The Property Power List
You can’t measure influence like you can cash in the bank. But the 25 entries on our list represent a cross-section of the most important people working in the selling and buying of British homes. It includes those who work in the property field day-to-day, as well as those who exert their power from the fringes. Some are royal, some are wealthy, some are titled and many most definitely are not. All of them play a crucial role in how and where we live, as well as how much we pay. With the property market set for another turbulent year, their position in British society is as central as ever.
1. Sir Terence Conran
Designer, restaurateur, 80
In those dark, long-away days, a home was a place that merely accommodated you, rather than impressed other people. Then Conran brought the world Habitat, providing stylish sofas and chicken bricks for whole generations of first-time flat-buyers in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. As those young people became more well-heeled, he supplied them with up market furniture (Conran Stores) as well as places to eat (Bibendum and Quaglino’s). British homes today just wouldn’t look the same without him.
2. Lord Rogers
Richard Rogers’s Pompidou Centre in Paris was the first high-profile structure to wear its innards on the outside. Pipes, flues and ducts became design features, rather than ugly embarrassments. While not exactly transforming the face of Britain’s suburban streets, Rogers’s philosophy made a huge impression on designers both interior and exterior, still in evidence today. Its latest manifestation is Neo Bankside, the four block apartment development overlooking the Tate Modern, where stainless steel, screwdriver-like supports on the outside make way for fewer supporting walls (and thus more space) on the inside. Now 35 years old, the Rogers practice is today called RSH, to include fellow-directors Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour.
3. Prince Charles
Heir to the throne, 63
When the Prince of Wales built his dream village of Poundbury, just outside Dorchester, he was mocked by some architectural and social commentators. They looked down on the idea of a newly built, “instant” community. In his defense, the Prince said he wanted to “create urban areas that encourage a sense of community and pride of place, and which will foster the wellbeing of those who live there.” While some people still retain a snooty attitude towards the concept, increasing numbers of developers now seek not to plonk new homes in the middle of nowhere, but to provide schools, shops and sports facilities to go with them. For instance, Kings Hill (near West Malling in Kent) was a disused airfield. Now it is a thriving community. As for influence, just look at the size of spanner the Prince put into the works when he didn’t like the proposed new development at Chelsea Barracks.
4. Phil Spencer
Home finder, television presenter, 42
Unlike a lot of television presenters, Phil Spencer has actually worked in the property field. He set up his house-search firm Garrington Home Finders in 1996, when Location, Location, Location was just a phrase, rather than a television programme. Since then, there have been 16 series of the show, plus numerous spin-offs. While onscreen partner Kirstie Allsopp plays the more intuitive, foot-in-the-door role, Phil embodies the facts-and figures approach. As per his books Adding Value to Your Home and How to Buy Your First Home.
5. Kevin McCloud
Designer and apostle of self-build, 53
Kevin has almost single-handedly transformed what could have been dismissed as a minor, crackpot hobby (building your own home) into a thriving industry. His television show Grand Designs has run to seven series, spawning Grand Designs Live exhibitions up and down the country. His latest book is called 43 Principles of Home, and his design firm is called Happiness Architecture Beauty (HAB). In the same way that the Grand Designs building projects stay just the right side of madness, so McCloud manages to stay just the right side of pretentiousness.
6. Kirstie Allsopp
Television presenter, writer, 40
Never was a human being more suited to house hunting than Kirstie, a woman blessed at birth by the no-nonsense fairy. Like Phil Spencer, she started up a home search agency (Notting Hill). She established a reputation for tenacity and toughness, matched only by nosiness and an insatiable interest in other people’s homes. Pre-Kirstie, the traditional UK house-hunting mindset was all about you versus the vendors, but she has shown what can be gained by adopting the hitherto unthinkable approach of being (shock, horror) nice to estate agents. Then wheedling out information with gifts of fresh latte.
7. Duke of Westminster
In the great Monopoly game of life, the player who’s been dealt the best cards is Gerald Grosvenor. He owns not just Mayfair and Park Lane, but substantial amounts of Belgravia, too. The most recent annual report for the Grosvenor Group shows that it made pre-tax profits of £394.8million, and had property assets worth £5.46billion. All from 300 acres of land which came into the family around 1677, and was mainly swamp. Far from being known as the cruel-hearted squire, though, the Duke has a reputation for taking an interest in the community, not just the cash. When Waitrose got permission to open a branch in Knightsbridge, they were forbidden to sell newspapers and greetings cards. This was in case it affected the newsagent’s business just up the road.
8. Simon Thurley
Chief executive, English Heritage, 46
With the Government making noises about how local planning authorities should have a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, Thurley is cast in the role of the white knight defending the countryside. In all, there are 374,081 listed buildings in England, most belonging to ordinary home-owners. While many of them complain about the pettifogging excesses of the heritage “police”, few argue that protection of the past is not important. What’s more, Thurley is a paid-up historic home dweller himself. He lives in a medieval merchant’s house in King’s Lynn, Norfolk.
