The head of lettings at Druce Marylebone on the rentals market, the demand for AC and working with The Howard de Walden Estate

Interview: Ellie Costigan
Portrait: Orlando Gili

What brought you to Druce?
I’m from Kent and had previously worked for an agent in Bromley, but I decided I wanted to come into central London. Before that, I didn’t really know Marylebone existed—back then it was like a secret village. Now, I love the area and wouldn’t want to work anywhere else, which makes my job so much easier. Another thing is, I don’t think the people at Druce are what you’d call ‘estate agent-y’. We are very genuine in what we do. I’ve been here 12 years now—I came in as a sales and lettings administrator, and then became a negotiator. I’ve been lettings manager for about five years.

What does a typical day look like?
I go out on valuations, get involved with viewings, help my colleagues negotiate deals. We have weekly meetings to check in with each other: any issues we might be having, what properties are sticking, how we can get them to let, which clients we are dealing with, what applicants they’ve got, and the properties we can match them with. We all work together. We share in everything.

What sort of properties do you deal with?
Studios from £300-350 a week, up to properties at £18,000 a week. Our staple is around the £1,000 a week mark. There’s a big range of properties within that. The market has changed a lot in recent years and we’re finding that there’s more high-end demand at the moment. I think at the top end, things are more stable, whereas people at the mid to lower end are perhaps unsure about where they’re going and don’t want to uproot at the moment, or their companies aren’t paying for them to move around.

Are people more inclined to rent than buy in this economic climate?
We are seeing more people come to rent in the area with an intention to buy. Their view seems to be that it might be good to rent while they see what happens to the sales market. They want the flexibility of a rental, so they can be looking around. That’s happening a lot.

It would seem that price sensitivity is key—is that the case as much for lettings as it is sales?Absolutely. Yesterday I went out with a relocation agent I’ve been working with for years. She had a top guy from a big-name sports brand coming over, with a budget of £1,300 for a three-bed. Usually that would be quite low for a property of that size, but I was able to show her quite a few. She was surprised at the quality of properties I showed her for less than that, too. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve just had a brand-new penthouse on Marylebone High Street— around 1,000 square feet, at £1,795 per week—which we let immediately. We’ve got another penthouse under construction, and we’ve had three offers while it’s still a shell. People will still pay top money for that kind of property.

What’s particularly in demand at the moment?
Wood floors, outside space, bespoke wardrobes, kitchens with top appliances—but not necessarily the IT side of things. Some landlords or developers have gone in with touch lighting and everything being controlled on an iPad, but we find people aren’t so interested in that as they are a high-quality kitchen, marble bathrooms, underfloor heating. Air conditioning is popular. When you’re dealing with an international market, it is sort of an expectation, and landlords are now catching on and installing it. It does make a difference. If something is a bit more dated, with carpets and perhaps an older kitchen or bathroom, it won’t do as well, even if it’s great value for the square footage.

You’re one of three exclusive letting agents for The Howard de Walden Estate. What does that mean in practise?
Previously there were four agents on the panel and all of those agents could deal with sub-agents. The Estate felt its brand was being diluted, so now they’ve now chosen three agents—their top performing agents, all of which are well-established—and six select sub-agents. No one else deals with their properties. Those sub-agents are fully informed about what the Estate has to offer, and we attend viewings with them to make sure all that information is being passed on.

What does the Estate have to offer?
They’re a premium landlord. There will be someone that personally manages each property, so the tenant will just deal with one person throughout. They get local discounts—they don’t pay a joining fee at Third Space gym, and there are quite a few restaurant and shop discounts coming on board for tenants of the Estate. You get a discounted rate on rental furniture. There’s a meet and greet service, whereby someone will meet you at your property and show you where everything is and how it works—the oven, the boiler, the washing machine, where the bins go. It’s a really good service. The management team are great.

You’re also getting a certain standard of property. They will always be repainted upon request, and the Estate knows through dealing with us and the other two agents what the tenants are after—and they really listen to us. We’re lucky to be in an area where there is this high standard.

Why do you think Druce was chosen?
We’ve worked hard, consistently, for a very long time. We really do know the area—and the Estate—well, so they know their properties are in good hands. We have a genuinely great relationship: they’re our clients, but they’re our friends as well. They trust us. We get involved in everything that goes on—the Summer Fayre, the Christmas Lights, we do the Paddington Street Gardens Christmas tree lighting. It’s important. We are truly a Marylebone agent.

What’s your favourite part of the job?
Really getting to know an applicant and understanding what they’re after. I love the research and finding that exact property—knowing you’ve matched it with the right person, that’s the best part for sure.