Harry Jarman; The Gentleman’s Journal
It’s a Wednesday afternoon in mid- March, and I find myself sitting on soft furnishings in the basement of George’s members club on Mayfair’s Mount Street. It’s a club that since its opening just over a decade ago, has seen the surrounding area change dramatically. I’m waiting to meet property agent Peter Wetherell, a man who many dub ‘The Mayfair Guru’ due to his knowledge and market share of the area’s property market.
As I sit with an ice cold beer (it’s very late afternoon) waiting for his eventual arrival, I have the chance to flick through some of his own market reports. It’s not the reported booming square foot price that shock me, it’s the fact that an independent estate agent can provide such insight to the market, this sort of in-depth market reportage is usually only undertaken by the big conglomerates. As I get stuck in to learning about the redevelopment of Grosvenor Square, in walks Mr Wetherell, elegant in a navy blue suit and his signature orange Hermès tie. As we shake hands, he’s already ordering himself a glass of Champagne, leaving me wondering whether he’s celebrating a deal or if this his just his tipple of choice. Due to his casual demeanour I go with the latter.
After we’ve exchanged pleasantries and small talk, I begin by asking him how he has managed to keep almost 25% of the property market share against the likes of Savills and Knight Frank, who have larger marketing budgets. He pauses: ‘It is not because they haven’t tried, and believe me, they have, but Mayfair is unlike anywhere in the country,’ he explains in a gung-ho tone, ‘people want knowledge and we have been here the longest, therefore when people are thinking of buying, selling or developing their friends say go and see Peter.’
I infer from this and from the whisperings of others, that he isn’t just Mayfair’s premier agent, but one of its best-connected men. This wouldn’t surprise me in an area where property is big business; a square foot can cost around £5,000 (probably £6,000 by the time you read this). Whether you’re in commercial property or residential, Peter is certainly a good person to know.
I go on to push a question he’d no doubt been expecting, and ask his opinion on the growing talk of a property bubble and whether he thought that this could be down to wealthy overseas buyers. This time there is no pause, and his answer is as convincing as it is quick. Firstly, he points out that in Mayfair itself property prices are only 70% of their 2007 peak. Also, he continues, 45% of their buyers are UK based. He goes further still: ‘Yes, while there are overseas buyers buying premium property, this is not the reason for sky high prices nationwide, it’s bigger than just Mayfair. In short the reason is that there isn’t enough affordable housing to cope with the demand, and that’s true both in Mayfair and outside of London,’ he continues, ‘foreign investment in London should be seen as a good thing as there is a trickle down of wealth, more employment and consumer spending – more taxation, even!’
His own market insight reports that only 20% of his clients are from Russia and the Middle East, rather than the gargantuan figures the press would have you believe. ‘This figure is actually weaker than previous years due to government intervention concerning property regulation and taxes and rumours of more to come.’ He isn’t alone in these comments and this subject alone is set to become a massive issue in next year’s general election.
As he continues, a voice at the back of my head considers whether I should take these comments on board; is he for real? Should I simply dismiss this as sheer spin from a wily mogul with business interests at heart? However, simply put, I agree with him and later, over a drink at a location which seems to encapsulate the glut of wealthy individuals in London, he sums his position up. ‘Listen,’ he says, ‘I’ve seen many property market crashes. Some have nearly ruined me. It is not a small group of wealthy individuals pricing out the whole country.’
Put like this, you see his point: Mayfair has always been an expensive place to buy, no more so now than in the past. Peter is protective of his client list and so he should be. I probe to get a sense of his typical client, and his response is telling: ‘Honestly, I can’t give you a type, they are so varied. Some make their money in media, others in finance, and others come from families with inherited wealth.
Mayfair property looks likes it’s in a good place now and for the foreseeable future. Even with talk of the property bubble bursting, it seems that the demand for Mayfair property is just too high to make a difference. It’s just like any commodity; the rarer it is, the higher the price. Mayfair obviously can’t just expand beyond the barriers of Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane. And unfortunately for Peter’s competitors when property is in such high demand, there’s only one man worth calling.
For more information, visit wetherell.co.uk
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