Sustainability and environmental stewardship take centre stage at Chelsea Flower Show

The Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show is almost upon us, promising its world-renowned spectacular garden designs, introduction of innovative materials, and glorious floral displays.

This year’s show takes place between Tuesday 21st May and Saturday 25th May (Tuesday and Wednesday are members-only days). The Buying Solution team will be at the show, looking for emerging trends their customers might be interested in adopting.

Ahead of the much-anticipated horticultural spectacular, we caught up with Chelsea Flower Show veteran, landscape architect Marcus Barnett, to get his predictions for this year’s show. Enjoying as a spectator this year, Marcus has kept a keen eye on emerging trends.

We also spoke with landscape designer Rachael White, who predicts a change in direction for this year’s event.

Marcus Barnett

Marcus Barnett in his studio

Marcus is a long-term friend of The Buying Solution, and has exhibited five times previously, winning three gold medals and best in show, so he’s well versed in the pressures and exhilaration of the final days and weeks before the show opens to the public. (Photo by Millie Pilkington)

“It appears that at the 2024 RHS Chelsea Flower Show there are two very clear stand out themes, and they are more apparent than any previous show I can recall.

“First, the ever-increasing shift towards sustainability and environmental stewardship is markedly more prevalent and advanced this year. Strikingly so.

“This seems to centre around how the garden is constructed; indeed, the RHS has created a new award called the Environmental Innovation Award and it’s open to all gardens that have been through the ‘green garden audit’.

“In a nutshell, this is intended to encourage designers to design with the environment as a key consideration. This requires increased effort to reduce or even remove the presence of cement in your garden. And if this cannot be achieved, can you use low-carbon cement (I think cement is responsible for 8% of global warming so you can see why the RHS is pushing this so hard)?  

“Additionally, can the designer for example, use recycled materials where possible and can they reduce their carbon footprint through innovative delivery techniques to and from the showground? Other green criteria also apply, but this will have a very interesting influence on design and, crucially, construction.  

“The other trend that strikes me as a designer, is a change in overall design layout. Across the board, in the Show Garden category, the designers have laid out organic designs; gone are the days when the majority were rectilinear in layout. Some exist here this year, but they are in the minority.

“Echoing the organic theme and driving it home perhaps, are the planting styles, palettes and the way the plants have been set out. Planting appears to be delivered in a style reminiscent of self-seeding, almost haphazard planting.

“This conclusion is drawn from the images on the RHS website of the show gardens so it’s difficult to see for sure, but it will be interesting to see if this is indeed the case once the planting is completed.  

“In earlier flower shows the designs were often more rectilinear in layout (some of my own for example), and the planting reinforced this, clearly this is no longer the case. I think designers feel that sustainability is best emphasised in an organic layout rather than a rectilinear one. This is not to say that they are mutually exclusive. It just seems that a trend is developing – a zeitgeist before our very floral eyes.

“Whatever the outcome, I know that each designer and construction team will be absolutely exhausted! They will leave no stone unturned or plant un-tweaked to ensure their garden is the very best it can be. I wish them well and greatly look forward to seeing the conclusions. After a miserable and protracted winter, the show heralds the onset of summer. It is the first major diary event in the calendar and arguably the finest (I may be biased) flower show on this warming planet.”

Rachael White in garden setting

Rachael White

Rachael White of Rachael White Designs, is a two-time, gold and silver award-winning exhibitor at Chelsea:

“Chelsea has turned on its head a bit. It used to be big and brash but now it’s really starting to read the crowd and realise we need to focus on sustainability and to step away from structured perfection. Ultimately, that’s why we love nature: because it’s not perfect. 

“I think there’s a new focus on going back to nature, using traditional crafts and to generally let our gardens be a bit more messy. I think last year was the first year Chelsea had a nettle at the show – and that’s so special because they should have a place in the garden – they provide so much biodiversity.

“In years gone by, we have stripped the garden of anything organic and it’s caused problems with bugs. When we design gardens now, at Rachael White Designs, we’re starting to include sacrifice beds, where we just let the bugs go wild.

“I often say to my clients in the countryside: look out of your window, you’ll see nothing that’s the same height, the same colour, and you want to look out at that, don’t ruin it by making it a monoculture. In London, where your backdrop is concrete, of course you can be a bit more structured, and the challenge there is to soften the concrete lines; but in the countryside you can blend and bleed into what’s already there.

“The way we design now has to be different because of climate change; draining and irrigation should always be at the forefront of all designs, but especially now with the weather extremes. We’re faced with flash floods and droughts, and we have to plant with that in mind. And be prepared to be more flexible with the choice of plants.

