and that’s important to us. We’ve watched NVP grow from our neighbouring headquarters and we feel sure we are handing the Knightsbridge property torch on to the right people. Plus, as we are friends we will drop in from time to time to show them we’ve still got it.’
Pejascevich goes on:
‘The preservation of traditional values is important to us. We believe at this end of the market property is about handshakes not clicks, and it will necessarily remain so as family offices become more involved in private wealth management. This type of client needs real due diligence, collaborative intelligence, and partnership throughout the acquisition process. We are here to ensure they get exactly that, and to carry on with our intention to build quality bridges between buyers and sellers.’
The acquisition will more than double the capacity of NVP’s lettings and management department, as well as significantly expanding the core business of sales.
The new business will be fully formed from February 1st, with NVP moving down Montpelier Street towards Harrods, into the larger and fully revamped long-term Hobart Slater premises. Between now and then the transitioning businesses will he known as ‘NVP in association with Hobart Slater’, before integrating fully into the NVP brand when appropriate.
The cook, the maid, the porter… The boardroom. ()
To say the lines are blurring these days is an understatement.
Anyone who has risen through the ranks of society now has multiple levels of complex representation around them.
Let’s just call it what it is – an entourage!
And September is the month they all return to London after time away in the sun.
We’ve had knocks on the door in the past few weeks from a cook and a porter (introducing themselves as ‘family office’!) and a chauffeur and a maid (‘buyers agents’!).
These guys are not shy and they are absolutely aware of their value in the buying chain. They are especially fond of a fresh coffee around the NVP walnut as we try and crack a deal!
But enough of their diva demands – we’re not complaining…
(We just can’t resist a dig at our good friends in the property search game – everyone is in it these days!)
Of course we would never question the validity of some of our professional search partners, or the family offices who work on our clients behalf.
Some buying agents are pros. They save their clients significant sums and are paid handsomely for it, with fees coming in well under their savings. The prudence of professional wealth managers in the family office preserves similar value for our clients.
And while the nanny, the chef and the bodyguard will always urge the buyer (their boss!) that the right time to buy is ‘IMMEDIATELY!’, at NVP we pride ourselves on advising clients that the time to buy is whenever a confluence of factors converge.
Often the best advice is wait, and an anxious middleman seldom risks his payout on such caution.
Yet these relatively new buying roles – whether pro or amateur – are in themselves a part of the entourage phenomenon.
Everyone is in business for themselves these days and everyone wants value.
Deliver that and you can have your day in the sun.
In London property the spirit of free enterprise is in full swing.
The people who think on their feet as well as keep an ear to the ground rise quickest.
We always enjoy making arrangements with such individuals and the opportunities they represent.
The NVP door is always open.
NVP round up:
- The continued fall of sterling could benefit the UK market, giving international buyers who are on the fence a reason to jump in (although there are signs of slight recovery this week we believe it may fall further over the mid-term).
- August was unusually busy here, which is upsetting for two guys with Mediterranean roots! We had 50 viewings on one £8m property alone, we are transacting regularly and the top end of the market is buoyant (we did three separate sales in one Knightsbridge building over the summer).
- Triple A stock is still going up. We know locally of two adjacent flats being bought to make one £140m flat (btw if you only have £4m we can get you 800sq ft in the same building! … share of freehold and illustrious neighbours included).
- Interest rates are still on the floor so borrowing is easy for super-prime clients. Our feeling is that hi-end customers these days are immune to socio-economic fluctuations and in the game more than ever before.
- A west end development is currently being sold off-plan at a record-breaking 7k per sq ft. It helps to link with a four seasons hotel and offer prospective residents access to room service.
Read our latest blogs here:
- Transformations in residential property: http://nicolasvanpatrick.com/
- NVP Unplugged: http://nicolasvanpatrick.com/
- Buyers ascendant: http://nicolasvanpatrick.com/
- New and cool in K&C: http://nicolasvanpatrick.com/
To celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit among the various entourages that orbit NVP on a daily basis we are offering a super-generous offer for one month only:
Our fee down from 2.5% to 1.75%, from 12th October – 12th November!
Considering how many of you are on the payroll these days we really are pushing the boat out here 🙂
There is never a bad time to buy property in London, especially with the long-term view in mind. Yet that doesn’t mean we can’t choose our moments.
Buyers are more scarce (and as such more important) than ever before in the acquisition chain, and often the best way in is through the entourage.
Call us or drop in for the best coffee in Knightsbridge anytime.
Your chef probably already has.
