Q&A: ALEX BOURNE
Alex Bourne, a director at Beauchamp Estates Marylebone on the endless appeal of London, the importance of relationships and the pleasures of being in a real community
Words: Ellie Costigan
You were an actor for a long time. How did you end up in estate agency?
Me and Richard Douglas, my business partner, were both actors for 10 years. Richard had already made the transition into property when I decided acting wasn’t for me, and my whole family and many of my friends were involved in property, so it made sense. An opportunity came up to work for a boutique agency in the West End, which was all about relationship building and that really interested me. Property agents used to have a bad name, and I decided if I did go into that world I wanted to be able to offer a high level of service. Eventually we met the guys at Hanover, and ended up setting up the Hanover West End office.
Hanover West End joined forces with Beauchamp Estates last year. How did that come about?
Our paths kept crossing: we kept bumping into Gary Hersham, the founder of Beauchamp Estates in so many places. We had a similar approach to networking and it felt like there was a real affinity between us, so eventually we agreed to go into business with him. He has over 35 years’ experience of prime central London and luxury property internationally, an enviable address book, and is a good mentor.
What’s your role?
I’m a director, and very hands on. It’s very full on, because we’re a small office and Richard and myself are involved with every aspect: from client management, to dealing with any buyer that comes through the door. We are not directly involved in lettings on a day to day basis, as this is managed by an excellent lettings team at Beauchamp Estates, headed up in the Marylebone office by Francesca Fox, who we meet with at least once a week to formally review activity.
What sort of clients do you deal with?
High net worth individuals. It could be somebody looking for an investment property, pied a terre or family home—we work right across the board. We start at around £1 million and go all the way up, depending on what they’re looking for. But the important thing for us is to build a relationship with the client. Gary has been dealing with some people for 15, 20 years. We work with vendors to get them the best prices, but at the same time, we find people really good properties that they’re happy to live in long-term.
Does dealing with this kind of client require a particular skill-set?
I think coming from a different industry helps a lot, because we’re approaching it with fresh eyes. We have been in those circles, too, so we know what’s required—honesty, integrity and discretion. The benefit of working at Beauchamps Estates is we’re not confined to just one area; we are prime central London agents, and we offer personal service. What that means is, the client won’t be passed from pillar to post—we take people through the whole journey. A lot of our clients are international, so the fact that we deal with the whole of prime central means we can talk people through what each area of London has to offer them.
We also don’t just leave it at a sale, we cater for every need—be it finding them a solicitor, or an interior designer. I recently sold a house to a Saudi prince and I ended up helping him shop. I was still with him at 10 o’clock that night, having coffee and talking about interiors. That’s important to me, and it’s important to the sort of person we deal with: they want that attention to detail, rather than somebody who’s just looking to sell something off their stock list. We really tailor-make everything to suit the client.
How does the Marylebone market compare to other areas of prime central?
I’d say it has been outperforming other parts of London in the last year. When you look at price per square foot and how its shot up, it has exceeded every area—even Mayfair. It’s had a massive rise in interest. People who were never looking at the area before have really started to—young people who were looking at Mayfair now want to be in Marylebone. But there’s a shortage of properties, and I think that’s why property prices are going up. It’s difficult to say exactly, because we’re high value, not high volume, but we have a lot of people looking at the area. We’re busy, so I can’t complain!
What are your predictions for the market over the next year or so?
It’s hard to predict. London is a safe haven, offering long term stability. There are always going to be stumbling blocks that cause people to say, “It’s not the right time to buy”, but people are motivated for their own reasons. London has such a draw culturally; it’s got so much to offer, so people want to be here. I don’t think that will ever go away. If you look at how much the price of clothes or food have gone up in London, it’s just astronomical—I often find myself thinking, when did this happen?! But does it stop me from doing or buying any of those things? No. And that’s human nature. People are willing to pay for quality.
What’s your favourite thing about the area?
Definitely the food. By 11 o’clock every day, the general chat in the office turns to what we’re having for lunch! There are so many amazing options. Also, there’s a real community and you can feel that. I love the culture. I like the way that I can just step out of the office and go to a park if I need to get some space, and it’s a two-minute walk away. I’m here even on my days off, shopping with my wife on the high street. It’s my favourite high street in London. It has a large number of independent and specialist shops and businesses, which feels very appropriate for Beauchamp Estates.
What about the job itself?
I enjoy being sociable, and I find people fascinating; everyone is different—that’s the best thing about the job. Also, just making people feel happy—I’m a bit of a people-pleaser. I’m passionate about architecture, property, interior design. When I’m not working, I’m renovating my house. I change it every five seconds. And I love the thrill of doing a deal. It’s really the right job for me.