“A big focus has to be the wildflower because it’s your best carbon fixer, I am an accredited partner of the Wildflower Society, because wildflowers are truly gold. They establish within two years – a tree can take 20 – the fibrous root system trebles the carbon locking, and it can allow for drought and for flooding.

“So, my prediction for Chelsea is an embrace of the rough and ready, and saying goodbye to the formal border. More natural materials; more natural planting; and a focus on sustainability. I’m expecting more nettles, more wildflowers, a lot of renewable energy in the spaces, and a focus on retaining water. Sustainability will include considering more local and natural materials, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of edible gardens too. In short, more sustainable, naturalising, less perfection. I’m looking forward to attending!”

Chelsea Flower Show, or The Great Spring Show, has been held at the Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913, home to the Chelsea Pensioners, retired soldiers from the British Army.

There are 66 acres of land attached to the hospital, including the Ranelagh Gardens and the South Grounds, where the Chelsea Flower Show takes place.

What’s driving the North & South Cotswolds value divide?

You may have visited some of the beautiful villages in the Cotswolds, but did you know that a significant value gap has opened up between property prices in the North and South Cotswolds – particularly at the top end of the market?

Using the A40 road as the dividing line separating the two regions, a classic seven-bedroom country house with stables and ancillary accommodation set over 50 acres might cost between £3m and £4m in the south, but that price can rise to as much as £5m to £10m in the north. We asked Harry Gladwin, our expert buying agent in the region, to explain what’s happening.

North Cotswolds

The popularity of the North Cotswolds and upward pressure on house prices began to take off in earnest at the beginning of the 2000s when City financiers and hedge funders ‘discovered’ Notting Hill. For them, the easy drive down the A40/M40 to Oxford, Chipping Norton and its environs encouraged those in search of a weekend retreat to settle there.

It’s home to many global movers and shakers. If a client has a house in West London and a holiday home in somewhere like, say, Miami or Ibiza, there is a good chance they also have a property in or near the most sought-after villages here. Charlbury, Kingham, Stow, and Oddington are places that are currently soaring in appeal amongst this international audience. To give an idea of demand in these areas, a recent house came on the market for £4.5m and sold almost immediately off-market to a buyer for 20% over the guide price.

So, what else makes this region attractive? The truth is, it’s easier to acclimatise to country life when you live in the North Cotswolds. All of the amenities you would expect from living in a city can be found here. A client once commented, ‘It’s green, but we can get a great flat white, and the internet is fast’!

The new breed of pubs and restaurants offer excellent food, often with a focus on seasonal and local produce and an impressive selection of wines and ales. A popular new opening is The Bull in Charlbury, which was taken over by the team behind the recently launched Notting Hill gastropub, The Pelican.

The allure of the North Cotswolds was given an extra boost by the opening of the private members’ club Soho Farmhouse at Great Tew in 2016. For many of our buyers, it ticks all the boxes. Other openings that have created a buzz include Estelle Manor, Restoration Hardware, Daylesford, Quince and Clover and farm shops from The Cotswold Guy.

Next is education. The school offering in Oxford as an alternative to educating children in the capital is seriously tempting, with the Dragon School, being one of the most popular choices near the border. Our clients also recommend Kitebrook Prep School in Moreton-in Marsh and Windrush Valley School near Chipping Norton.

Another key factor has been the improved train times along the Chiltern line, which has considerably reduced travel times to London Marylebone from Banbury, Bicester, and Oxford Parkway. The fact that you can now do this journey in under an hour proves extremely attractive to city commuters. Added to that was the opening of the spur line, which connects Oxford and Bicester Village to the Chiltern mainline. This gives the added advantage of choice for commuters to travel either into Marylebone or Paddington via Oxford, Charlbury and Kingham.

South Cotswolds

If the profile of a North Cotswolds buyer has evolved to lean more towards families with young children wanting access to good schools, gastropubs, and connectivity, then we cross the A40 and discover a region where country sports are more prevalent and it’s better suited to those looking for a more rural lifestyle.

The southern region of the Cotswolds has tended to attract more buyers with equestrian or polo interests with Cirencester Polo Club and Beaufort Polo Club on the doorstep, as well as eventing at Badminton and Gatcombe Park.

It also has popular prep schools, including Pinewood and Beaudesert, as well as access to Marlborough College, Westonbirt, St Mary’s Calne and the Cheltenham schools (Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Cheltenham College and Dean Close).

