I work 25 hours a day, eight days a week and 366 days a year,” says Becky Fatemi, who buys houses for the super-rich with budgets from £5 million up to £200 million.


15th June 2023


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Ferraris, art collections . . . the agents who deal in £50m houses

Melissa York meets the people selling top properties to royals, A-listers, tech bros and politicians

By Melissa York

I work 25 hours a day, eight days a week and 366 days a year,” says Becky Fatemi, who buys houses for the super-rich with budgets from £5 million up to £200 million. She recently made an exception, buying a house for £4 million, “but that was for quite a high-profile actor”, she concedes.

At her elite London-based agency, Rokstone, her team of three sold only 12 houses last year, but collectively they were worth £500 million. To get her cut, Fatemi has to be available to her clients, who are from all over the world, at a time and a place that suits them.

“I have a membership to every private members’ club possible because they’re all in different worlds,” she says. “I meet clients at the gym and we’ll talk on the treadmill. I just flew to Monaco for two days, in and out. Last night I was at Sotheby’s for an art launch, then I went to an art gallery for a dinner with a client who’s just launched a champagne, and then next week I’m flying to Madrid to see a client’s flat there.”

Jet-setting and fine dining is all in a day’s work for Britain’s top-tier property agents, whether they are buying, selling or letting to actors, entrepreneurs or private equity fund managers — all of whom need an agent on the inside to find the few properties with the space, security and sparkle to house them.

This means that Fatemi also spends less glamorous hours in planning meetings with Kensington & Chelsea council asking for permission for a rooftop pool, or in lawyers’ offices getting deals over the line. She has to be very “measured” in what she promises her mega-wealthy clients; “these are very litigious people with big teams around them,” she says.

Their requirements are notoriously tricky to find among London’s historic housing. Fatemi’s latest impossible task is to find a one-bedroom property that spans 10,000 sq ft. “We’ll have to build it or restructure it, which is typical because everything they want is listed,” she says.

In this world, swimming pools, ballrooms and gated entrances aren’t at the top of buyers’ wish lists; wall space to hang art collections and vast temperature-controlled walk-in wardrobes are.

“Clients at this level are wearing couture, and it doesn’t even hang in the same way as normal clothing. You need a different place for the furs,” Fatemi says.

Iceberg basements were once a subterranean super-trend; the artist Damien Hirst converted his 150ft-long basement below his home in Regent’s Park, north London, to house his artworks, while Foxtons estate agency founder John Hunt won a ten-year planning battle to build a mega-basement in Kensington for his collection of classic cars.

But complaints from beleaguered neighbours and planning restrictions have brought this era to an end. Where basements are light and converted into useful rooms, such as staff quarters or gyms, they are still desirable, but Roarie Scarisbrick, partner at the prime buying agency Property Vision, has seen less appealing creations with niche appeal.

He says: “I got in a lift, pressed minus five and then my ears popped as I got to the centre of the earth. There was a revolving dancefloor and, on minus four, a walk-in gun safe.”

The “armageddon situation” for him, Scarisbrick says, is when he has two high-net-worth clients looking for the same type of property. Like a talent agent, he carefully curates his client list so they aren’t likely to be competing for the same houses. He learnt this lesson the hard way in his early days as a property agent when he had to mediate between two “alpha male types”.

He says: “We got to a certain point in the negotiation where there was probably £50,000 in it. And my client proposed it was settled in their Ferraris on a racetrack.

“I’m sorry to say that I was the fun sponge on that and I said, ‘This is absolute madness.’ Looking back on it, I really wish it had happened and I’d have been able to watch.”

It isn’t unusual for demanding high-net-worth clients to fall in love with a specific house that isn’t even on sale. Camilla Dell, founder of the high-end buying agency Black Brick, says she was struggling to find a house on the market in St John’s Wood with a garden and a carriage driveway for her client’s budget of £12 million, so she spent six months persuading a couple who did own such a house to sell.

She says: “That’s never an easy market to deal in because you’ve got very tricky sellers, lots of big characters, and this may be the first time they’ve sold in 45 years.”

Her biggest purchase last year was a £55 million house in Belgravia on behalf of a member of a foreign royal family.

She’s now on the hunt for a £3.5 million warehouse-style apartment for a young screenwriter in northwest London, and is also assisting Swiss buyers looking for a £15 million second home in Marylebone or Mayfair, and a Nigerian family with £50 million to spend on a house in South Kensington near their children’s school.

She also isn’t a fan of novelty basement conversions. “Who lives like that, really?” she says. “Even the really wealthy don’t have a hair salon [at home].”

Dell thrives on the competitive nature of her day job and claims to love taking her clients’ calls late on a Sunday evening. She recently gazumped another wealthy buyer on a big country estate in Surrey that had been under offer for 18 months.

“I told them, ‘We have to obliterate them out of the water on price,’ ” she says, and closed the deal for nearly £30 million on Christmas Eve. “Since buying it, we’ve actually had unsolicited bids from people coming forward at much higher levels.”

Not all of the elite want to buy, however. The A-lister Rihanna rented an eight-bedroom house in St John’s Wood, north London, for £18,000 a week, with parking for up to ten cars, a gym and two entire floors for entertaining. Taylor Swift reportedly rented a £7 million townhouse in Primrose Hill, north London, with her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, before they split up a few months ago.

American celebrities are used to living in big houses with amenities such as swimming pools, massage rooms and separate quarters for a live-in housekeeper, explains Yasmin Ulhaq, who finds rich tenants for landlords at Glenfield Property Management. She says: “When people are coming over, they want to replicate that and they get a lot more value by renting.”

In February, Ulhaq found a house in Notting Hill for an American family for £27,000 a week. Last month, she organised a rental for £37,000 a week.

Apart from high-profile actors, the tenants she looks after include tech entrepreneurs, Indian investors looking for somewhere to stay while they expand their London property portfolio and politicians from overseas.

Privacy is a key consideration; they usually want a property that hasn’t been let on the open market and is only available on the books of exclusive agencies, so floorplans do not exist for anyone to peruse online. These tenants often come with their own security teams; the American family specified a CCTV monitoring room for their security guards.

Unlike a “normal” lettings agent, Ulhaq isn’t just calling in tradespeople and drawing up tenancy agreements; she’s pulling strings with promoters for tickets to the Grand Prix or Harry Styles concerts.

Once, she had to arrange to fly a chef to France in a private jet to buy a specific brand of salmon mousse for a tenant’s dinner party. “I had to send the chef who went to get it with colour swatches because it had to match the dusky pink shade the room was going to be decorated in,” she said.

While her job is all-consuming, there are perks; a tenant recently bought her a box at a Beyoncé concert to say thank you.

To unwind, Ulhaq will splurge on a shopping spree in Harrods, but uninterrupted days off are rare, she says. “Most days, if I’m lucky, I’ll treat myself to a tiramisu at the end of the day.”

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