The founding director of Sandfords on the digital revolution, stamp duty and the cosmopolitan quality of Marylebone

Words: Ellie Costigan
Images: Orlando Gili

Tell us a little about your professional background.
I started off in law, then I was in radio, before joining my father’s property investment business. I set up Sandfords in the mid-1980s in Highgate. We moved here in the mid-1990s. Since then it’s grown from a very small business into an established company that’s well-known in Marylebone.

How have things changed in that time?
Certain industries were affected greatly by the internet, but until recently estate agency wasn’t—it was simply another way to advertise property. We still came into a local office, advertised property on behalf of clients and found buyers. It’s only within the last few years that the internet has really changed the way our industry works. One of the ramifications is that the agency is no longer limited to the immediate area in which its office is located. Traditionally, our area goes north to Primrose Hill and south to Oxford Street, which encompasses Marylebone, St John’s Wood and Regent’s Park. Now, we have instructions pretty much all over London. The internet allows that to happen.

What effect has that had on the industry?
The industry is changing, and I think it is going in two entirely different directions: there are agents such as ourselves, who develop very personal relationships with clients and where it’s the skill of the people that counts. In this scenario, you employ that agent because you believe they know the market and know the buyers you want to reach. The other end of the market is where the property is simply stuck on the internet. That model is not one that we want to pursue. We are very much a property consultancy, rather than an agency. Everyone here has been in the business a long time. That’s one of our core values: offering a personal service, and the knowledge and experience of those on the front line.

How much market fluctuation has there been over the last 20 years?
It’s been a rollercoaster. Markets don’t just ebb and flow, they’re either on or they’re off—it’s like a tap. As an agency, you’ve just got to roll with it and adapt. The current market is tough, and I think it will be for some time. But, in many ways, this plays to our strengths. When the market is like this, the vendor needs somebody who really knows what they’re doing. It’s now that Sandfords shines, because we have the people and the knowledge to do that.

There have been several recent changes in taxation and property law. Have they affected the market?
Stamp duty changes had a profound effect on the market place. It’s a transactional tax; it stops people from doing things. When you stop people from buying homes, people don’t buy new carpets, washing machines, do up their house—so much of the economy is dependent on the life and strength of the property market. Stamp duty changes had a very dramatic and adverse effect.

The other thing the government did recently was bring in extra stamp duty for buy-to-let investors. That was particularly inequitable. No more than five years before that, the government was saying, “We’re not going to have enough money to look after you when you retire, so you’d better make some arrangements to make sure you’ve got an income.” They actively encouraged people to buy properties. Now, they’ve made buying second properties much more expensive and prohibitive. That’s affected the market place too.

How does Marylebone compare with the rest of central London?
One of Marylebone’s unique features is the amount to which it has become fashionable in the last 10 to 15 years. When I first moved to this area as a business, I nearly bought an office on Marylebone High Street but at that time it was pretty run-down. Now, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s become attractive to people all over the world.

Why do you think that is?
The high street is a great attraction. Its proximity to the West End, the fact that you can go across the Marylebone Road and you’ve got Regent’s Park—there’s so much going on here and it’s so well located, in terms of getting anywhere else. I think people also like that there’s a village feel: things like the Summer Fayre and the Christmas Lights switch-on show there’s a community here. And although Marylebone can achieve high prices, it’s still pretty good value when compared with Knightsbridge or Kensington.

Do you have a core client base?
It’s very diverse. I’m amazed every time I walk down the high street, how many people I hear speaking French—it’s a very international community. There are a lot of families that live in Marylebone—there are a number of very good schools that attract families to buy and to stay. Our clients are very private, so there are a lot of off-market transactions. There are people who live in the area who don’t want people knowing how much they’re worth and how much their property sold for, and therefore we have to be careful about what we disclose.

What sort of properties do you deal with?
Marylebone is very varied in terms of property. There are houses in Montagu Square, high end flats in Paddington Street, mansion properties in Portman Square, which are always going to be sought-after—and because of that there’s no ‘typical’ buyer. We don’t see many studio flats, but otherwise we deal with a wide variety of houses and apartments.

What’s the best part of the job?
The satisfaction of seeing the company move forward.

Having worked in the area so long (and this being our special Marylebone Food Festival edition), do you have any particular favourite local restaurants?
There are two in particular I would mention: Fairuz, the Lebanese in Blandford Street; and Orrery, which is one of my favourite restaurants in the world.