Sales managers at Knight Frank Marylebone on market trends, finding value in central London, and why buyers are looking to the long term

Interview: Ellie Costigan
Images: Christopher L Proctor

Tell us about your roles: how much do they overlap?
Craig Draper: I look after the prime residential market, which is from £3.5 million upwards; Ali manages the core residential market, which is £3.5 million and below.

Ali Mathews: They cross over a lot. We’re a close team: we will go on pitches together and sell properties across brackets. We have our own targets, but we help each other reach them.

What stands out to you about the Marylebone property market?
AM: In Marylebone we deal with so many different types of buyers—I think that’s why it has withstood the challenges of the last couple of years. You could be showing someone a half million pound flat one day, and a £10 million property the next. The diversity of people is fantastic. Every day is different.

Why do you think Marylebone appeals to such a range of people?
CD: Marylebone has changed substantially in the last 10 years, mainly due to the influence of the two major family landowners: The Howard de Walden Estate and The Portman Estate. Marylebone High Street has become arguably the best and most attractive high street in London. We’ve had major developers come into the area and build incredible luxury apartments such as Chiltern Place, The Chilterns, The W1, Regent’s Crescent and Park Crescent East, which have attracted a different profile of buyer. However, many buyers in Marylebone don’t want the glossy swimming pool, gym and sauna, they prefer to live in beautiful Georgian houses.

What’s the market like at the moment?
AM: This year is very interesting, it totally bucks the trend: in 2019, between 22nd January and the second week of February we achieved 10 sales between £1 million and £7 million, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s a reflection of the area, but also some adjustment in prices. People are seeing value relative to the immediate surrounding areas like Mayfair, where it could cost in some cases double per square foot, and they’re often better properties here, surrounded by better restaurants, bars, schools, with more of a community. With any purchase, it’s very rare in life to get something better for less money.

CD: We have a lot of buyers who say they will buy if the price is right—that doesn’t mean at a big discount, it just needs to make sense. They’re gravitating towards Marylebone because it has remained robust throughout good times, bad times, uncertain times, so you’re able to be confident about the future.

What are your projections?
AM: As long as expectations are managed, there’s no reason for further instability. A lot of people’s view is that as long as they’re buying for the medium to long term, what happens in the next two or three months shouldn’t have much of an effect. I think that’s why we’re seeing people getting on and buying again.

CD: There were claims that the banking industry was going to see a mass exodus from London post-Brexit, but it doesn’t look like that will be the case. Many blue-chip companies are investing in the London market—Apple, Google, Facebook—which is encouraging.

How does your advice differ from five years ago?
CD: It’s more of a long-term view. If you were buying a property in 2011 to late 2013, it was very easy: stamp duty was low, prices were rising at around 10 per cent per year, so if you were to buy a property and then decide that it wasn’t right for you, it was a very easy decision to put it back on the market because capital growth was more than off-setting the stamp duty. Now, with stamp duty in some cases being 15 per cent, the decision-making is becoming more thorough, and rightly so. My advice would be to find the perfect property at the right price.

Are you seeing a shift in the types of transaction?
AM: Definitely, especially in terms of buy-to-let purchases—because of the cost of your investment and the additional regulations, it is less cost-effective than it would’ve been previously. Second homes are still a very strong market, because Marylebone is so well located.

CD: The types of transactions seem to go between either new-build apartments with 24-hour concierge, underground parking and amenities, or equally in demand, as I mentioned, are the large-scale Georgian houses which represent value when compared to other prime central London locations.

What do you think makes Knight Frank stand out?
CD: There are plenty of firms out there that have offices across London, but we genuinely do use our network to our clients’ benefit. Even now, our applicant registration for Marylebone specifically is less than it is for Regent’s Park, St John’s Wood and Mayfair. Buyers gravitate towards those postcodes because they’re perhaps more established internationally, but with our network of offices, they’ll often refer clients to us in Marylebone who subsequently come over, prefer the location and purchase.

AM: It’s really important because people are not area-specific at the moment, particularly at the lower end of the market. They want value. In a boom market, people would settle for a six out of 10 whereas now, they really want to see eight, nine or 10 of 10 boxes ticked in relation to the property. Our Marylebone office also benefits significantly from having our global head office on Baker Street. We’re in close contact with people from all aspects of the business, which means we have the tools to offer really sound advice.

Do these higher expectations make your job more challenging?
CD: They do, but that’s the benefit of working for such a good brand. Knight Frank is a trusted advisor and we spend an enormous amount of time with our clients and buyers. Our clients are appropriately advised, we’re in the fortunate position that we do get best-in-class properties, and our transactions make sense. We understand that buying or selling a property is a very big decision and we’re here to help. We have a new slogan, which is “Knight Frank, your property partner” and that really is it: we are here to be their partner throughout.