Below, I speak with Marlon Lloyd Malcolm, director and head of sales, and Antoine Lurot, the company’s chairman and founder, for their thoughts on the market in the last half century, the twin impacts of Brexit and Covid, and the impact of the recent stamp duty surcharge on overseas investors.
Without further ado…
What has been the biggest change in the last 50 years and what might be the biggest change in the next 50 to come?
Marlon Lloyd Malcolm (MLM): The main changes seem destined to be taxes, mortgages (or mortgage-backed securities) and the internet. It is the internet and digitalisation that has and will continue to have a lasting effect on the dynamic of estate agency.
With the internet came big data and GDPR - both double-edged swords. Over the next 50 years, the lower-value properties will be handled in a more automated way and the retention of humans and emotional engagement will be reserved for the upper end of the property market.
How have you adapted to the twin challenges of Covid and Brexit?
MLM: Covid is easy, we are trying to do exactly the same job, but with a mind to making it safe and protecting staff and clients. It’s actually Brexit that is more difficult.
The effects of the drawn-out negotiations are likely to be worse than we think because uncertainty stops buyers and sellers making decisions over the medium-term. However, because we have both Covid and Brexit running at the same time, the real impact of the latter will take a while to permeate into the psyche of the majority of people.
So perhaps due to all the attention having switched to Covid, it has suspended the effect of Brexit on the economy and property sector.
As a brand whose USP is mews houses at the higher end of the market, has the extra 2% stamp duty on overseas investors had any impact so far?
Antoine Lurot (AL): Stamp duty has had an impact on overseas investors or otherwise they don’t exist anymore! It has stripped away entirely any attraction for an investor to commit to a property investment in London.
So, the 2% for overseas investors is there to stop those who might just have been able to stomach the general SDLT due to currency shifts. Generally, it’s having the desired effect the government want - slowing down the property market from large capital rises at the upper end.
As a brand, how do you make sure you don’t come off as too elitist or closed off? Do you only operate at the very highest end or do you have more affordable mews homes, too?
MLM: As we’ve been trading for 50 years, we have sold mews houses for less than £100,000 and been representing buyers right up to £20 million-plus, but I would say the vast majority of mews are in central London and this means we rarely get to sell below £500,000; most of our sales are circa £1.5 million to £6 million.
You have a fascinating history with a flamboyant founder. Can you tell us a bit more about how Lurot Brand came to be in the first place?
MLM: It came about in two stages. Firstly, it was Antoine’s love of rallying cars which led to his discovery of London mews. It was here, tucked away, where many specialist rally and race car mechanics quietly worked away.
Naturally, Antoine started chatting to the neighbouring owners and this led to him selling some of their houses. Secondly, one fateful week, a convergence of stars made Antoine want to carry out a thorough exploration and inventory of practically every mews across central London.
He set off on his quest, equipped with his (Honda) monkey bike, a camera, Dictaphone, notepad and pen and ended up covering 750 mews, almost the entirety of central London’s mews over a three-month period.
What are the challenges involved with buying, selling, letting and renting mews homes?
AL: They are properties much like most in central London, sometimes on great estates (Crown Estate, Grosvenor etc), sometimes not, sometimes on private roads often not.
The fundamental difference is they are usually second homes; for this reason, we rarely deal with chain sales and most are cash buyers who do not require a mortgage. Additionally, more often than not, they are freeholds, which can make the conveyancing process more straightforward.
However, when they are more complicated, they can be very complicated. That is when our long experience and knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of mews buildings comes into play.
Do you make much use of PropTech in the day-to-day running of the business? Will this increase post-Covid?
AL: We use the same systems all the large corporate companies use with one large difference - we don’t sell any data or use any data for anything other than selling or letting our clients’ houses.
We believe that PropTech has many great innovations, but some can detract from the fundamental reality that buyers and sellers want human interaction. They prefer a skilled individual, who they can talk to and feel confident about what is being said.
We were a latecomer to social media, but are now using it with pleasing results and our following is growing faster and faster every month. We use the industry leading CRM system to organise our running of work.
To celebrate our 50th anniversary, we have just invested in building a brand new website that will hopefully fill a void in our industry which buyers and sellers will engage with.
Great answers, Marlon and Antoine - thanks very much!
Before I go, we are looking for wannabe match reporters to cover the upcoming Euros on Estate Agent Today. We already have all the England games covered, and two of Scotland's matches, but we are still seeking Scottish and Welsh agents to fill the gaps. If you're interested, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time...
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.