The House Hunter

1 May 2009, The Daily Mail

CAMILLA DELL NARROWLY FAILED TO MAKE THE APPRENTICE, NOW SHE’S A HIGH-FLYING PROPERTY MATCHMAKER

Millions of us are glued each week to The Apprentice to see who will incur the wrath of Sir Alan.

For Camilla Dell, who runs London’s largest independent property-finding agency, Black Brick Property Solutions, watching the show is a reminder of why she started her own business.

Her company, which has a turnover of £2 million, was Camilla’s brainchild, and it was her involvement with former Amstrad boss Sir Alan Sugar’s reality TV show which inspired her to set it up.

In 2004, when she was a 26-year-old working for hard-selling estate agent Foxtons, she auditioned to appear on the second series.

After four years of working through the property boom years in the ‘highly charged environment’ of that agency, the ambitious negotiator was ready for a new challenge.

After excelling at the ‘shattering yet exhilarating’ three-week selection process, she made it into the last 50 candidates of 75,000 applicants and was put on standby to be one of the female contestants.

‘As it was, I never got the phone call to appear on the show, but the experience gave me the impetus to think about how much more I could do with my life,’ Camilla says.

Her flirtation with The Apprentice also increased her worth in her colleagues’ eyes and, within a month, she had been promoted.

‘Jon Hunt (the then-boss of Foxtons) loved the programme, so whenever I came onto the sales floor he would single me out,’ says Dell.

Hunt had set up the Foxtons empire in a former Italian restaurant in Notting Hill, West London, in 1981.

He sold its 40 branches for £370million at the peak of the property market in 2007.

‘He was an entrepreneurial figure who captured my imagination,’ says Dell.

But after another year at Foxtons, Camilla was head-hunted by rival estate agency Knight Frank.

Working for its property-finding division, sourcing homes for high-net-worth individuals, she soon realised it was her personal qualities customers were responding to, rather than what the company was offering.

Camilla says: ‘I decided there was room for an independent property finding consultancy in London, and set up my business with a partner in January 2007.’

From the loft of her home in North London, she turned round £1 million in the first year, a figure she doubled in 2008.

Property-finding agents typically charge customers – who, in Black Brick’s case, are looking for a family home or an investment property in London and the South- East – a £2,000 to £3,000 retainer fee, then a 2 to 3 per cent ‘success’ fee if a deal is brokered.

They have grown in popularity because they are not beholden to any agency, and so are truly acting for the buyer.

Earlier this year, Camilla moved to an office in Bruton Place, Mayfair, Central London, and has a staff of six, five of whom are women.

So do women make better property-finding agents? ‘Yes, they are much better at empathising with both sides in a situation, whether buyer and seller at the negotiating table, or husband and wife deciding on the ideal home,’ she says.

‘Buying a home is an emotional transaction.’

The other qualities Camilla thinks are essential in a buying consultant are patience, good contacts, market knowledge, a head for numbers, attention to detail and tenacity.

They are just the sort of qualities that would no doubt have impressed Sir Alan had she made it onto The Apprentice.

Camilla’s verdict on the London market

  • Prices are down 20-30 per cent from the peak of the market, which was March 2008 in London.
  • But has it reached the bottom? Not necessarily, though the past two months have seen a big increase in activity – and the reappearance of gazumping.
  • Who’s buying? Foreign buyers for whom the weak pound is attractive; plus buy-to-letters: yields of 4 per cent a year make buying a property to rent out more profitable than putting your money in a bank.
  • Properties selling best are those in prime areas – Kensington, Chelsea, Mayfair, Notting Hill, St John’s Wood – especially those located near to the parks.
  • Those that aren’t selling are those stuck at last year’s prices. Be realistic: pricing is key!

… And prospects elsewhere?

  • Green shoots? Hometrack’s latest Monthly National Housing Survey, reports a 19 per cent increase in the number of sales agreed in March – up from MINUS5 per cent in January. The biggest regional increase was in East Anglia, followed by the South-East.
  • How do you ascertain if property is valued accurately? James Greenwood, of Stacks, the nationwide property-finding agency, suggests subtracting 35 per cent from a comparable property’s value in 2007. ‘There’s a lot of game-playing going on, so abandon your innate Britishness and bargain like you are shopping in a Turkish bazaar,’ he says.
  • But where are the hotspots? email4property.co.uk – the UK’s largest network of local estate agent websites – reports most interest being shown in Nottingham, followed by Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham. Affordability is key in these areas. In Nottingham, the average price is £91,336.

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