Although working as a property professional for Fine & Country in the exclusive location of ParkLane opposite Hyde Park, and 200 metres from Marble Arch in Mayfair, may be a fast-paced occupation, it appears an elegant affair on all accounts. Yet, London is also the city where magnificent stately homes were transformed into functional office blocks after the war. Fortunately, says Julian Lilley who opened the Fine & Country Mayfair office in ParkLane in 2003, new history is in the making, as these properties are returning to the residential property market, where the former glory of many of these architectural masterpieces is being restored into private residences fit for princes and princesses. He says the support of the UK government approving architectural merit in these areas has been invaluable in the restoration of prime properties. The high-achieving yet unassuming Lilley says he remembers a day in his life as a UK property agent shortly after opening this office, receiving the ‘country agent of the year’ award for a property sold for UK£4.5 million at the time, possibly worth double that now. Benefits to London customers dealing with Fine & Country London include dealing with a single office from where the best service continuity is assured and in return, he says, the multi-cultural and diverse clientele - also astute in international business practice - appreciate service excellence. Customers, mostly international visitors spending on average two weeks in the city, partly to purchase a house during that period, can walk in off the street between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to a magnificent shop window measuring 18.28 metres, showcasing a fine collection of exclusive London properties for viewing on touch screens. Lilley and his staff of three sales agents host ‘a sophisticated international clientele who are Internet-savvy and have iPhones’, who previously may not have had technology to facilitate a speedy process while time is of the essence. Lilley says the ParkLane office clientele reflects the world economy at any given time. Five years ago the majority of their clients were from the Middle East, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular, which later included buyers from Russia, India, China and currently reverting to a clientele predominantly from the Middle East, including Qatar. The effects of the global economic downturn on the property market in London, the hub of Europe’s economic and business activity, proved in favour of those buying, selling or facilitating top-end property-related investments. Lilley says: “While seeing London becoming extremely quiet for a few weeks after the pound dropped like a stone - a somewhat alarming experience - it also saw buyers suddenly achieving deals at 45% below previous prices, a phenomenal experience.” He says that although the number of sales dropped during the recession, overall turnover actually increased - proving once again that top-end markets show little disturbance from volatile markets as wealthy investors hunt for bargains. Marketing, however, remained absolutely crucial during the recession, and while word-of-mouth remains the ultimate marketing tool, Fine & Country says over 70% of buyers begin their property search using the Internet. Essential marketing strategies include staying abreast of state-of-the-art technology for Internet and cellular connectivity, social networking, as well as public relations and print media exposure. Commenting on agents adapting in a changing environment adjusting to different markets, Richard Combellack of Fine & Country’s Head Office says individual agents have had to adapt to different markets or they wouldn’t survive. He says: “However, this is not to say that they cannot keep their individuality about their business and methods. For instance, Fine & Country focuses on lifestyle marketing worldwide with items such as vendor interviews. The agents must adapt to how it is acceptable to trade, and how business is completed in the different countries.” Lilley say Fine & Country believes in outsourcing to the professionals, concentrating on what they do best. He says compared with other countries, London is a relatively uncomplicated country in which to achieve property investments as a foreigner. He says that providing buyers pass stringent money-laundering laws firmly in place, local professionals such as bankers, lawyers and solicitors manage the administration process on their behalf. As far as typical customer needs go, he says security at homes is of utmost importance, after which comes the challenging aspect of parking – a scarce commodity in older buildings that require off-street parking - but much more available in new developments in suburban areas such as Knightsbridge and Hyde Park. Fine & Country Mayfair has recently been awarded as many as five UK Residential Property and CNBC awards, where Lilley says the office turnover represents on average about three to four property sales per month to an average value of UK£ 2 million per property - including 1.5 to 2% agent’s commission that amounts to approximately R330 000 per sale. Although most commercial property agents in the UK are RICS – Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors accredited, a three-year qualification, Lilley says most London residential agents do not hold this qualification. Instead, agents confer with professionals where possible, and rely on service expertise to deliver with the utmost care the highest of customer service that may include answering a plumbing call for a very important family at 3.30 a.m. Article courtesy of , and is taken from their September/October 2010 issue.
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