My money…Camilla Dell

The property guru on learning from her dad, making groundbreaking deals and having the right values

CAMILLA DELL is managing partner and founder of Black Brick Property Solutions. Having worked for two of London’s largest and most successful estate agencies, Foxtons and Knight Frank, Camilla set up Black Brick in January 2007. Since then, the firm has grown from a two-person start-up to become London’s largest independent buying consultancy.

Camilla lives in north-west London with her husband and two daughters, and in her spare time sits on the committee for Norwood, a leading charity supporting vulnerable children, families and people with learning disabilities.

What was your first job and first pay?
Working as a sales and marketing executive for a hotel company. My salary was £16,000 per annum.

How did you get into the property world?
My late father was a successful London property developer. He worked on some iconic developments such as The Colonnades in Bayswater. Sadly he passed away when I was nine years old, but they say the apple never falls far from the tree, and so I like to think in some spiritual way that my career path is linked to him.

Even at a young age, did his interest in property rub off?
Sadly, I was only nine years old, so no. He did used to film me showing the house we lived in — home video recording was all the rage then — so I guess you could say I learned the art of how to show a house from a very young age.

Were you motivated by making money?
Absolutely — I was extremely driven and motivated by making money in the early days of my career. You don’t survive five years at Foxtons if you are not highly sales-driven. However, as time went by, I decided that I didn’t want to sell to people any more. I knew there was a market out there to be a trusted adviser and provide independent advice, and help to people that are looking to buy. Buyers traditionally have no one helping them or fighting their corner.

Is property the easiest way to make money?
Not necessarily. I think property professionals often get a bad reputation for this, but nothing is ever easy — particularly in today’s market. There is increased competition from online agents charging little or no fees, high taxes have shrunk developer margins, and the market generally in London is depressed right now, with fewer transactions happening, so I think most estate agents today will tell you it’s far from easy.

How do you stay positive?
I am a firm believer that markets are cyclical. We had a bull run up to 2014, and now we are in a downturn. With that comes opportunities.

What was the first big property you sold?
An apartment in One Hyde Park for almost £16million back in 2007. At the time the development was a hole in the ground but we saw the potential to own something unique. At the time, One Hyde Park was truly groundbreaking — it was the first super-prime new-build development in central London.

What was your first financial indulgence?
Stupidly, a car. The ironic thing is that I don’t actually like driving — but I did treat myself to an Audi R8, which my husband loves more than I do.

Are you a spender or saver?
A bit of both.

Is money vital for happiness?
I think a certain amount of money is essential — enough to have a roof over your head, pay for schooling, the odd holiday and to eat out in nice places. However, I think other factors have to be right also — having the right values in life is just as important, if not more so. I meet many people with millions and I wouldn’t say they are any happier.

What would you love to buy?
I think my children would love for me to buy them a dog. But my husband says no until we have a proper care plan in place, which is sensible.

What has been your biggest waste of money?
The Audi R8.

A stage too far?

A stage too far?

By Oliver Wadeson

January 22 2018 – The Metro

Take a look at any model on the cover of a magazine these days and you assume the image has been airbrushed to remove any blemishes: sadly, digital trickery has become an acceptable fact of life in the world of publishing. Now, the manipulation of images has entered the world of property. In the US, estate agents — or realtors as they are known there — have been using digital technology to ‘improve’ photographs of properties for sale for some time, and, inevitably, this practice is now coming over here.

The process is simple — and controversial. Estate agents instruct photographers to take images of a property as they would normally. Then the digital images are sent to studios where they are ‘treated’.

How far this treatment can go is the subject of some debate but generally, for its proponents, the idea is that the doctored images should represent the potential of a property: what it could look like. This could often involve ‘dressing’ an empty flat but it could also extend to removing the furniture in the original photographs and replacing it with more tasteful items, or changing the colours and shades of a room. However, as the website of one US virtual staging company illustrates, it can do something as dramatic as add a swimming pool to a garden.