NVP: the ascendancy of the buyer ()
We are going to stick our necks out and say something radical: the most important person in London property is no longer the seller.
It’s the buyer.
Don’t get us wrong, we know who our clients are. Selling property on behalf of the seller is what pays our bills.
But it’s in our client’s best interest that we treat buyers like gold dust.
To say there are more sellers than buyers at the moment would be an understatement of epic proportions. And for the time being at least, it looks like this is the new normal.
This gives the buyer a certain status – one that they haven’t enjoyed in as long as we can remember.
The buyer is going up the value chain, fast.
In effect it means that NVP has two types of client.
We have to be nice to everyone these days!
Seriously though, our job is to bridge the gap.
What are the reasons for the ascendancy of buyers?
Supply outstripping demand
It used to be seller and agent on one side of the river, and buyers on the other, frantically waving to get our attention. These days, with fewer transactions happening, a rise in premium lettings, and such an abundance of product, that equation is different. We have to be humble enough to cross the river and see the buyer ourselves. We have to build bridges that last.
As we have mentioned in previous blogs, long-termism is on the rise, and people are holding on to their homes for ten years or more. With pipelines down 50% on two years ago, today’s buyer is tomorrow’s client, and people always remember their home-buying experience in crystal-clear detail. As such we treat buyers in the same way we do our clients, without losing sight of our contractual obligations. As a result, the days of gazumping (where the seller accepts a higher late offer, prior to exchanging contracts) in London’s prime residential property market, are increasingly rare. When there is little supply and lots of demand, gazumping is much more common, and today the opposite is true.
Indeed, with more bargaining power in the hands of the buyer, sellers are far more likely to be ‘gazundered’ – where the buyer lowers their offer, prior to exchange, on the basis of new information from surveyors’ evaluations. This means the buyer at the very least shares control with the seller. It’s a new development in residential property and as such estate agents like ourselves are operating in a greater advisory capacity than ever. The user experience has to be optimal all the way through, for both sides, if we want to thrive in this new landscape.
Our role is to bridge, and ensure both sides are supported in meeting in the middle. It’s all about win/win.
Political fear is rife
Added to these changing dynamics, buyers are nervous about the economic and political climate. For the first time since the late ‘70’s, they are super-conscious and alert to the tides and policy of UK government. Previously everyone took the UK’s stability for granted – it was a given that the UK economy would keep growing – the only question was by how much.
The property market within that economy, especially London’s prime residential sector, was seen as secure an investment as perhaps any in the world.
Then came Brexit, a catastrophic general election for the conservative party and the rise of Corbynism. These things have shaken that faith, highlighting cracks in the establishment that, at least in the minds of the buyer, could potentially widen.
As we have stated in previous blogs, at NVP we view this as unlikely, as when one looks at the electorate in composite form, they are voting centrally as opposed to radically. However, we won’t know either the nature of Brexit or the cost of any divorce for some time, and as such the buyer no longer views the UK as the paragon of safety, security and prosperity it was in the 80’s, 90’s and noughties. In fact, you might say for the UK’s entire stay in the EU. Even if you include recessions during that time, the UK never felt as if it is in unchartered waters, like it can do to buyers at the moment.
But it is difficult to see a hard Brexit going all the way with so much opposition and no majority in the current government or confidence in its leader. If the few do lead the many over the cliff, and a ‘no deal’ Brexit becomes a reality, then the UK economy could indeed take a generation to re-shape into whatever it is to become. In this eventuality opportunity would certainly open up again for investors and speculators across all industries, including property of course.
The cynical, as well as many young people in the UK, would say that is precisely the intention of hardline Brexiteers. Unprecedented levels of propaganda in the press and a seemingly kamikaze approach to the complex task of negotiating our way out of a 44-year political and economic union, would also seem to back up those conspiracy theories. It all makes buyers more cautious than ever before – for the time being – as they wait to see which route works best to re-enter the market.
Diminished speculative opportunities
Many buyers are waiting to see if this type of divide and conquer mentality could indeed prevail, and are doubtless ready to capitalize on the flood of opportunity a traditional power-grab would open up. Until clarity on either political eventuality is here buyers will remain scarce, and as such very important people to agent and seller. Allied to the bizarre political situation, development opportunities, after decades of plenty, are simply drying up.
London is fully re-gentrified. Only the prime residential sector where money is no object, and agents working in the outer zones of greater London, report the type of activity that made many developers and speculators rich as still happening.