Tetbury is an attractive town for antique shops, and Cirencester continues to expand. Meanwhile, Kemble station is another big draw for commuters, as fast trains take only 80 minutes to London Paddington.

Like the North, the South Cotswolds has beautiful countryside with the additional attraction of the Cotswold Water Park for those who are interested in water sports. There are fewer gastropubs in this area, but Calcot Manor, Barnsley House, Thyme at Southrop, and Cowley Manor offer good alternatives to Daylesford and Soho Farmhouse.

As regional cities and airports such as Bristol and Birmingham grow, Cheltenham will become even more attractive to buyers. At the western edge of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Cheltenham is an excellent alternative schooling hub to Oxford The town’s most desirable areas range from between £400 and £500 per sq ft. Equivalent prime areas of central North Oxford are twice as expensive. That means it is possible to trade a good-sized London house for a family house in Cheltenham and have a substantial amount of change to spend on other things, such as the children’s education.

What remains true of both Cotswolds regions is a long-term shortage of houses coming to the market. Best-in-class houses continue to sell quickly and often off-market. Therefore, be prepared for fierce competition if buying in either the north or the south.

If you need help with your countryside search, don’t hesitate to get in touch with The Buying Solution, and we’d be delighted to discuss your needs.

Knightsbridge: Losing its charm or adapting to change?

Knightsbridge, the epitome of luxury and exclusivity in London, has long been synonymous with affluence and a vibrant social scene. However, in recent months, there has been conjecture about whether this prestigious neighbourhood has lost its charm.

Will Watson, our Head of London, recently featured in the Financial Times commenting that ‘Knightsbridge is not the bullseye of prime central London that it used to be’ and predicted that ‘prices could drop more this year’. 

His article sparked a flurry of social media comments from our followers saying Knightsbridge ‘is no longer the English enclave that it once was’, ‘it has lost its identity’ and ‘it has become a boring part of town’.

So, what exactly is going on in SW1X? Will, who has worked in the prime central London market for over 20 years, shares his top insights.

The rise of new hotspots

As Knightsbridge remains a globally renowned London beacon for real estate, other areas in London have caught up and emerged as new hotspots for luxury living and investment.

While Hyde Park offers a green oasis in the heart of the city, green spaces within Knightsbridge itself are limited. This lack of greenery can be a downside for nature lovers or those seeking a more private garden.

Although demand for pied-à-terre apartments in Knightsbridge remains strong, younger families, including clients we’ve had from the Middle East – where Knightsbridge has always been their preferred location – are looking to buy houses with a wider footprint in the greener areas of Notting Hill, Kensington or Holland Park.

It depends on where in Knightsbridge

To say Knightsbridge is ‘boring’ or has ‘lost its appeal’ is an overstatement. Geographically, Knightsbridge is barely 1.5km wide, 600m deep and sandwiched between Hyde Park, South Kensington, Chelsea and Belgravia. However, even in this relatively small territory, there are a range of quarters, each with its own identity and community. For example, the West Side of Knightsbridge heading towards South Kensington has a very different feel compared with the North Belgravia border.

For many, the Cadogan Estate is one of the most sought-after areas in central London. Close to some of London’s most exclusive retail outlets, excellent schools and access to gardens, tennis courts, and children’s play areas. Others point to the Pavilion Road area as being much more villagey and gentrified, near private members’ clubs, exclusive gyms, and coffee shops.

Undoubtedly, the retail landscape in the area has evolved. Iconic department stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols have maintained their status as shopping destinations, but the rise of online shopping has impacted foot traffic and sales. Covid also contributed to a perceived lack of buzz, where international buyers have been slow to return after the pandemic.

High cost of renovations

Walking around Knightsbridge, one gets to experience a glorious mix of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture. However, the houses are often tall and thin. Gardens tend to be patio style, and parking is difficult.

Many properties in Knightsbridge are dated and require refurbishing due to how long they have been in the same ownership. The cost of renovating is high, and with the time it takes to carry out one of these projects, we’re just not seeing an appetite from our clients wanting to take on such a lengthy refurbishment.

Buyers looking for a refurbished property have been looking more to Mayfair where a broader selection of super-prime developments featuring purpose-built modern designs with concierge and hotel-style amenities exist. The demand for these schemes for the turnkey option has been particularly high since Covid.

It is important to stress that Knightsbridge might not be as popular as it once was, for family houses in particular, but these trends tend to be cyclical and generational by nature. In the future, I would expect a new cohort of buyers to focus back in on the area, ultimately down to its central location and world renowned address.