9. Chancellor of the Exchequer
Currently George Osborne, 40
At a stroke, the puller of the purse strings can make the property market dance to his tune. With one hand, he can dish out a stamp duty vacation, with the other he can launch a stamp duty vendetta against those trying to get out of paying that particular tax. The biggest task facing him at the moment, of course, is how to get young people onto the property ladder. First it was First Buy, now it’s New Buy – but could we soon be saying goodbye to Britain as a nation of home owners
10. Lucian Cook
Director of residential search, Savills estate agents, 40
Lucian became a land agent after doing a land economy degree at Cambridge. As well as being principal author of the firm’s quarterly market review Focus, he has established a beyond-in-house reputation. He came up with a paper for the Centre for Policy Studies, entitled Taxing Mansions, in which he wrote: “Recent proposals for a ‘mansion tax’ claim that it would be a precisely targeted and efficient tax that would be paid only by the very wealthy. And that high-value residential property makes an unfairly modest contribution to tax receipts. These claims are flawed.” Guess what? The mansion tax idea was dropped in the Budget, in favour of a stamp duty rise on properties above £2million.
11. Liam Bailey and Grainne Gilmore
Property analysts, Knight Frank estate agents, 40 and 36
Twin fonts of wisdom and statistics at up market estate agents Knight Frank. She’s an economics journalist who produces report on London property, particularly on builder and buyer attitudes. He’s head of residential research, and as well as pronouncing on current market conditions, carries out bespoke research projects on behalf of developers, investors and funders. Both are tangible evidence that the top-end estate agent these days needs more than pinstriped suits and swanky offices in Belgravia.
12. Nick and Christian Candy
Interior designers and development managers, 38 and 37
Of the two somewhat publicity shy siblings, the more visible is Nick, who did human geography at Reading, then worked for KPMG and J Walter Thompson. They started out in the Nineties, buying an Earl’s Court flat with £6,000 from their grandmother, doing it up and then selling it for a £50,000 profit. Now Candy and Candy have gone global (Russia, Qatar, Dubai, Nigeria), and clients include Kylie Minogue, Lakshmi Mittal and Gwyneth Paltrow. A Monaco penthouse they redesigned sold for a reported £200million. Their greatest London hits include 21 Chesham Place, a former telephone exchange in Belgravia (apartments £10million-plus), and One Hyde Park (current asking price £18.5million for a three bedroom apartment).
13. Lord Linley
Furniture and interior designer, 51
Another member of the Royal family who has helped reshape the face of up market UK property, having pioneered the idea of the show-home plus. Instead of hiring random furniture to deck out new build properties, top-of-the-range developers now commission the noble Lord to do a full fit-out. Buyers get the whole set-up, full of Linley-designed pieces. Purchasers are prepared to pay well over the sum-of-the-parts for swanky apartments as well as a dusting of royal design magic, as at big new developments The Lancasters (Bayswater) and The Lakes by Yoo (Cotswolds). With home-design clients now including Oprah Winfrey and perfumer Jo Malone, this has proved a fruitful domestic diversification for Linley from designing hotel rooms and yacht interiors.
14. Tony Pidgley
Chairman, Berkeley Homes, 64
Pidgley is proof that you don’t have to be a public-school-educated smoothie to make it in the property world. A Barnardo’s boy, he was adopted at the age of four by a family of travelers, and raised in a disused railway carriage. He left school at 15, set up a haulage business, became a millionaire five years later, and started Berkeley Homes in 1976. One of the first people to start building non-box-like homes, in response to the bad reputation of new-build housing estates.
15. Paul Shamplina
Founder, Landlord Action, 40
Positioned very much at the sharp end of land lording, Paul Shamplina is the kind of person you want on your side. As well as operating a telephone advice service for owners who’ve got out of their depth, the feisty Mr S operates as a pro-landlord political campaigner and as a very practically minded effecter of evictions. He wants squatting to be made illegal and had carried out 15,000-plus evictions at the last count.
16. Mark Clare
Chief executive, Barratt Developers, 54
Clare took over at Barratt in 2006, after 12 years with British Gas and Centrica. He arrived just in time for the economic crash, resulting in lay-offs throughout the firm, as high levels of debt had to be reduced. Clare has since rescued the company from immediate danger, adopting a policy of quietly buying up land (£1.3billion worth reportedly acquired since May 2009), and building fewer houses (11,000 last year, as against 22,000 pre-crash). At the same time, he improved financial returns (operating profits rose 40 per cent in the last quarter of 2011). Standards remain high, though, as Barratt is the only major developer to have held a Home Builders Federation five-star award for three years running.
