Over half a century you become somewhat inured to a crisis
There have been a few since Lurot Brand came into existence – but the toughest time? Was it the crash in 1987 or 2007? No… It was without doubt, two years after taking over the business in 1973, when I sat with a candle on my desk during the three day week. With rubbish piling up in the streets and unrest everywhere, it felt as though the end of the world was nigh. In those days inflation was 17 per cent and tax at 98 per cent on unearned income.
They were the scariest of times. Nothing that followed has come close to those terrifying years for a young man who had taken the plunge to run a business two years earlier.
But as sun follows rain, so the boom time came in the 1980’s. Our best ever year was 1988 when stamp duty was 1% and we had done our bit to make mews homes trendy and desirable.
Initially, we were like other agencies, selling all types of property around central London. But it was thanks to my love of rallying that over the 70’s and early 80’s I saw a vast array of London mews as they were the home to commercial garages. Mag wheels in one mews – suspension modifiers in another, electrical circuitry in the third. As I loitered around waiting for my beloved cars to be fixed, I was able to poke around these largely undiscovered and unappreciated streets. One of the first mews we sold was in Queen’s Gate Place Mews for circa £39,000 in the first half of the 70’s – which today would set you back around £3,950,000 – and before long, someone had christened me ‘King of The Mews’. Time to live up to this title I thought.
So, driven by a love of these unique and quirky parts of London, I realised that here was an opportunity to differentiate the business and become specialist in all things mews. Astride my quirky and fashionable Honda Monkey-Bike I visited, logged and photographed all the mews in central London, around 750 mews streets, home to well over 8,000, increased over the years to approximately 12,000 houses.
All these years later, we’re still the only agents that focus solely on these homes which have gone from being broadly ignored, to now being massively desirable.
Being at the sharp end of mews living over the last five decades has been exciting and intriguing. Great art has emanated from the likes of Sir Jacob Epstein, Francis Bacon, Agatha Christie, Dame Lucie Rie, William Golding, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Germaine Greer, who have been inspired by the work/live space. Similarly, there have been many entrepreneurs who have built their empires from their mews, for example, Richard Branson’s Virgin empire operated from Vernon Yard. Sport and celebrity mixed as racing drivers including Sir Stirling Moss, James Hunt, Peter Gethin, Eddie Irvine and Jenson Button and many others, most of whom I got to know well, began their love affair with mews homes because they could house their cars and themselves at the centre of London’s beating social heart.
The uniqueness and individuality of these homes afford a quiet sanctuary in the heart of central London, so inevitably they have attracted some eccentric owners and some scallywags. The colourful characters, their homes and their stories have provided many a backdrop to films and television programmes. Love Actually, Layer Cake, Scandal, Four Weddings and a Funeral, McMafia, The Protectors, The Avengers, Hard Day’s Night – these are a flavour of some of the works that featured mews and which had a happy knock-on effect on the awareness and demand of mews homes.
But it’s not all famous faces and being ready for my ‘close up’. We have worked hard to ensure that we have retained our position as the number one mews agency.
We have always sought to push the boundaries, improve the profession and above all, provide our vendors and landlords with the best possible service.
SOME OF OUR FIRSTS
In 1981, we were co-founders of ARLA, The Association of Residential Letting Agents, because we thought that cowboys were best consigned to the wild west, not the London letting market.
In 1992, we also joined forces with other prime agents to form Central London Estate Agents – CLEA, to create The London Magazine, from which stemmed Prime Location, to help promote London living as well as properties.
In 1979, we introduced a ground-breaking new idea – floorplans. It’s seemingly unimaginable now that people didn’t have a record of the layout of the property they were about to invest in and today, they are an essential part of property particulars. One drawing saves a thousand words –
the immediacy of the visual made a huge difference and went on to spawn an entire sub-industry in its own right.
But the first that made the greatest impact was the introduction in 1984 – the year of the siege at the Libyan Embassy – of valuing and describing properties via £s per sq.ft. This is now a standard measurement tool, but back in the 1980’s this was brand new to the UK market – but something that I had seen in my dealings in France. Introducing this method of offering values has become ubiquitous – though abused by many agents and some vendors. Indeed, nowadays there are some that rely too excessively on this valuation. Clearly, there are good square feet and bad square feet – you can’t live in the airing cupboard yet, unscrupulous agents will talk these numbers up.
Indeed, my bug bear with the way estate agency has evolved over the years is the ‘BS’ factor. Of course, in the early days of Lurot Brand we, like all others, used adjectives liberally and I would like to think, eloquently. The florid language and overblown descriptions were knocked on the head in 1991, but it’s the invidious practices that have proliferated that continue to make my blood boil. Ridiculous valuations to win the business harm the vendor as well as the agent; convoluted website Ts and Cs that provide revenue, information and data that a user might not choose to share unless they were duped into doing so. I still marvel that people who are about to entrust their largest asset to a firm of estate agents often take an agent on face value and don’t do any research into their operating practices or track record. Regrettably, we often find those who have been duped, come to Lurot Brand after being disappointed. We are always happy to help and be scrutinised from the outset. Sadly, often the damage has already been done.
Perhaps one of the biggest influences on our business that we weren’t in control of, but that we embraced, was the launch in 2000 of the first property portal – Rightmove. Immediately, it meant that the larger agencies who could boast a network of national and international offices no longer had an advantage. From the comfort of our own mews offices,
we could showcase to the world these quintessentially British homes – suddenly we too could boast a worldwide presence.
What would I have done differently with the benefit of captain hindsight… well I might not have bought the fleet of Citroen DS3 company cars (and the Golf with the brake lights that kept breaking were a definite no – no) – or invested in Apple Mac computers for the business because we kept being burgled as a result… and had I had more liquidity back in the 1970’s, I might have invested in some of the wonderful properties that would now be worth very decent money. But would I have changed anything major – absolutely not. It really has been the Best of Interesting Times…