Now could be an excellent time to buy

For a location on the map that is so central, close to many excellent amenities, and Hyde Park, 2024 could be the year to secure a good deal in Knightsbridge.

In January,  we acquired a property in Knightsbridge for our client paying 18% less than the vendor acquired the property for in 2013.  Given the uncertainty that 2024 holds, we are confident of more opportunities to buy in Knightsbridge at prices well below the peak of 2013.

There is evidence that conditions in the wider property market are becoming positive, and inflation is falling faster than expected. So, while Knightsbridge may have faced its share of challenges and changes, it remains a symbol of luxury and cachet in London. Its ability to adapt to evolving trends while preserving its heritage will determine whether it can reclaim its status as one of the world’s most exclusive neighbourhoods. 

If you need help with your prime central London search, don’t hesitate to contact The Buying Solution, and we’d be delighted to discuss your requirements.

Finding ‘paradise’ in the Southern Counties – our ‘Winning Edge’ in action

As our Southern Counties expert, the team and I had a busy 2023, especially the summer in Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset – including four successful acquisitions, all now completed, totalling over £18.5m. All of these properties were off-market, with an average saving of 4.5% on the asking price.

I am often asked how The Buying Solution offers our clients ‘the winning edge’ with their property search. So, I’d like to share an example of how we offer clients a competitive advantage on my patch.

Being a buying agent is all about being proactive, tenacious and on the front foot. We can’t sit still and wait for the opportunities to come to us. It’s so true that ingenuity and tenacity open doors, and without these attributes, it makes finding a dream home for our clients extremely hard.

I recently had a client looking for a very specific property on the South Coast between Poole and Chichester, where prime waterfront properties are notoriously scarce. Each year, only a few come to the market.

These clients had already been looking for two years and were introduced by friends whom I had successfully bought a waterfront property for the year before. Their brief was for a 4,500 sq ft + house with an extensive sea view and swimming pool.

Having dismissed all properties that were being offered by selling agents both on and off-market, we set about a more targeted strategy. All other properties that met the criteria and had appropriate sea views were identified from our database and Google Earth. I then investigated and researched each house individually to ensure their suitability and targeted the owners directly to see if they were potential sellers.

Of the properties approached, we got a handful of positive responses, from which two became opportunities. Thankfully, their preferred option was buyable at a realistic price following sensible negotiations.

Our clients’ feedback demonstrated how impressed they were with our creativity, discretion, and market intelligence.  This was echoed by the text message I got from our client at Christmas, saying: ‘It’s paradise, we thank you every time we come here.”

If you need help with your search, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me here, and I’ll be delighted to discuss your requirements.

Buying for children – still a smart London property play?

According to Legal & General, the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ will contribute to 47% of house purchases this year. But does this really reflect what is happening in the prime London buying market?

As a London buying agent, many of my clients are parents investing in property for their children. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting dozens of families over the years, and parental-led purchases have always formed a large part of the prime London market. In my role, circa 20% of active requirements come from clients buying for their children.

From my experience, buying real estate for children remains a wise decision. It sits at the intersection of securing a comfortable future for the next generation, economic foresight, emotional attachment, and a desire to provide safety and stability.

Typically, the parents drive the decision to start a property search, often as part of their tax planning. I have had clients whose children are very young and properties were being ‘bought for them’, but when you get to know the client, other reasons for the purchase emerge. Examples include wanting a rental investment in the immediate term that is tax efficient, protecting assets from Capital Gains or Inheritance Tax if it is structured correctly, or simply using the rent to pay the school fees. The children are rarely involved in the early stages of the search.

In some instances, I have parents looking to buy as many as three or four London properties for their children of equal size and budget so that there is no favouritism shown. Siblings tend not to share individual properties as this can cause complications if one party decides to move at a later stage.

On my patch, I tend to see families searching for properties within the £2 – £5 million price range. However, parents buying multiple properties need to factor in paying multiple sets of legal fees and stamp duties. Most of the properties we have sourced for children this year have been houses with a freehold, as this reduced the parents’ exposure to service charges and other costs.

These variables form part of the initial consultation with clients at the start of the process to understand their needs and advise on which London areas would best suit them and their budget.

I recently advised an Australian family on the merits of London postcodes and property options for their daughter, most of which were off-market. The reality is that a two bedroom flat in Notting Hill is great, but moving further to a location like Battersea, Putney or Clapham will secure a house for the same budget. Many of these areas are excellent locations but have been hampered by the lack of quality housing, transport links and amenities in the past. Consequently, they are more affordable than some of their more affluent neighbours.

