Date Published 11 July 2023
Britain's high-flying property sellers reveal the secrets of dealing with the super-rich
By Ruth Bloomfield
If you are hooked on the current series of SellingSunset, and have come to the conclusion that Los Angelinos are a very weird bunch, then you might do well to remember the old adage about people in glass houses.
Because on the other side of the Atlantic, the antics of London's super prime buY-ers and sellers could not strictly be described as sane or conventional.
Take the buyer who would only purchase a property once it had been signed off by their pet dog, or the teenager being bought a party penthouse as a reward for passing his A-levels.
And then there's the owner whose car collection was worth more than their (very expensive) house, and was shown off in its own private art gallery.
It's a world that couldn't seem further from that experienced by many home buyers at the moment - where a poky bedroom is reimagined as "cosy", and kitchens in disrepair are "a project".
Here, Telegraph Money hears from three of Britain's high-flying property sellers to find out how they cracked into the business, and what's involved in selling to the super-rich.
"I asked for a I per cent commission - it was the worst deal ever"
Becky Fatemi found herself immersed in the idiosyncratic world of super prime property quite by chance.
After an itinerant early childhood following her father, a pilot, around the globe, the Fatemi family settled in Putney, south-west London, when she was seven.
Always something of a rebel, Fatemi left home aged 15 to live with a boyfriend in Kilburn, north London. While studying modern and Iberian languages at UCL she spent a gap year in Grenada, Spain.
But rather than concentrating on her language skills she wangled her way into a job running a reggae bar.
After university, Fatemi was both highly motivated and slightly directionless. One of her early jobs was selling advertising space in hotel magazines. That's when a sales call to Peter Rollings, formerly chief executive of Foxtons, changed her life.
He didn't want to buy any advertising, but he did offer the fast-talking twentysomething a job.
Between 2000 and 2011 Fatemi, now 46, worked for Foxtons on Mayfair's Park Lane, shifting some £750m worth of property and earning the company commission of
Her basic salary was just £10,000 when she started, but she got a l0pc to 20pc share of the commissions she earned. And her company car was a Porsche Cayenne.
Fatemi also set up a party planning company, Rokstone. She organised events for everyone from Naomi Campbell to Leonardo di Caprio, Rhianna, and Beyonce and JZ, and these contacts gave her a vital entree to the world of the A-list celebrity.
After Jon Hunt, Foxtons' charismatic founder, sold up Fatemi decided to quit.
Then, a friend of an ex-client called asking for help to find a flat to buy in Marylebone. Although Fatemi only had experience in selling property she said yes. "I asked for a lpc commission, it was the worst deal ever;' she said.
"Her budget was £550,000 so she paid us just over £5,000. I think it cost me that in taxis and printing out brochures. But I bought her a really good flat and she ended up recommending me to friends:'
By 2013, Rokstone was reborn as a property company with an office on Dorset Street, Marylebone.
Over the past decade that office has bought and sold properties costing up to £100m.
Tantalisingly, Fatemi claims that her client list includes music icons, Hollywood stars, prime ministers, and aristocrats.
She has been linked to deals involving several of her party planning clients, plus Sean Combs and Tinie Tempah. Sadly, non-disclosure agreements - standard for those working with the privacy-conscious ultra-rich - prevent her saying more.
Another client Fatemi has been linked with is Tiggy Butler, who made headlines when she sued Rokstone over the £10.3m sale of her home in Chester Terrace, Regent's Park, to a Saudi Arabian tycoon in February 2021.
Butler claimed Rokstone could have got more for the property, but the Central London county court disagreed, throwing out the case and ordering her to pay Rokstone £318,000 in commission she'd withheld, plus £210,000 in costs.
"I earned so little I used to walk to appointments to avoid paying for the bus"
Selling has always been in Grant Bates' blood. As a schoolboy growing up in the distinctly un-prime west London neighbourhood of Greenford he supplemented his pocket money by selling sweets and CDs to his classmates. "I was a bit of a cheeky chappie type," he said.
After A-levels Bates turned down a university place to study law, on the grounds that he couldn't face yet more studying and wanted to start earning money. He got himself a job letting flats around Wembley and Sudbury, north London.
"It was real bottom end of the market stuff, my salary was £9,000 and my average commission was £15-a-room;' he said. "I would walk to appointments because I didn't want to spend money on the bus:'
Since then, however, Bates' career has flourished. He got a job with hip east London agent Urban Spaces and spent six years selling lofts and warehouses to City types, before joining Hamptons in 2012.
Bates, 36, is now head of the firm's private office, dealing with its most high-profile, high-rolling clients.