The prime residential property market is thus faced with the everyday reality of servicing people who actually need to move home. In sobering times like these, at NVP we see our role as being more essential than ever, particularly at the top end of the market in which we operate. As speculators and developers go to ground, and online aggregator websites become the norm, buyers and sellers are more in need of bridging – of solid, objective advice – than ever before, as they navigate a traditional market in which London is still seen as a steady option, and buying a home is as delicate a process as ever before.
Good bridges are solid structures, well designed and able to link previously disconnected territories.
And crucially, maintain those links.
This is the business we are in.
NVP Unplugged! ()
We’ve talked previously about family offices being our principle customers.
And about our existential inquiries.
How are these things related?
One of the current principle trends in residential real estate is the introduction of technology platforms to consolidate both the product offering and the database of buyers. One of the outcomes of this is to decrease cost of sale by downgrading the user-experience, and increase the volume of transactions by cheapening, and speeding up the velocity, of the buying process.
The result is that buyers are more vulnerable than ever to amateur, subjective advice and speculative activity. They have no one to guide them, as faceless intermediary robots such as Zoopla, Rightmove and other start-ups in the sector continue to cut out the middleman.
We can almost here you applauding:
‘This is a good thing, no?!’
In many cases we agree with you. One of the benefits of technology is it flushes out entire industries in double quick time. Mediocre operators living on borrowed time move on or fade away.
But how do bricks-and-mortar businesses with real-world, long-term experience and valuable expertise navigate this new terrain?
At NVP are spending more time than ever with both buyer and seller. And our customer service practices are proudly non-digital.
You might call us NVP Unplugged.
Don’t’ worry – we have email and we use Whatsapp!
But time and again, our clients tell us they miss the old ways.
And not just in real estate. Our clients miss having a personal contact at the bank, with their insurance companies, at their stockbrokers, and with airlines and hotels.
This love of the old way, of a more analogue existence, is what sparked the phenomenon of the family office in the first place.
It was also an intrinsic motivation to why we set up our business.
At Nicolas Van Patrick (NVP) our intentions could not be more different from the industry trend.
Wealthy clients (the kind who purchase premium residential properties in Knightsbridge where NVP is based) began to develop private infrastructure to support their investments as soon as the personal touch began to die out. In many cases we know, they literally poached their investment managers from large well-known banks to come in-house, when it became clear those people would not be continuing as their one point of contact.
This migration of highly skilled investment professionals away from big accountancy firms and banks towards UHNW concentrations of wealth is the principle reason behind ‘the family office’ being our principle client focus. As we talk to our customers, they tell us about preoccupations on their time and thinking. Often this includes how to pass on on real-world values to the next generation. In addition to the above, in a world where excessive screen-time is an issue for all young people, our clients hold traditional values in the highest regard. Obviously for wealthy families this includes instilling the value of money, and how to invest it wisely. And one of their biggest fears is that this generation, the first truly digital natives, have surrendered their ability to relate to people in socially sophisticated ways, to read between the lines and to develop a trust for one’s intuition and higher intelligence.
Often these things were the principle drivers behind a family’s wealth creation in the first place.
In addition to the above, many of our clients are international investors from markets where real face-time and curiosity about your business partner’s family and personal interests are still deemed integral to the business process. At NVP we are passionate about understanding these global business cultures, and in our experience the likelihood of overseas investors warming to automated aggregator websites or similar, as they invest in London property, is remote.
This type of attitude extends all the way through NVP’s approach to the prime residential property market in which we earn our living. Typically in-house investors at the family office make decisions in a less emotional, more rational way than your traditional property investor. They plan ahead, they think organically, they read the market and they know when to stick or twist.
It’s essential our services at NVP compliment this type of thinking. As such, although obviously we believe in technology enough to spend time blogging these thoughts, we have not been seduced by our industry’s move into software and the promises of riches therein. We often experience long-term gestation processes, where we are in touch with both the seller and the buyer, sometimes for years, before a deal is done. We consider the management of this often-delicate process to be a key strength.
On this basis, our partners know that an investment they see as part of their legacy is being viewed with the same respect.
Despite the efforts of the technology, old-school real estate is alive and well. And in the digital age, ironically it is traditional values which ensure a memorable, stand-out customer experience.
In these ways we see ourselves, and our approach, as extensions of the family office.
Come and see us sometime for the best coffee in Knightsbridge. We are just opposite Harrods.
Transformations in residential property ()
Recently at Nicolas Van Patrick (NVP) we’ve been asking ourselves some existential questions.
