Date Published 19 April 2023

Becky Fatemi's Rokstone is the go-to property agency for billionaires and celebs seeking ultra-prime London pads. She tells Andrew Saunders about her rise to the top and how she keeps her upmarket clientele happy.

From a distance, the Rokstone office - a corner plot at the junction of Dorset Street and Chiltern Street in the heart of London's upmarket Marylebone district - looks much the same as any other estate agent's premises. But a peek at the properties on display soon makes it clear that we are in rarefied territory where first-time buyers need not apply.

"Ultra-high-net-worth people Live their Lives at a very fast pace and expect things to be done yesterday," she says. "From the cars they drive to the food they eat and clothes they wear, they are used to extremely high standards of service, and that has to be mirrored in the service we offer. When a client gets in touch, you have to drop everything - my team and I have to be available pretty much all the time."
Rokstone's customers include 47 billionaires from all over the globe and a smattering of actors, celebrities, rock stars, royalty, chief execs, entrepreneurs and other public figures. She has even found a prestigious pad for a former prime minister, doubtless rather roomier than the famously cramped Living quarters in Downing Street.
Sadly, Fatemi resists all attempts to extract any details of her more famous clients, as absolute discretion is another Rokstone USP.
Fatemi and her hand-picked team of 12 source and sell some of the most opulent homes around. That eight-figure asking price in the window might seem stratospheric to ordinary house-buying mortals, but is average in Rokstone's alternative reality, with "£1Sm to £17m being mid-range in this market", says Fatemi.
"I had one client who made a £1Sm impulse buy; he came in on a Saturday afternoon saying he might buy something in London.
I showed him a flat and we exchanged on it on Monday.

Half-billion performance
Highlights from Last year's record half-billion performance include selling Mayfair's most expensive home for over £65m; Chelsea's most expensive apartment for £56m; and, on the Lettings side, achieving an eye-watering
£50,000 a week for a mansion in Westminster.
Now on the books is a 7,000 sq ft Belgravia mansion once owned by Lord Heseltine, fully modernised with a two-storey basement extension complete with pool and gym. Only a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace, it seems almost a bargain at £28m.
With Rokstone charging a typical commission of 1.5% to 2%, each deal is a big potential payday, but involves many hours of work that may or may not be ultimately rewarded by a sale.
After a bumper 2022, this year is shaping up to be a bit of an annus horribilis by comparison, Fatemi admits. Changes in stamp duty and the high-profile restrictions imposed on Russian buyers in particular, as a result of the war in Ukraine, have shaken a sector that is traditionally immune to the factors that influence the rest of the property market.

The average billionaire may not be too bothered by interest rates or the cost­of-living crisis, but starts to worry when they think government policy may turn against them and their money. "It has dented the top of the market," she says. "Deals are happening, but I think we're going to be 20% to 30% down on the number of transactions this year."
In the face of such headwinds, selling trophy homes requires not only dedication to customer service but also a mastery of detail, she says. Knowing the architect and interior designer is nowhere near enough.

Selling is about the transfer of enthusiasm; you have to feel that energy. Do you know which quarry the marble for the floors came from? Do you know who the contractors were? Do you know the history of the building and who manages it? There are so many layers to this business."
It also requires agents who keep an ear to the ground at all times; around 20% of Rokstone's sales are off-market deals and many of the plummest of plum properties never go public. Digital technology has made it far easier to share images and video tours with buyers all over the globe and to build the Rokstone brand, says Fatemi. "Social media is a big part of what we do now, particularly lnstagram and TikTok. We've sold from lnstagram posts."
But she doesn't think technology will replace the human touch entirely, not at Rokstone's end of the market at any rate. "Buying a house is emotive," says Fatemi. "You can't digitise emotion."
The property itself is only half the story. Rokstone's clients want the best schools, gyms, restaurants and members' clubs - all of which Fatemi, and her black book of high-end contacts, can help provide.
A four-bed apartment on Arlington Street above celebrity West End watering hole The Wolseley is on offer for a snip at only £1Sm. Even in a city famous for expensive housing, these are ultra-prime des-reses with telephone-number asking prices, while Rokstone is less an estate agent than a portal into the property lives of some of the world's wealthiest and most demanding customers.
It's a lucrative niche - the firm carried out more than £500m in sales and lettings in 2022 - but one that requires complete dedication to the cause, says Rokstone's founder and chief executive Becky Fatemi.

