Director of Sandfords Marylebone on Brexit uncertainty, interaction between sales and lettings, and the return of a more traditional approach to selling

Interview: Ellie Costigan

What drew you to the property sector?
I started in 1987, when I was 17 years old. I started at the bottom—and I’ve been trying to work to the top ever since! It’s the only job I’ve ever had—I was never even a paper boy.

You’ve been director at Sandfords since 2006. What does a typical day look like?
My day to day job is primarily overseeing the sales side of W1—selling properties, conducting valuations, that sort of thing—but I oversee the lettings department as well. I’m involved in all aspects of it, I am as close to the coal face now as I was decades ago. I have trusted clients I’ve dealt with for decades who come to me for advice, so it’s important I stay in tune with the market. And I enjoy it.

How is Sandfords responding to turbulence in the market?
I think we are responding more than most. A lot of estate agents are sitting there with over-staffed shopfront offices. We have taken the strategic decision to unify our offices and departments into one core hub, covering from Marylebone up to Regent’s Park and St John’s Wood, offering a wraparound service. Our focus is not volumes of staff, but quality staff. Because the market’s trickier now, you need very good people in order to get the results. You can’t just put bums on seats and expect things to happen, it’s all about building trust with buyers and sellers.

How would you characterise the Marylebone market specifically?
Prices have definitely come down. It’s very difficult to be specific as to how much, because it depends property to property. That said, some properties, if they’re really desirable, haven’t come off at all. We’ve just exchanged contracts on a big house on Harley Street, for instance. The price we achieved for that was at the same level that we probably would have seen pre-2016. That’s an example of a quality property that’s held its value. In this market, good property will sell.

Are you seeing much difference in the types of transactions you’re dealing with?
The investment market is not as active as it was—most of the sales we are doing at the moment are generally people who’ve got a good reason for moving, or people who are buying for rental investment. A lot of international—and national—investment buyers are waiting to see where the market goes. But people who need to move will always move, providing the product is good and sensibly priced.

Is there much interaction between the sales and lettings markets?
Very much so. That’s very important—it’s why we now have the two markets working in the same room together, because there’s a lot of cross-feed into rentals from sales, where people haven’t achieved the results they’d like in sales so are exploring options for rentals. 

What advice would you give people who are looking to sell?
You’ve got to have your asking price at the right level. Buyers will buy if they see that the asking price is right, but over-the-top property prices will end up being reduced anyway, and there is a track on the internet of the price coming down. Buyers look at that in a negative way. Get the asking price right in the first instance, listen to comparable evidence in terms of what has sold this year—not what’s on the market now. 

What gives Sandfords the edge over other agents?
I think I have more knowledge of this market than most people and I’ve worked in difficult markets before. Plus, being a small, boutique agency gives us an edge because you get better service. We have far more experience than most—the directors are dedicated and involved on a daily basis, dealing with buyers and sellers, and each director has been in the business for well over 30 years. Buyers want to be dealing with an agent they feel they can trust—who knows what they’re talking about. Gone are the days where it was young kids running around opening doors and expecting sales to happen; you’ve got to take people out to a lot of properties, show them what is out there and build a relationship. I think selling property now has gone back to being a little bit more old school in that way. It’s about being honest with people, vendors or buyers, not trying to lead people on a merry dance. You’ve got to be very direct, very straight with people. It’s as simple as that.

What are your projections?
That’s the million-dollar question. I’m positive about the market. At the moment, the market is slow because of Brexit—because the country’s not making a decision. That is affecting the whole market, domestic and international, and not just in Marylebone. The longer it takes, the worse it is for the UK property market. I think whatever the deal is, we will see some positive signs of bounce-back in the market. I think towards the end of this year, early next year, we could see a bit more growth, though it would be unrealistic to say that prices will start to go up. I also think it’s unrealistic to expect the government to give up the high level of stamp duty in this country, although I think we should.

Do you have a core client base?
Very much so. When I came to Marylebone in 1995, it was very much a local market. It’s much more international now, which I think is a reflection of changing times. A lot of clients of mine own considerable amounts of property and they will come to me to rent them out. If they look to sell, they come to me for advice. I am always happy to value portfolios—where there’s properties within Marylebone and other areas as well.

What do you like most about Marylebone?
I lived in the area for a long, long time. I have two children, and when they were three or four, we moved out of the area to Hertfordshire—it’s only a 40-minute commute, though everyone thinks I live out in the Hebrides! But before that I lived in Montagu Square, then York Street. I loved the area, it’s very easy to live around here: the amenities, restaurants, pubs, bars, whatever you want, there’s an abundance of it. We’re between two parks, Regent’s Park and Hyde Park. People jump on tubes and in taxis but actually, in central London you can walk anywhere relatively quickly. You can walk from Marylebone to Kensington in under half an hour. You can walk to the river, if you’re brisk, in a reasonable amount of time. You can walk up to Primrose Hill from Marylebone. This time of year, with the sun coming out, it’s really pleasant. And you bump into people—that’s one of the things I love about Marylebone.