Changing the sheets: Stowhill Estates apply the technology to a bedroom

The photographs are sent back to the estate agents who upload them onto property portals, such as Rightmove and Zoopla, with a disclaimer stating something along the lines of ‘we have used digital technology to give an impression of the home’s potential. Actual furnishings may not be as they appear in some photographs.’

Stowhill Estates is one of the first British estate agents to adopt virtual staging here. Stowhill agent Lucy Joerin says they don’t use it on every property they market as many are properly presented already, with well furnished rooms and up-to-date décor but it’s a useful tool to have where there are time or budget restrictions to presenting the house in the best way. Virtual staging, she says, is a natural extension of dressing a home for sale.

‘Both physical and digital staging of homes is common practice in the US, where it is generally understood that the way you live in a home is very different to the way you sell a home,’ she says. ‘Most of the top real estate agents in the US will hire specialist staging companies who will come and remove all the existing furniture, and replace it with high end furnishings, in order to present the home in the best possible way − almost like dressing a shop window. Many owners even move out while their home is up for sale.

‘Here in the UK, where homes generally take much longer to sell (months rather than 30 days), it’s clearly not practical to move out and it’s prohibitively expensive to rent furniture for weeks or months. That’s where virtual staging can really benefit a seller who may not have the time, or budget, to hire in physical furniture.

‘We’ve used our virtual staging service on a number of different types of property, from an empty flat in Windsor to a three-bedroom home in Maidenhead where the owner needed to sell quickly but did not have the budget to clear out all her existing furniture or redecorate.

‘We’ve also used it in new-build homes, properties where there might be just one room that is unfinished, or where there are tenants in the property who don’t want their furniture and personal items to be photographed.

‘In any home that we virtually stage, we are extremely careful to only change decor and furnishings and never the actual structure or physical features of the home. You should certainly not move doorways, ceiling mouldings, window frames or bathtubs/showers, and we would never gloss over any structural faults such as cracks in the walls.

‘What we are trying to achieve is a visual image of how the property could look with different furniture or decor to give potential buyers a clear idea of the homes’ potential. We also always make it very clear which of our pictures have been digitally staged. Our clients have always responded very positively, as it enables them to see what could be possible.’

Caspar Harvard-Walls, a partner at London buying agent Black Brick, is concerned. ‘I understand why people are doing it. Normal “physical” staging — when you rent furniture to dress an empty flat is very expensive.

Just add water: This five-bed home located in New Haven, Connecticut, had a pool added by Why Not Homes to show potential buyers what could be done with the exterior space of the property.

‘It can cost about £450 a week to dress a two-bed flat with a minimum of a 12-week contract. And for some time developers have used CGIs for new build developments which are not completed. And I can see how that be extended for secondary marketing.

‘But it could lead to people being disappointed. Maybe they haven’t noticed the disclaimer. It should also be pointed out to sellers that sometimes the virtual staging can look appalling.’

Zach Calhoun, who runs one of the US studios offering virtual staging services — Why Not Homes — defends his service, which he has run from a studio in Houston, Texas since 2016. ‘It’s been around for years in the US but has only just started becoming popular internationally. We now have clients coming from the UK, Canada and New Zealand,’ he says.

Sky’s the limit: Why Not Homes says the technology shows a home’s potential.

‘I would say half the realtors in the US I speak with have heard of it and 15 per cent use it. It’s hard to tell how many properties have been virtually staged, but our group alone has staged more than 2,500 photos for more than 800 projects. My advice to our clients is: disclose everything, use both empty and virtually staged photos for the listing, do not hide anything or misrepresent anything.

‘Virtual staging is for people who see an empty room and have trouble visualising what’s possible. For example, my wife walks into an empty room and she sees possibility, I walk into an empty room and I look for cracks in the wall.

‘So the service needs to be used for selling possibility, not tricking people. Even though we do not have control of the use of our photos, we never advise hiding anything. But as a selling tool, it’s incredibly powerful to create foot traffic.

‘Once the buyer has seen the photos, walking into an empty property can be much more enjoyable and lead to faster offers. After all, you don’t buy a house’s furniture, you buy a home to make your own.’

■ stowhillestates.com; whynothomes.com; black-brick.com