She must be doing something right, as customers keep coming back for more; repeat business accounts for 40% of revenue. The same properties also pass through her hands more than once. "I've sold one apartment in Marylebone seven times, and a house on Molyneux Street four times,'' she says. "When I do those viewings, I really know what I'm talking about."
Fatemi founded Rokstone in 2011, the year the Candy brothers' landmark One Hyde Park scheme hit the market. With its record prices of up to £6,000/sq ft, the self-styled world's most expensive real estate cleverly, if controversially, turned ultra-high-end property into what economists call a Veblen good - exclusive products that subvert normal economics, as demand for them rises rather than falls as prices increase.
"I spotted a niche servicing multi-millionaires,'' says Fatemi. "I wanted to be the Harrods or Fortnum & Mason of estate agents, not Asda or Aldi."
The Candy brothers have attracted controversy over the years, but Fatemi says they deserve more credit than they often get. "The Candys are the reason London is a super-prime epicentre," she says. "They invented the term and understood the product. They were years ahead of their time and I don't think that is spoken about enough - I wouldn't have this job if it wasn't for them."
The high-end world she occupies is far removed from her own humble background. Born in Iran, Fatemi's family lost everything in the 1979 revolution and had to start again in London. "I did all kinds of jobs: security guard, I worked in McDonald's, I danced in clubs, I was an MC."

The dream job
She kept getting turned down for the job she really wanted at estate agent Foxtons. Then one day in 2000, she cold-called its managing director, Peter Rollings. "He said to me: 'You're very good. Why don't you come and sell houses?' I said: 'I've been trying to!'"
She worked there for 11 years and became the firm's top biller, selling a total of £1Sm of property. It was, she says, a different world back then, especially for young women. "It was very sexist and misogynistic. I worked like a trader: 8am to 8pm with no lunch break. You were screamed at and told that you weren't good enough. You couldn't get away with it now, but it did harden us."
That formative experience ensured diversity and inclusion remain subjects close to her heart.

Despite progress on some fronts, Fatemi believes the industry still has a long way to go. "It's still very male," she says. "I went to Mipim this year to talk about diversity and why it is so important. There were about 34,000 people there, and about 33,400 of them were men. It was quite triggering. There are so many key women who should have been there but weren't."
Equality isn't the only issue she is prepared to make a stand on. In March, Fatemi won a high-profile court case brought against a former client who failed to pay £318,000 in commission after a dispute over the sale of her
£10.3m property in Regent's Park in 2021. In a business so reliant on confidentiality and word of mouth, wasn't suing a customer a very risky move?
"I felt it was important to make a stand for my firm, my team and the industry as a whole," she says. "We are professionals and we deserve respect. It was a message that when we are servicing you at the level we do, you pay your fee."
As for the future, having led Rokstone since the start, she's now hunting for a like-minded buyer to take on the business, look after the team and spread Rokstone's brand to more of the world's more exclusive residential spots.
"It would be great to have an office in a few more major cities - 12 or so," she says. "That would be a good legacy. In five years' time, I'd like to be retired. I've been working since I was 15 and I'd like to spend a bit more time living."
As for the market, the days of the £1Sm impulse buy may be over - at least for a while - but she is confident the capital's ultra-prime enclaves will bounce back again as they have done in the past.
"London is an art gallery in itself," she says. "The buildings are incredible. It's got great history and educational facilities and is one of the world's top five financial centres. I've had clients who have gone to Geneva or Dubai, but they always come back to London because of the quality of life."