I have seen a spike in demand for parents seeking properties in Fulham, South West London, where there are more options for Victorian houses and prices can range from £1.5 – £2.5 million for a good-sized house on the best streets. These properties are also easily resellable should circumstances change.

Nostalgia also plays a significant role in choosing a location. Many parents have a deep-seated attachment to an area whether due to personal experiences, cultural ties, or professional opportunities. This emotional connection often drives the decision to invest in property to preserve familial roots and ensure that future generations have a tangible link to the family’s history and heritage.

In conclusion, London, as a global financial and cultural hub, has long been an attractive destination for property investment. Parents keen on ensuring the financial well-being of their offspring recognise the potential long-term gains and liquidity that London’s real estate market can offer. The city’s property values have historically shown a consistent upward trajectory, making real estate an appealing asset for wealth accumulation. By purchasing property for their children, parents essentially provide them with a valuable asset that is likely to appreciate over time, potentially serving as a foundation for future financial security.

For more information, please get in touch with me here.

What do wealthy buyers want in a home? London vs Country

The Wealth Report 2023, published by Knight Frank earlier this year, gave us a comprehensive review of prime property markets, global wealth distribution and luxury spending trends.

However, how do these luxury trends translate into what spaces and amenities wealthy buyers seek in their next property purchase? And how does this differ between our London and countryside clients? We asked Philip Eastwood (Partner, London) and Mark Lawson (Partner, Country) to share their insights.

London – by Philip Eastwood

I’ve seen a spike in demand from London buyers favouring functional, usable, and low-maintenance spaces.

As the cost per square foot in London is so high, clients want to maximise the use of their space and prefer properties with areas that can be enjoyed daily rather than occasionally. For example, some of our clients don’t want swimming pools that are rarely used and have high maintenance costs. It’s come full circle. They would rather have a really good utility room for daily use or even more extensive wardrobes.  Many clients already have homes in places like Majorca, Ibiza, and the South of France with a pool, so they don’t need one in their basement.

Clients often insist on property features that make life more comfortable and efficient. Double glazing, air-conditioning, fibre broadband, on-site porters and parking are all prerequisites. These requirements outweigh extras like saunas, cinema rooms and gyms. Even some high-end lighting systems with complicated control systems have become passé as clients look for wireless and smart AV solutions.

This pursuit for practical spaces also crosses over into the condition of a property. My clients want their homes to be turn-key and a finished product. That means they expect a well-fitted kitchen, a good shower, and top-end interior design and materials. Very few clients have the appetite to take on a lengthy refurbishment project.

The topic of security is also becoming more prevalent. Clients are interested in how safe a street is and the security systems available. The notion of a panic room can make people feel uncomfortable. However, some London roads employ private security firms to reduce crime. For example, Chelsea Square and Brunswick Gardens have regular patrols with guards and dogs – all paid for by the residents.

Lastly, I have noticed that clients continue to look for properties with considerable floor-to-ceiling heights and big walls. Why? Well, with art investments rising by 29% in 2023 and the stellar prices paid for museum-quality works of art by ultra-wealthy collectors, our clients need bigger spaces for bigger art pieces!

Country – by Mark Lawson

As London buyers crave pragmatism, we receive more extravagant requests in the countryside, where our clients have plenty of space to work with.

To complement outdoor country living, no country home is complete without a boot room. A client of mine built himself a new boot room where each family member had their own named space, polished oak locker, each with a heater to dry out and warm up two pairs of Wellington boots. It also included heated coat, hat and glove sections. 

Often, dogs have their oak-panelled beds with their names, a shower or wash area, and sections for all their leads.

There is also demand for the ‘butler’s pantry’ as an amenity, a space that allows the host to prep for meals without entering the kitchen. These spaces are becoming more multi-functional and elaborate, and I expect this will be a trend that grows as interior designers continue to push the boundaries.

I have had clients with specific needs for wardrobe space and storage.  I once had a client who had an online database for the contents of her wardrobe so that she could track precisely which pieces of clothing were in her houses around the world. We have also seen clients with refrigerated wardrobes for those with pieces of clothing that are preserved best at lower temperatures, like faux fur and suedes.

Another popular area is the continued interest in well-being spaces and wellness activities. Padel tennis is the fastest-growing sport in the world – lots are installing courts at home. The craze spread quickly amongst country house owners and purchasers, with many building courts on their land. We have also seen clients asking for ice baths, cryotherapy chambers and meditation spaces – dedicated rooms for recovery, reflection and spirituality.

Finally, an increasing number of wealthy individuals are interested in sustainable and eco-friendly features, such as solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and eco-conscious building materials. This means they can offset the costs of running high-end amenities such as pools and home cinemas.

