Date Published 17 January 2023
'We sell a lifestyle, not just a property': In conversation with one of the leading lights of the PCL industry, Becky Fatemi, whose luxury boutique agency has just posted its best year to date...
PrimeResi meets Becky Fatemi, who founded Marylebone-based agency Rokstone in 2011 and has overseen its meteoric rise to become one of the most successful property firms in Prime Central London.
Despite the market challenges, 2022 was Rokstone's most successful year to date, says Fatemi
2022 was the boutique agency's best year on record, with over half a billion pounds worth of sales and lettings secured, including several record-breaking deals. A remarkable performance for a team of under ten people.
Here, she discusses the enduring appeal of London's trophy homes, her big ambitions for the business, and why the property industry is still way behind in terms of inclusivity and diversity…
You have been working in the luxury property industry for over 25 years now; which have been the most seismic market shifts in your career, and how do the events of the last two years compare?
I established Rokstone at arguably the height of the market in 2011 – it was the same year that Candy & Candy launched One Hyde Park and set a new benchmark for luxury residential property in London. I quickly recognised the need for a more boutique, best-in-class service to support UHNW and HNW individuals, helping them to navigate the complexities of the high-end property market.
Since then, the prime and super prime markets have continued to flourish. Whilst there have been periods of uncertainty – for instance in the period following the UK's departure from the EU – the prime and super prime markets have held firm, demonstrating the resilience of the market and the continued global appeal of London as a safe haven.
The last two years have once again showcased the robust nature of London's high end property market and have reminded us all of the important and ever-evolving role that our homes play in our lives. Whilst market activity in 2020 was of course hampered by uncertainty, it was quick to recover, and we are now seeing activity at pre-pandemic levels.
For us, 2022 was Rokstone's most successful year on record – we achieved over half a billion pounds of sales and lettings in just 12 months – which is particularly impressive given the size of our team, at just under 10 people, proving that in the toughest market, clients want the best-in-class of advisors.
Some highlights for us included; selling the most expensive home in Mayfair – a stunning trophy home which sold for in excess of £65mn, achieving Chelsea's most expensive apartment sale at £56mn, the sale of a house in Windsor in excess of £25mn and selling the two most expensive new build homes of the year. Our lettings team also outperformed, securing a £50,000 pw lease on a mansion in Westminster.
Some economists are predicting a property market crash, while most property pundits think the UK market is now slowing down after two years of heady growth through the pandemic. How do you personally foresee the market faring over the next few years?
There has been much talk of an impending property market crash, however, when you look behind the numbers, in truth, property prices are continuing to grow, and bricks and mortar continues to be a more stable investment than many other asset classes. Now is a good time to buy and lock in investments, particularly for overseas buyers who can still make the most of favourable exchange rates.
Based on conversations I am having with my network, which includes an array of HNWIs, sports stars, CEOs, business leaders, royal families, entrepreneurs and entertainers, the appetite to invest in London is high, and I expect super prime property market activity to remain strong. London's strict conservation area rules seriously hamper the number of new developments which are able to be completed, which makes trophy properties true collectors' pieces.
Are there any specific areas of PCL you are expecting to outperform?
The super prime enclaves of the likes of Mayfair, Belgravia, Marylebone, Knightsbridge, Chelsea and Kensington will continue to outperform as we see sustained inward investment from both domestic and overseas buyers. We currently have 46 billionaires on our books, actively seeking out the best-in-class properties in these areas, and these buyers are being joined by the new driving force in the market; tech buyers and social influencers, who have cash in the bank and are looking to buy in London's most luxury locations.
We currently have 46 billionaires on our books
Whilst much wealth flooded out to areas such as Fulham, Clapham and Battersea in the past couple of years as part of the ‘race for space,' we expect that these will be the areas which will see more of a plateau in values.
London's super-prime enclaves will continue to perform, says Fatemi
What type of stock is proving especially popular at the moment; and are there any other notable buyer trends you are seeing at the top of the market?
We have seen a real demand for lateral living in recent months. For example, we will soon be marketing a property on Lyall Street which is a typically long and low-built house with a wide façade. Similarly, a lateral flat in St James's which will soon hit the market is over 4,000 sq ft and has a great, lateral layout. The term ‘best in class' most suits today's market. Buyers are looking for the best house, on the best street, and competition for these when they hit the market is remarkably strong.
Another trend is the growth in retained agents, in terms of both sales and lettings. We have seen a real surge in the number of people looking to retain Rokstone in their rental and sales search and looking for us to do the legwork in terms of finding the property, carrying out the first viewing and negotiating the deal, whilst benefitting from our exclusive database of contacts.
How important are property portals, such as Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket, to the prime and super-prime market? What proportion of your deals are conducted off-market?
There will always be a place for property portals which are essentially an estate agent's window to the rest of the world, however the super prime market continues to be built on off-market sales. Currently, approximately 20% per cent of our deals are conducted off-market and sell via word of mouth, before they ever hit the open market. We utilise our network first and foremost which often means we don't need to rely on external portals to widen the reach.