25 years working in London’s prime residential property market will do that to you!
We know what you’re thinking: ‘Here’s where they tell me they’ve discovered their essence and how different they are to all the other estate agents.’
Actually we are not going to do that – far from it. There are too many similarities!
But shifts in our industry are happening fast and we are conscious of the need to embrace change rather than resist it. So we are spending time getting clear on what these transitions are, and making a commitment to blog about our views.
Stand by, for the real NVP is now standing up!
But before we start sharing our existential findings with you, let’s zoom out and look at the macro trends.
Specifically we want to tailor our views to be of use to our core customer base – family offices making prime residential investments.
Largely speaking, family offices are professional teams who are paid, in principle, for capital preservation. This means they are value investors who think long-term, and make buying decisions in a less emotional, more rational way than your everyday property investor.
You might say this fits well in light of the below trends, in which long-term thinking is perhaps the most prominent thread. Being based in Knightsbridge, our views are also informed by our locality, which has the advantage of significant international investment. While the rest of the UK may be slow, in particular the central London market has a stronger heartbeat. It certainly feels that way to us, having had one of our busiest months in June since we launched four years ago.
There are three main transformations taking place in residential property that you should be aware of:
- The shift to long-termism
The first is the rise of long-termism. Over the years, most especially in the eighties and noughties, UK residential property became a playground for short-term gains. The flip-it-and-get-rich ‘developer mentality’ is now officially a thing of the past, with most of the sales we see being long-term investments, and buy-to-let portfolios largely on hold, as economic uncertainty continues. This newfound long-termism is not only to be found in sales, however. Many new-builds are overpriced, and as such are turning into rental opportunities (some London riverside developments have been block-bought in 20-unit chunks for this purpose). As the rental market is flooded with quality product, tenants are in a more powerful position than ever. They can afford better homes, demand longer leases and expect more protection on pricing when it is time to renew. As such once again it is not uncommon to see people renting property long-term. The mindset phrase ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ is truly being shaken to its foundations, as landlords are forced to hand more power to their clients, in order to compete. You no longer have to own your home, to have the same sense of stability.
- The shift to volume over expertise
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Jedi estate agents set out to serve their clients, and their buyers, with the type of expertise and advice that made long-term relationships, trusting handshakes and legacy planning a part and parcel of buying and selling homes… ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ we can hear you exclaiming loudly! As mentioned above, industry-wide volume in sales is down, rentals are up, and estate agents across the board have responded by creating technology platforms and websites which increase the number and speed of transactions, while simultaneously eradicating customer-care and client face-time altogether. This means that the heritage skills of estate agency are being lost, a victim to the transactional nature of life in the 21st century. At NVP we stand for precisely the opposite, largely due to our focus on the top of the market. We know that the homes our clients buy are seen as legacy investments, and as such expertise, client-time and customer services are present in the NVP value chain above all else. They have to be, not just to give buyers and sellers a reason to steer clear of competitive technologies, but also to the protect the unique nature of investments at the top-end of the market, which is NVP’s specialty. We aim to consult and partner, as well as transact, and if the outcome of our thinking is to hold, we are happy advising our clients to do so.
- The shift to central politics
Although recent years has seen waves of nationalism in both the UK and US, seemingly stemming the rise of central politics which began in the mid-late nineties, what is actually happening is record numbers of young voters are coming to the polls for the first time. In the UK at least, it is very difficult to foresee another far-right result like Brexit ever happening again. In the recent general election, if we made one composite voter from the whole country, that individual voted centrally. In fact none of the parties offered such a proposition, and in simple terms the result was a hung parliament – the electorate took the middle road, collectively. We are now seeing the emergence of what is likely to be a highly ineffectual coalition, and the prospect of a new prime minister by Christmas is a real probability. Whoever that is, they will be under immense pressure to give the electorate the central focus it has asked for, as the next general election is likely to be a game-changing vote in which youth has its say like never before, as they seek to wrestle their future from the hands of the baby boomers. In terms of property, this means more of point one: there will be no return to get-rich-quick deals that might happen under a hard-right conservative leadership, and instead investments will be made for the long-term, with more and more people renting.
So, for all but the long-term investor it is a time to wait rather than act. As such at NVP we are in familiar territory and the market is alive and steady – if not exactly kicking – for investors of our kind. The family office is careful, not afraid, and in tune with the longevity of perspective that is required to perform well in these times.
NVP is here to support them in making decisions that complement their responsibilities.
And about those existential questions? More from us soon!