United Kingdom

London is now the biggest market in the world for top-end homes. So who buys them?

As one of the most expensive residential property purchases ever made public, it was inevitable that Telis Mistakidis would hit the headlines when he bought his £46.1million London apartment.

The Greek tycoon’s 7,900-square-foot Belgravia duplex was one of six built by Candy & Candy in the capital’s former BT telephone exchange. 

From the extravagant staff quarters to the hefty £3.2 million stamp duty bill, every decadent detail of the sale was pored over in 2015.

Every detail, that is, apart from the name of the woman who brokered the deal.

In the background, guiding negotiations at every stage, was property agent Becky Fatemi, whose exclusive firm the retired mining mogul Mistakidis, 58, had enlisted.

‘He wanted something extremely “trophy” and unique,’ recalls sharply dressed Londoner Becky, 44, who says a small development was also paramount to protect his privacy.

‘He didn’t want to get in the lift and see a fellow billionaire every time.’

Guiding negotiations at every stage, was property agent Becky Fatemi (pictured), whose exclusive firm the retired mining mogul Mistakidis, 58

She closed the deal in just 48 hours. But in order for high-stakes property sales to happen at such breakneck speed, they require an army of staff. 

‘You walk into a boardroom to have these negotiations, working with six or seven lawyers,’ she explains. 

‘The team that works around this type of buyer and their spending power is huge.’

This week, it was revealed that the super-rich bought more homes in London than in any city in the world last year, spending around £3 billion on ‘super-prime’ properties — those costing more than £10 million.

And on Thursday it emerged that Nick Candy, one half of Candy & Candy, had put his own apartment in One Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, on the market for £175 million. Astonishingly, he is already said to have offers.

Little wonder, then, that the services of prime property agents such as Becky, who source and sell homes for the world’s wealthiest people, are more sought after than ever.

This week, it was revealed that the super-rich bought more homes in London than in any city in the world last year. Pictured: Heathfield House UK Sotheby's International Realty

Their roles have come under the spotlight thanks to Selling Sunset, the popular Netflix reality television series documenting the roller coaster careers of glamorous agents at Los Angeles brokerage firm the Oppenheim Group, who bicker and scheme as they bag commissions on some of the most fabulous real estate imaginable.

So how does the lot of their London counterparts compare? And what is it really like scouring the capital’s most breathtaking homes and brokering multi-million-pound deals for a living?

From hiring private jets for whirlwind viewings to having a rapper client who believed Buckingham Palace ‘beneath him’ and selling a £40 million property whose master bedroom was the size of an ordinary house, Becky has seen it all.

‘I think we make it look glamorous,’ says Becky, whose prime estate agency, Rokstone, has made more than £1.4 billion of sales in ten years. 

‘We’re working in a glamorous environment — but we’re hustlers at the end of the day. It’s highly volatile.’

Gazumpings and bidding wars are just the beginning of the stresses these prime agents face.

But money certainly helps, as Mathew Walters, 35, (pictured) and Stuart Aikman, 42, founders of boutique prime property agency Story of Home

‘Once, a very successful banker who missed out on a sealed bid for a £5 million home turned up to my office foaming at the mouth and asking how he was going to explain to his wife that he’d lost the house. 

'It was frightening. We had to lock the door,’ says Becky, who was forced to call the police.

A post-Brexit price drop, low interest rates and lack of supply have led to the current ‘crazy’ market, she says, with three buyers competing for her most recent sale, an £18 million, 4,300-square-foot Knightsbridge home with four bedrooms, two kitchens and the ‘most unbelievable’ decor.

The sellers were a British couple who had outgrown the house after their children moved out, and the buyers were British too, something Becky sees a lot more of these days: ‘When I started I was working with a lot of Greeks and Iranians. Now I work a lot more with domestic UK buyers.’

Prohibited by an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) from revealing to whom she sold her most expensive home, which cost ‘in excess’ of £100 million, she has clients in entertainment and law, finance and technology.

She’s housed a former prime minister and searched for properties for singers Rihanna, Beyonce and Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy.

‘Puffy wanted to be surrounded by acres of land in the middle of London,’ smiles Becky. ‘We actually drove past Buckingham Palace and he said, “I love that, but everyone can see inside.” ’

Sellers and buyers come to her via her 65,000-strong contact database. ‘Everything we do is referral work,’ says Becky, who started her career at Foxtons, where she became the highest banking agent in the company’s history — a title she still holds.

The super rich are estimated to have spent around £3 billion on ‘super-prime’ properties last year— those costing more than £10 million. Pictured: Anchor Brewhouse UK Sotheby's Realty

'She has a staff of six female agents at Rokstone, which she founded in 2011. ‘I don’t advertise. I don’t send touting letters.’

Once she’s found a potential buyer, she assesses whether their money is ‘clean or dirty’. 

Around 10 per cent are vetoed on account of not being able to prove where they made their money.

‘Understanding where the money comes from is a big issue for us. If you can’t provide a paper trail to show the source of your wealth, you can’t buy a property.’

Becky brings many prospective buyers who live abroad to Britain on a private jet.