17. Ed Mead
Television and radio front man, director, Douglas and Gordon estate agents, 52
Outgoing, motorbike-riding spokesperson-cum-newspaper and magazine contributor, distinctly unconventional. Typical of his all action style is the way he famously once helped Telegraph Property get a scoop by climbing through the first floor Window of a Chelsea mansion. It had been occupied by a squatter who was posing as the owner and accepting payments from would be tenants.
18. Stuart Law
Chief executive, Assetz, 48
Blogger, house-price analyst and founder of Assetz, a private investor organisation which voices the concerns and promotes the interests of 40,000 buy-to-let and would-be buy-to-let investors in the UK. And that figure looks like it’s going to increase over the coming months, as first-time buyers find it hard to get on to the property ladder and are increasingly forced to rent. Not so long ago, buy-to-let was seen as a busted flush; now, it’s landlords who hold all the cards. Especially in London, here average rents are £1,212 a month, compared to the national average of £716.
19. Bob Weston
Founder and chairman of developers Weston Homes, 56
He began the business in a spare room and, 25 years later, has turned it into a company with a £100million-a-year turnover. His developments are concentrated around the edge of the capital and the Home Counties. These new builds are aimed strictly at low-to middle- income earners, with prices ranging from £150,000 to £700,000. Despite being a former conservative parish councilor, he says government policies are preventing the building of affordable housing. An Essex man, the home ground of his local football club, Colchester United, bears his name: the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
20. Alex Michelin and Andrew Dunn
Founders of top-end design and development firm Finchatton, 35 and 36
Their story is not dissimilar to that of the Candy brothers (see entry 12), only Michelin and Dunn were school friends Charterhouse) rather than brothers when they set up their firm 10 years ago. Typically, their first project was in up market Mayfair, and sold for twice what they paid for it. Since then, they’ve gone international, but always in the plusher parts of the globe (Cap Ferrat, Caribbean), and for super-rich clients (e.g. Simon Cowell). They’ve done £840million worth of developments so far, and have £300million worth up-and coming. Projects include a £25million triplex apartment in Chelsea, and a small apartment block (The Lansbury) next door to Harrods.
21. Charlie Ellingworth
Founder, Property Vision, house search agents, 55
It was nearly 30 years ago that Charlie Ellingworth set up Property Vision in order to help cash-heavy but time-light house buyers find a place that matched their dreams and price range. Detachment from the actual business of selling helps Ellingworth retain a more objective view of the property market, as expressed in his entertaining blog musings. So whereas most estate agents are too busy selling to ask any wider questions, Ellingworth dares to question whether it is a good thing that large numbers of high-end homes in central London are being bought by overseas buyers who may only live there for a few weeks per year.
22. Melanie Bien
Mortgage and personal finance expert, 38
Melanie worked for mortgage advisers (Savills) Private Finance, before recently setting up her solo consultancy venture Bien Media. As well as being at home with high finance, she is adept at communicating money matters to the less fiscally clued-up, as demonstrated by the titles of her books – Renting Out Your Property For Dummies and Buying and Selling a Home for Dummies. Famously irked by a Kirstie Allsopp tweet about the shortness of her black dress when appearing on BBC Breakfast. This was gleefully picked up by the tabloids, and presented as a blonde versus brunette spat.
23. Klas Nilsson
Chief executive, Northacre developers, 70
Brought up in Sweden and trained as an architect, Nilsson moved to London in the Seventies. From the beginning, he made a specialty of building new, modern interiors behind original facades. Look at the names of the projects (The Bromptons, The Phillimores, The Lancasters), and you will see they are mostly in up market areas, a short Chihuahua’s walk from Kensington High Street. The secret of Northacre’s success is that rather than just being a firm of builders, it is a three-headed creature, comprising development management (Northacre), interior design (Intarya) and architecture (Nilsson Architects).
24. Camilla Dell
Managing director of Black Brick Property Solutions buying agency, 34
When tough-talking Camilla Dell offers you a property “solution”, she means “bargain”. In the five years since she set up Black Brick, she reckons she has helped buyers from all over the world acquire £300million worth of London property. She gets an average of 10.5 per cent off the asking price each time. She reckons a quarter of those deals have taken place off-market, by putting private sellers in touch with private buyers without the property ever being officially launched on to the market.
25. Lord Foster
Well into his seventies, over a four decade career Norman Foster has designed a staggering number of the world’s most recognizable structures. From Wembley Stadium with its distinctive arch to 30 St Mary Axe (the “Gherkin” to most) in the City. His style has mellowed slightly over the years: the high-tech, machine-influenced HSBC Main Building in Hong Kong, from 1986, is a world away from the smooth contours of City Hall, by Tower Bridge. But he shows little sign of slowing down. As well as a £50bn proposal for a new airport on the Thames estuary, Foster & Partners is behind the futuristic, circular new Apple headquarters.