Outlook on the prime central London market this autumn

It goes without saying that the last year of uncertainty amid interest rate hikes has had an instrumental impact on the real estate market. Whilst we expect the interest rate to have finally hit its peak, here is our outlook on the buying market and the shift we’re seeing in prime central London.

In a period that is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year, as we enter the autumn market, we are optimistic that London stock levels will improve, and this will continue for the remainder of 2023 into 2024. Whilst we expect house prices to further reduce elsewhere in the country, the average sale price of London prime properties has shown resilience throughout the past year, and we expect this to continue.

There is greater demand than usual from clients for turn-key properties – the appetite for ‘projects’ is low, so clients looking for a recently refurbished property in prime central London could really benefit from a buying agent. Often, we get access to these properties before they hit the open market and given that demand is outstripping supply, gaining that advantage will be crucial to being able to get the right property, in the right area at the right price.

We’ve also seen an increased demand for pied-à-terre properties in the capital as the shift to more permanent hybrid working patterns continues. I recently acted for a US client who was looking for a pied-à-terre. We helped them purchase an apartment in Knightsbridge’s most sought-after garden square address, right in the heart of the action, meeting their needs and giving them the perfect home from home. 

We’re also seeing a higher than average number of clients who currently rent but are deciding to buy. Unsurprisingly, rising rent prices in London are pushing some buyers to consider the trade-off between paying rent or buying a property and absorb the Stamp Duty – especially if they intend to extend their stay in London. Regarding other London hotspots, Marylebone, Chelsea, and Notting Hill continue to be popular choices amongst my client base, but London villages are also desirable. Locations like Wimbledon, Clapham, Barnes and Chiswick offer clients a short commute to the office with plenty of family activities on their doorstep.

As buying specialists, our local knowledge is critical if a buyer is searching for something particular. We can target specific houses. If the buyers are looking in a defined area, we will often already know the houses; if we don’t, we make approaches.

Buoying the stock levels for the rest of the year are those facing re-mortgaging who will assess their options on whether to hold on to a large family house, downsize or sell a second property. Add to this the uncertainty of a general election in 2024 and the Labour Party proposing to charge VAT on independent school fees, we may see vendors choosing to leave London in search of areas with excellent grammar schools.

In conclusion, with London and prime central London readying for a busy Q4, getting the right advice and expertise from an experienced buying agent is a wise decision. Get in touch with me here if you would like to carry on the conversation.

Five differences between a buying agent and a selling agent

My professional life has changed considerably since I joined The Buying Solution in January 2023 as a buying agent. I never imagined I would be commandeering a helicopter to view off-market properties in Sussex, Surrey and Kent!

A bit about me: I grew up in Somerset, then moved to London in my early twenties and started my estate agency career with Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward before moving to Carter Jonas’ Barnes office. My first buying role was with an established boutique agency, Crown Mayfair. I then spent 5 years within Savills’ country department selling super prime country properties in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.

Having worked on both sides of the fence, I often think about the differences in skillset and lifestyle when moving from selling to buying agent. Here are my top 5:

We only represent the buyer

Buying agents differ from estate agents in that we are retained by the buyer to act in their best interest and charge a fee for this service. Our key objective is to find and secure a property that best matches our clients’ preferences and guide them through the whole search and acquisition process. 

We also aim to secure this on the best terms and price for our client, whereas, of course, the estate or letting agents work in the seller’s best interests. Sales agents are appointed to sell a property on behalf of the vendor, and once the transaction goes through, their job is done. Each agent will charge a fee for their service.

Giving access to off-market opportunities is one of our main winning edges. In fact, most of our transactions are off-market with many being totally exclusive to our client.

People and relationships

I prefer working as a buying agent primarily because it is a people business, and we work a lot closer with our clients which makes it more rewarding. 

Buying agents are much less process-driven and more focused on people, relationships and giving the best advice. It is not a servile relationship but more of a trusted advisor role based on honesty, often resulting in friendships at the end of the process. I have already been referred to a client’s friend to help with their search after securing them their new home.

You have to invest time to understand the client’s brief properly, and often, buyers may not even know what they want or may have misconceptions about certain areas or property types. Then, you have to find the right property at the right price, which often means mining a network of contacts to unearth off-market gems. As a buying agent, our job rarely ends when the deal has been completed, and our clients often seek our help once they have moved, whether it is for recommendations for local amenities, interior designers, architects, or property management issues, to name just a few.

