Penthouse View

The search for Super-Prime | Jo Eccles, Eccord

After a busy summer, we turn our attention back to the UK ultra-prime property market to find out how Jo Eccles, Founder and Managing Director of prime central London buying agency Eccord, is helping her clients to make the best investments.

Jo Eccles, Managing Director, Eccord

You have not long celebrated 17 years since launching Eccord, what made you make the move from Banking to Property Search and Acquisition?

My career started on the trading floor of two leading investment banks, but property was always my first and true love. I spent my childhood building mansions out of Lego, and cycling around our neighbourhood with my sisters pointing out which houses we would own when we were older.

When I worked in banking, my colleagues were all incredibly frustrated by the house buying process – they would be shown unsuitable properties, they had minimal price information to negotiate with and didn’t have the time or industry connections to access properties ahead of them coming to the market.

It was clear to me there was a gap in the market for a client side buying agency, focusing exclusively on prime central London and never crossing to the sell side. I learnt everything there was to know about the micro property markets within each location of London during a career hop in property PR, and Eccord was born shortly thereafter.

A significant proportion of our client base still works in financial markets, particularly within the private equity and hedge fund worlds, but over the years this has expanded and we now count high profile sports and media names, entrepreneurs and social media influencers among our clients.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I have viewed thousands of properties during my career, including some of the most impressive and exclusive private residences, but finding and securing ‘the one’ is the most rewarding part.

Last year, we acquired a £25 million trophy home off market in Richmond, which was the most expensive property to change hands in South West London, for a billionaire client who had been searching himself unsuccessfully for several years. Equally satisfying was managing the extremely delicate and complex process of securing two identical flats, one above the other in the same building, as a surprise for a well-known actress’s granddaughters.

It’s about achieving results for clients which they couldn’t accomplish themselves, whether that’s accessing a particular property, securing a more competitive price – or both.

Which is your favourite London neighbourhood and why?

London is a wonderful tapestry of neighbourhoods woven together but my personal favourite is Little Venice where I live, which is discreetly tucked between Notting Hill and St Johns Wood along Regents Canal.

It’s a peaceful oasis of beautiful white stucco architecture, hidden communal gardens and waterside living, all nestled just 15 minutes away from the heart of the West End, Regents Park and Hyde Park.

The most interesting and unexpected neighbourhood of London is Mayfair, as it has such a high proportion of Tardis homes. The most unassuming facades open up to incredible houses or hidden courtyards, which no one would otherwise know about.

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?

We are always on call for clients and that never stops, but in recent years I have managed to achieve a better work life balance. I grew up with a second home in Barbados, so that was my haven for most of my life, but we sold it during lockdown. Whilst the sale came with mixed emotions, it has enabled me to go skiing, travel and enjoy other parts of the world.

Spending time with family is one of the most precious things for me, whether it’s the simple pleasure of walking along the canals of Little Venice or visiting nearby playgrounds with my daughters, going to art exhibitions with my husband, spending time in Majorca with friends or escaping to deserted beaches in Norfolk which I recently did for the first time.

Down time and a change of scene brings clarity and calm which is essential when so much of our role is highly strategic and we’re managing emotionally charged situations.

If you are looking to invest in the London ultra prime property market, here is what you need to know…

What challenges are buyers facing in prime central London?

One big challenge for buyers – which many aren’t aware of – is the fragmentation of the London property market, which has happened over the past 2 to 3 years. We’ve seen a significant number of selling agents breaking away from large corporates and setting up on their own as American-style independent brokers.

So much so, that nearly half of the properties we acquired in the past two years were through agents who our clients had never heard of. As a buyer, this means it’s much harder to thoroughly search the market independently.

We have just finished a search for a client across Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Kensington and Chelsea – a fairly concentrated patch – which involved us personally speaking to and leveraging our relationship and reputation with 136 different sales agents and brokers across the area, to ensure our client had seen every property that could be available to them.

Oliver Burns Studio, House of Walpole

Are prices holding firm, or has the inflationary environment that we have seen over the summer been a consideration for your clients?

There is a huge amount of wealth in London and many sellers own their properties outright with no borrowing, meaning they’re relatively insulated from rising interest rates. In H1 this year, 71% of prime central London transactions were purchased entirely with cash, compared to 60% in the same period last year.

This leads to a very discretionary market and we’re seeing a stand-off between the price buyers are willing to pay and what sellers will accept, which has reduced the number of transactions as a result.

With careful searching and tact, genuine sellers and good purchase opportunities exist, but they require a strategic and considered approach.

London has long been considered a world leader in the ultra-prime property market, as we approach Q4 of this year what are your predictions for the rest of the year and the start of 2024?

There is a divergence between best-in-class properties and the rest of the market, which we expect to continue. The very best properties remain resilient and are still achieving robust price per square foot values, and there have been some notable transactions over the past 18 months with competitive bids and house price records being broken for true trophy homes.

