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.

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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.

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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.