Generally, once an exchange has taken place, the estate agent’s role has been satisfied, and they will be off to commence the next sale. Meanwhile, the buying agent is still liaising with the client over contractors, architects, security and other professionals, ensuring the transfer and completion run smoothly. Rarely will an estate agent go around to the house on the day of completion to check that the curtains included in the sale are at the property, for example. Our completion day starts with an inspection prior to final monies being released and we are then there to deal with the handover of keys and ensure the day runs as smoothly as possible.

Listening, empathy and discretion

The best buying agents listen to their clients. They understand what and why their client wants to buy something and quickly learn their likes and dislikes. Empathy and discretion are extremely important and differentiate the good from the bad or mediocre.

Most importantly, a good buying agent must know why the purchase price should be a certain amount when the agent is asking for something different.

The second important role is to highlight the positives and any possible negatives that might affect the client’s experience or the property’s future value. We explore what’s happening in the local area and delve into planning portals to spot any issues. As an example, is there a threat of major development in the area? A new housing development, be it close by or a number of miles away, could change the area dramatically in a few years – be it travel time to schools/stations or an impact on the view. Fracking is also a topic that we advise our clients on. A buying agent will organise surveyors, liaise with solicitors and other professionals to ensure the transaction proceeds with the minimum of fuss.

A buying agent’s role is not one of selling but of advising and safeguarding that their client’s interests are looked after at every step of the way, listening to them rather than telling. Although we are not afraid to tell clients what they might not want to hear if it is in their best interests.

Attention to detail

The buying process is often much longer than the selling process. To begin with, we will proactively search the market using our network of contacts to give you access to all properties that suit your requirements, including those that are only available ‘off market’. Patience is often needed as our role is to find the client the right house and on the right terms, so we have to play the long game at times to achieve this.

The search is only the start of The Buying Solution’s service, as we conduct extensive due diligence on the property, providing impartial advice on price and any other issues that might affect your future enjoyment. These are then summarised in our comprehensive due diligence report.

Our teams are made up of experts in their region who know how to get their clients to a ‘preferred buyer status’ and negotiate the most favourable terms on their behalf. It is only sometimes the case that the highest price wins, and we are creative and flexible when it comes to negotiating on your behalf. Once terms are agreed upon, we guide the purchase through to exchange of contracts dealing with any issues that might arise and working closely with solicitors and other advisers.

Following an exchange of contracts, we provide clients with a completion and handover service. This includes inspecting the property on the morning of completion to ensure everything is as it should be before final monies are released.

On purchases, our completion management specialist will then deal with the transfer of staff (if required), utilities and services and provide you with a New Owners Guide on how everything works, as well as advice on the ongoing management and the running of the property.

It’s not for everybody

I find that my role as a buying agent is much more varied than before. I cover a bigger region – from Surrey to Kent. This means I must plan my days more thoroughly and carefully manage my diary. 

I also work at home more with greater levels of autonomy but know that my evening or weekend can change very quickly if the right property for a client becomes available – as it is then all hands to the pump to land it for them.

Life as a buying agent can be very demanding as we often work to a tight timetable, but the rewards are worth it when we deliver. My most recent exchange in Surrey was a house that was offered to us through a private network; our clients were first through the door and, subsequently, the last through the door! They had been looking for over two years before engaging with us in a very tight area, and we acquired this for them within a few months of being instructed – they totally now see the value in using a buying agent.

Of course, there are perks to the job besides the helicopter trips. I get to see the best properties my patch has to offer and get to attend extraordinary events to meet clients from all over the world. Get in touch if you would like to find out more.

What’s next for London’s prime property market?

I am often asked what the rest of 2023 could look like in terms of the market and opportunities. As experienced buying agents, we have been fortunate enough to acquire some of the most significant properties in London over the last 18 months. Due to the sensitive nature of often both the vendor and our clients, we are rarely able to discuss what we have bought. However, I can share five property-buying insights that I feel will be prevalent in the coming months.

It’s a good time to buy prime property in the capital

Despite the current climate of inflation, interest rate rises, and the prospect of a change in government, buying a prime property could still be a good option in the medium to long term.

Interest rate rises will obviously affect younger purchasers reliant on mortgages. Regarding our overall client base, I estimate that an average 60%+ (with clients spending £10m+ this figure is almost 100%) are fortunate enough not to need a mortgage when buying, so interest rates will be less harmful to them than recession and inflation. This means a housing market downturn is not going to affect older owners with more equity as much.