The flight to quality has been particularly evident with large, lateral family houses in Chelsea, Kensington, Notting Hill and St Johns Wood in the £10m + price ranges. We recently fought off seven competing buyers to secure a house within walking distance of one of Highgate’s best schools for a banker client, showing the strength of appetite for the most in-demand properties. We are seeing increased willingness among buyers to stretch budgets and devote a higher proportion of wealth and income to property, in order to successfully secure the right long term home. For those buying using some form of mortgage borrowing, of course, rising costs is a concern. But hesitant buyers have largely left the market for now, and those buyers who remain are serious about making a purchase.

What proportion of turnkey properties versus properties with potential to update do you typically find yourself looking for?

Currently, the vast majority of our buyers, around 90%, are looking for fully refurbished, turnkey homes they can move straight into, due to increasing refurbishment costs and timescales. This is not always possible for the right property, but most buyers are commencing their searches with this as a strong preference.

Our super prime clients are more open to refurbishment projects, as they will usually own other properties in London or elsewhere globally, where they can live for the duration of the work. We have had numerous clients in the £15m – £25m price range who have bought homes requiring an additional £5m – £10m of refurbishment, which they were willing to embark on in return for the right house.

What has been the biggest advancement in the luxury property sector in recent years?

One of the biggest improvements has been the development and embracing of technology. Most prime and super prime properties are now marketed with interactive floor plans, detailed video tours, high quality CGIs and virtual reality.

This has brought much more flexibility, enabling buyers to make significant buying decisions even if they’re sitting on the other side of the world, or giving them the opportunity to virtually experience the views from a penthouse which hasn’t yet been built.

Previously, only a handful of our clients would buy unseen, whereas this is now a more comfortable proposition. For example, we recently acquired a lateral penthouse for a client near Belgravia which spanned 4 properties. His wife was travelling and unable to be in London for the viewings, so we conducted the viewing tour with him in person, with his wife on Facetime. We were able to walk the property with her, open all the cupboards, she could see the views and they were able to react to the space together as a couple.

For high profile clients who value anonymity, we can provide upfront information and visuals before their identity is potentially revealed at a viewing.

A number of significant new super prime developments have completed or are on the horizon – what has been the response?

The world of luxury new build developments has evolved significantly in recent years. Firstly, service levels are now expected to – and do – compete with world class hotels. Amenities are also increasingly important, and the best developments are going above and beyond to give residents an exceptional and exclusive experience, from hotel collaborations, leading spa experiences, children’s play areas, members clubs and so on.

Developers are having to be mindful that they can no longer predict the nationality – or age – of their potential buyers, as there is no stereotype of the super wealthy. Consequently, many are now choosing to showcase very distinct and varied interior styles across a number of show apartments, or draw up a library of CGIs for the most expensive penthouses, showing layouts and interiors which will appeal to different nationalities.

The back of house infrastructure has had to adapt quickly too, to accommodate the multitude of amazon deliveries, food deliveries and so on, with large concierge teams, storage areas and hot and cold kitchens.

There is a lot of focus on the ‘off market’ – is it worth the hype and how do buyers access it?

There are different layers of ‘off market’ property and one of our roles is to ensure our clients have gained access to and chosen from the very best. Last year, 67% of the properties we acquired for our clients were off market and there’s little sign of this trend subsiding.

It does come with caution though; whilst it can be a very successful route to accessing certain trophy homes or particular streets, off market search and acquisition requires careful navigation to ensure you’re interacting and negotiating with genuine and realistic sellers.

Jo Eccles, Eccord Managing Director

What are your top tips for negotiating the best deals in the current market?

The most simple but essential piece of advice, particularly when sentiment is delicate, is to display good buyer etiquette at all times to everyone involved in the transaction. (We were once called in to salvage a transaction from a buyer who had been rude to the seller’s housekeeper.) You need to come across as a genuine and upstanding person, as sellers and their selling agents are prioritising transparent and authentic buyers and can be persuaded to accept a lower offer in return for certainty.

Once under offer, build and maintain goodwill by being proactive, responsive and polite, and assemble a good team around you of lawyers, surveyors and any other specialists required as part of the due diligence. Transactions are taking longer to complete, so you may need to rely on goodwill towards the end.

You have recently added Home Management to your list of services, what does this cover and how is the new launch going?

Alongside our property search and acquisition team, we already manage a portfolio of £1.6bn of rental properties for individual and portfolio landlords. Our Home Management Service is an extension of this and was borne at the request of homeowner clients who wanted to have access to our expert property managers and our black book of contacts to ensure their property is impeccably run and maintained, when they’re home or for periods when the property is vacant.

In addition to regular inspections, providing access to the property and managing contractors, our team liaise with household staff and settle bills, which creates a perfect after care solution, once a client has purchased a property.

My ultimate goal is for Eccord to be a quality seal, providing an exceptional end-to-end service to high net worth homeowners and landlords.

For more information on Eccord:
The Eccord Website
The Eccord Instagram
The Eccord LinkedIn