His particular niche is selling homes to and for musicians. Although Bates can neither confirm nor deny, he was linked to the sale of a six-bedroom £9.15m house in Hackney to the Canadian rapper Drake, and to American singer and rapper Chris Brown, who bought a property nearby.
Beyond celebrities, one of Bates' most memorable clients was a teenager who was looking for a nightclub-style party pad. Bates found him a penthouse apartment, close to London Bridge, but there was a hitch.
"He was 17 and his dad was buying it for him;' said Bates. "It was dependent on his Alevel results though, so on results day I was anxiously listening to the radio to find out if it was a good year or not:'
Happily, the student got his grades, and Bates made the sale.
And it is safe to say that nowadays Bates, who has 187,000 followers on Instagram
(@grantjbates) and styles himself London's coolest agent, doesn't need to worry about bus fare.
"All buyers want a place that thrills them when they walk in the door"
Just like Bates, a young Jon Byers went into property because he wanted to earn decent money.
Before becoming an estate agent he had been a restaurant manager, and in 1999 he took a job with Hamptons, in the hope that he could earn enough cash to realise the dream of opening his own place.
But Byers, now 43, quickly realised that estate agency and restaurant management had much in common - "both require the ability to provide a service and an experience to customers" - and he decided on a new life plan.
In 2011 he founded his own firm, Anderson Rose.
Byers believes that property buyers, whether they be first timers or ultra wealthy, all want the same thing. "They are all looking for a place to live that thrills them when they walk in through the front door;' he said. "The bigger the budget, the more thrills:'
Over the years Byers has shown some very high-profile clients around properties, including actors Olivia Colman ("lovely and genuine") and the late Alan Rickman
("charming and polite even though this was at a time when he was aware he did not have long to live").
He also sold Michael Crawford's apartment in St John's Wharf, Wapping, for him.
"Michael was very warm and engaging, funny and actually quite shy;' said Byers. "He treated me like an equal:'
How much does selling to the super-rich pay?
Commissions vary, but Hamptons charges between lpc and 2.5pc commission to its client, and staff can expect to take home l0pc to 20pc of that. This means that for every £Im-worth of property you shift, you can take home around £2,600.
At Rokstone clients are charged 2pc commission, which means that for £Im worth of property bought or sold the firm is paid £20,000. The individual agent involved in a deal will get up to 40pc of that (£8,000). At the upper end, a £100m property could therefore mean a commission of up to £800,000.
"But you have to keep in mind that from inception to sale it takes 18 months to two years to sell a property," said Fatemi. "I am just under £200 an hour on most deals. The lawyer is probably on £450 an hour:'
Anderson Rose charges commission at l.75pc, which means the recent sale of a £6.3m apartment in WI Place, Marylebone, will have earned it just over £110,000.
Unusually, the firm operates a team commission system - just like in a restaurant where all tips go into a pot. Office managers take home around I0pc of their office's annual income, junior staff around 3pc.
Dealing with extreme properties - and extreme people
Fatemi, Bates and Byers all agree that London's real estate is less blingy than the kind of homes you see on Selling Sunset. But Fatemi has seen some absolute doozies in her time.
"There was one house which had garaging on the ground floor:' she said. "You went through two steel doors with handprint security, and then the cars were all lit like they were in an art gallery. The cars were worth more than the house:'
Another property had a 20-seater sauna with a wall made from pink Himalayan salt, yet another a basement health spa clad entirely in onyx.
Clients can be equally "out there". One of Fatemi's buyers had a particular aversion to phone calls and Zoom meetings, so she flew to Miami three times for meetings over the sale of a property.
"And there was one client who wouldn't buy a property unless the dog approved:' she said. "How did we know if the dog was happy? It was hard to tell, but they would only buy somewhere if the dog came in, sat down, and seemed to like it:'
And not all customers are entirely what they seem.
"I have dealt with a couple of Walter Mitty personalities, who have convinced themselves that they have the ability to purchase something very, very high value, and they derive enjoyment from going to see that sort of property:' said Byers.
"One purchaser even got to the point of being under offer, they instructed the solicitor we recommended, but did not produce proof of funds. It was just excuse, excuse, excuse, and then they just disappeared:'
Dealing with these characters takes patience, confidence, and discretion.
Bates believes the real secret of his success is the ability to click with the rich and famous by treating them like trusted mates. "They go by gut instinct, it is more about if they like you and think they can trust you than about track record;' he said.
"I am good at forgetting about my commission and focusing on the client, even if it means not doing a deal. In our industry, because of the connotations, just behaving like that is a huge USP to have. It is that simple:'