‘I work closely with a private jet company and have all the hotels on speed dial — [clients] usually stay in the Connaught, Lanesborough or Berkeley,’ she says, adding that most bring a security team to viewings to assess ‘fire exits, points of entry, to see if a panic room can be installed, before the offer is put in’.

While her twentysomething technology entrepreneurs and YouTuber star clients seek new-builds on the River Thames — ‘they all want the same thing: river views, underground parking, balconies’ — some of her sales, such as the converted Knightsbridge church that sold for £40 million to a ‘high-profile Middle Eastern’ client, beggar belief.

‘It had a glass cylinder hydraulic lift, three kitchens, a swimming pool and a 2,500-square-foot master bedroom — the equivalent size of a three-bedroom flat,’ she says.

‘Their privacy is so key that they only want one point of contact — me,’ says buying agent Hannah Aykroyd, (pictured) managing director of Aykroyd & Co, who advises high net-worth individuals on prime London properties.

She earns around 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent commission per sale — so £140,000 on a £7 million deal — but if it doesn’t go through, she doesn’t get paid a penny.

It’s stressful, she admits, ‘especially when you spend four years trying to sell and then the owner changes their mind’.

Her own home is a relatively modest two-bedroom flat in Marylebone, North West London, which she shares with her seven-year-old son.

‘I would love to move to a house with a garden, but can’t afford it because of the stamp duty,’ she says. Not that she envies her billionaire clients. 

‘They usually feel displaced. There is no simplicity to their lives.’ True. 

But money certainly helps, as Mathew Walters, 35, and Stuart Aikman, 42, founders of boutique prime property agency Story of Home discovered recently, when a Swiss banker flew by private jet to see a £5 million, eight-bedroom Georgian property they were selling — with a swimming pool and off-street parking — before buying it and flying home the same afternoon.

With demand so strong, they recently brokered a bidding war on a house ‘over £6 million’ between international clients who had only seen the property via video link.

Stuart once agreed a £9.35 million offer from a Middle Eastern princess for a Georgian townhouse in Marylebone, before flying to Las Vegas for a wedding and handing over the sale to Mathew to complete.

‘When I landed, I asked how it was going,’ recalls Stuart. ‘He said contracts had been exchanged — but not with my buyer.’

On Thursday it emerged that Nick Candy, one half of Candy & Candy, had put his own apartment in One Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, on the market for £175 million. Pictured: Stuart Aikman property Belsize Park Firehouse

In the space of Stuart’s ten-hour flight, Mathew took a call from a representative of a San Francisco technology entrepreneur: ‘He said, “I hear this building is under offer. My guy wants it.” He told me to ask the owner what he needed to do to acquire it,’ says Mathew.

‘The owner said if the second buyer paid the asking price of £10 million and exchanged contracts today, he’d swap buyers.’ And so he did.

While pools and off-street parking are de rigueur, some properties come with unexpected quirks, such as a fish tank built into the floor of one client’s bedroom and en-suite, ‘so the fish were swimming round the bath,’ says Stuart.

Even the most stylish designer finishes are subject to the whim of the buyer. ‘You’d be amazed how many people spend £10 million on an amazing property then rip it out completely,’ says Mathew.

Given concerns around their privacy and the cut-throat nature of the market, increasing numbers of wealthy clients hire buying agents to act in their interests, scout out the best homes and secure viewings.

‘Their privacy is so key that they only want one point of contact — me,’ says buying agent Hannah Aykroyd, managing director of Aykroyd & Co, who advises high net-worth individuals on prime London properties.

‘People don’t want the entire world looking at the internals of their property. An incredible art collection can be worth far more than the property itself, so there’s no way that sellers are going to allow pieces of art to be photographed,’ says Hannah, 35, who lives in West London with her husband and two small children.

From hiring private jets for whirlwind viewings to having a rapper client who believed Buckingham Palace ‘beneath him’ and selling a £40 million property whose master bedroom was the size of an ordinary house, Becky has seen it all. Pictured: Ovington Square UK Sotheby's International Realty

She adds that she often doesn’t reveal the names of celebrity buyers to agents until they put an offer in — and then ‘we can make it a condition of sale that it’s not to be talked about’.

Pre-Covid, Hannah, whose clients’ £2,500 retainer fee is deducted from the 2 per cent ‘success’ fee she receives from the purchase price, says 70 per cent of her buyers were from abroad. But post-Covid, 70 per cent are British, most in their 40s and entrepreneurs or working in finance, law, or technology, and looking for bigger family homes.

‘To get a really cracking family house with off-street parking, you’re looking at the £15 million to £20 million mark,’ she says. ‘Most of these houses have a separate flat for a housekeeper or nanny.’

Hannah says she sometimes sees herself as ‘marriage counsellor’ with buying couples — ‘you’ve got slightly different briefs you have to merge together’.

If a buyer is ‘focused’, she hopes to find them a home within four months. Is she ever intimidated by their wealth?

‘Definitely not. You can’t advise your client if you’re intimidated.’

In any case, she says: ‘Ninety-nine per cent of our clients are wonderful and happy to have us on board during what is a stressful part of their lives.’

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