In addition, it could be a very good time to buy as there may be less competition from other buyers. There will be a lot of noise as to what a potential change in government may or not do and how this could affect the property market. We have seen similar cycles before, and as soon as confidence returns, the market can shift very quickly – becoming a sellers’ market again. 

Our clients look long-term when it comes to investing here. If something special becomes available now, regardless of what is happening externally, many will move ahead as something similar could be years away from becoming available. 

The popularity of turn-key homes

Our clients clearly prefer turn-key refurbished homes rather than embarking on a lengthy and expensive refurbishment project. 

Recent property purchases across our London team were refurbished and acquired discreetly through our network. Good, refurbished family houses and apartments are in greater demand now than I have seen for many years. Clients want things now and are just not wanting to wait. They just don’t have the patience and simply do not want to lose 2-3+ years of their incredibly busy lives for a refurbishment. This is why record prices are still being achieved for turn-key properties. 

London is still desirable for international buyers

The appetite for London remains strong and is still seen as one of the best places, if not the best, to live, educate children and work in the world.

The main drivers for our clients moving to the UK is typically education for their children, business and rule of law.

Security and air-conditioning are must-have items

In terms of wants, air-conditioning and security are high on the priority lists. Compared to five years ago, where 1 in 5 clients would specify air-conditioning as a nice have, it is now a must for 3-4 clients. For any ultra-high-net-worth individual, security is always a consideration. With the majority of London’s best housing stock falling straight onto the street, how best to protect a family takes precedence and will always be a key consideration. 

Prime London prices will remain strong 

The top end of the market will remain strong, particularly for good, refurbished houses and apartments. These are rare at the best of times, and I cannot see the demand for this stock weakening. Recently, a new record for a Notting Hill house was achieved because it is a good house but also refurbished. 

We expect the domestic market to soften with more stock becoming available and prices weakening – the wide-spread view is circa -10%. Mainly as the new world of interest rates is absorbed as buyers simply do not have the firepower they once had. This will have to have some effect, although we are yet to see it. We believe it will be a busier second half of the year once these factors take hold. 

Get in touch if you would like to discuss any of these insights and help to purchase the right property for your needs.

What are wealthy USA buyers looking for when purchasing a house in London?

I recently visited clients in New York to discuss opportunities and investments in the prime central London market.

The Buying Solution had a record year in 2022, our 19th year of business, and an important part of our success is overseas UHNW buyers from North America.

When I arrived in New York, it was clear that the City had undergone a significant transformation with many new buildings, parks, and other public spaces. For example, the Hudson Yards development, which opened in 2019, added a massive new complex of offices, residences, shops, and restaurants to the City’s west side. New York City has also seen improvements in transportation in recent years, with the expansion of bike lanes and the introduction of bike-sharing programs and new subway stations.

During my trip, I documented five key areas that USA buyers are considering when purchasing a house in London:

The market is in their favour

USA buyers can expect to pay less for a property in London compared with a few years ago. With stamp duty increases, Brexit and COVID, the average price for a property in central London is currently about 20 per cent below its peak in 2014. Also, in currency terms, the dollar is still relatively strong. However, buyers must act quickly to take advantage of the exchange rate.

London’s energy and culture

In a recent Financial Times article, I met with a wealthy buyer in Chiltern Firehouse – a restaurant and hotel in Marylebone. His family office was advising him to buy in Switzerland or Italy, but he sat with me, and the place was busy and vibrant. He said, “This is why I want to come to London. I may pay more tax, but life is for living”. He was right. London’s energy is difficult to beat – therefore, a move from New York to London means that a buyer does not experience a culture shock when they arrive – there is plenty to keep the family occupied. The food & beverage scene in London is second to none.

Discretion & safety

Privacy and security are top concerns for wealthy USA buyers, so features such as gated entrances, security patrols and ample outdoor lighting are some of the most essential. London is one of the safest cities in the world but security is still a concern and we have an excellent professional network to ensure our clients are comfortable with their new surroundings.

Design features

London is a design capital and is, therefore ideal for buyers looking for homes with unique architectural features, high-end finishes, and top-of-the-line appliances. In addition, design features like swimming pools, home theatres, wine cellars, private gyms, home technology and elevators feature heavily in London houses. Therefore, the types of properties desired by UHNW individuals can be found in London, if they are using the right buying agency.

Education & schools

The education system in London is strong and accommodates overseas students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. It is relatively easy to relocate to London with children of all ages and expect them to hit the ground running with their educational goals. We can also advise clients on which locations in London offer the most popular schools and then what that local housing market looks like.  

If you want to learn more about The Buying Solution and how we work with overseas buyers, please drop me a line.