20% of the agency's deals are conducted off-market and sell via word of mouth, before they ever hit the open market
How much of a role does social media play in your marketing campaigns? Do particular channels tend to achieve better results?
The importance of social media in today's market can't be denied, and at Rokstone, we share many of our properties for sale as well as our successes on our social channels. We find that Instagram tends to be the best channel for property sales, however as video becomes increasingly prevalent, we expect to work more with YouTube over the coming months.
PCL is a highly international market, attracting elite buyers from all over the world; what impact – if any – will the new legislation around overseas entities have on the capital, and the way HNWIs operate?
Buyers come to London not only for investment, but also for lifestyle. They want to make the most of everything London has to offer, including its amazing restaurants, its cultural scene, and its schooling. There have been various pieces of legislation put into place around overseas investment over the past decade, and they have had little impact on the demand for PCL property, I don't expect that to change any time soon.
The business of estate agency is shifting, embracing new technologies and adapting to new regulations; which have been the biggest changes that you've seen since launching Rokstone in 2011, and do you have any predictions for the future of estate agency?
Viewings via video call to buyers all over the world and promoting properties via social channels is now just a part of the day-to-day life of selling property, as well as negotiating deals via WhatsApp or We-Chat. And I predict that the estate agency world will have to learn fast to keep up with the changes to technology.
At Rokstone we sell a lifestyle, not just a property, and we work hard to make sure that our buyers have access to the best of members clubs, schools, nanny agencies, security teams and so on, and I believe that this will become more of the expectation of estate agents – they need to be able to offer the whole package, a one stop shop for relocation.
What are your ambitions for Rokstone over the next ten years?
We have an amazing track record at Rokstone for selling the best in class of properties throughout London and I intend to build on this over the next ten years, particularly internationally. We have big ambitions for the company, and with our amazing team in place, I believe we can continue to be the go-to agents for the super prime market.
Which new developments have you been particularly impressed by recently? And which forthcoming projects should we be keeping an eye on?
Some of the best new developments to hit the market recently including The Old War Office, The Glebe in Chelsea, The Whiteley in Queensway. 60 Curzon in Mayfair is another we are excited about.
City & Docklands' regeneration of the Park Royal Design District and North Acton is definitely one to watch over the coming months and looks set to completely redefine that area of the city.
The OWO is one of the best new schemes to hit the market in London
A significant number of well-known agents have left the corporate world behind to start-up their own US-style brokerage operations lately; do you see this trend continuing and is it a good thing for the sector – and also buyers and vendors?
Quite often as an estate agent you are selling someone's biggest and most prized possession, and this makes it a very personal job. We act as part estate agent, part counsellor, part therapist and with that comes a personal relationship. As people build up this trust with their clients, it is not surprising that so many agents are following the US-style brokerage system. This could well be a trend which will continue, and which will create some healthy competition within the market.
Which key skills are required to become a top agent in the PCL market?
Tenacity and determination are two of the top skills needed to be a top agent in this market. As well as emotional resilience and being able to cope with the ups and downs of the job! Being motivated and connected to the right brands in the right places also helps, whilst discretion is always key, particularly due to the confidential nature of many of the deals which take place.
What has been your career highlight to date?
The highlights for me have been the steps I have taken to change the face of the industry, to encourage more inclusivity and to give my colleagues the opportunities to go on and do things which they have always wanted to do. This, combined with being able to navigate a touch market whilst completing two of London's biggest transactions has really been a high point for me.
The highlights for me have been the steps I have taken to change the face of the industry
The property industry doesn't have a great reputation for inclusivity; do you think things are changing, and what could industry leaders be doing to improve the situation?
This is a topic which I am particularly passionate about. I believe that the property industry falls way behind other service industries in terms of inclusivity and diversity, with a significant lack of women in top level roles and a dire lack of people from BAIME communities represented within the industry.
The property industry needs to work hard to try and readdress this balance and reduce the gender pay gap. Return to work schemes need to be reconfigured and there needs to be fast track opportunities for women in the business.
In terms of increasing diversity, there needs to be a real willingness to change, and a significant amount of legwork needs to go into putting those from minority backgrounds into client facing roles where career progression is more likely. For those looking to address diversity from the ground up should also look to sign up to my Shadow to Shine initiative!
Can you tell us more about Shadow to Shine, and how others in the industry can get involved?
I am hugely passionate about Shadow to Shine which helps young adults in London access employment opportunities via a combination of mentoring, work placements, education and skill sharing. Whilst motivating the next generation and giving them access to the world of business, Shadow to Shine also allows companies to source raw talent. To date, the charity has supported over 300 young adults into over 130 blue chip companies, and we are looking to onboard more companies this year.
We already have the support of Galliard Homes, City & Docklands, The London Stock Exchange, Peabody, M&S and the Paddington Development Trust, amongst others, but we are looking to bring more of the property industry on board to try and readdress the imbalance in background within the industry.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
'Each one, Teach one' – this important proverb couldn't be more relevant in today's climate.