Nathalie Hirst, a buying agent based in London, has 20 years experience in the city’s prime central property market.
She began her career in 1995 relocating senior executives from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, UBS and Citibank.
Ms. Hirst, 56, has worked at Property Vision, the first buying agents specializing purely in advising buyers, and later in the buying department of Savills.
We caught up with her to discuss the growing number of Lebanese buyers coming to London, the chicness of the city and much more.
Mansion Global: Describe your dream property.
Nathalie Hirst: Sometimes I look at houses with many bedrooms, but no reception room space. But I like a place that’s well balanced and well proportioned. Quite often in London you’ll get an imbalance, and a glaringly weak part of the home—like an outdoor space outside a bedroom. You’re just not going to use that because it’s not convenient.
If the proportions and flow work, and there’s a symmetry that works, that’s what a dream property is.
MG: Do you have a real estate property that got away?
NH: There’s something at the moment that I’m bidding on for a client. It’s in the top 1% of the most expensive real estate for sale in London. It’s a very, very valuable house. Absolutely beautiful. There are only a handful of people globally who can afford it. I happen to have a client who does love it.
This is a once in a lifetime property. But he’s not listening to my advice, and I don’t think he’ll get it. I know he’ll spend the next 20 years regretting it.
MG: What does luxury mean to you?
NH: Everything just works. Again, sometimes people buy these very expensive new builds and spend the first six months with problems—heating, hot water, electric, etcetera.
Luxury is being able to have a bath when I want it and I know that the water’s hot. You can spend £20 million on a property and be dealing with lifts that don’t work.
MG: What area do you think is the next hub for luxury properties?
NH: What’s quite interesting at the moment is we’re having a revival in Mayfair. Around 100 years ago, everyone wanted to be there. It was very chic and old money and then it sort of went by the wayside. It became stuffy and less appealing, and went through doldrums. But in the last five to seven years, it has welcomed lovely shops. Mount Street now rivals Bond Street, with wonderful restaurants and clubs.
MG: What’s the biggest surprise in the luxury real estate market now?
NH: English people historically wanted their own front door, they didn’t want flats. Now, we’ve have developers like the Candy brothers, who’ve changed the face of London. And because London is so international, we have to cater to people with all sorts of tastes. Historically, New York and Paris offered beautiful apartments, London didn’t. That has changed.
You have British people who want to buy apartments—and that’s a real change.
MG: Where are the best luxury homes in the world and why?
NH: London. Paris was always the chic city, it’s not anymore. London is more chic now. London is where people want to educate their children. We have fabulous restaurants and amazing parks.
And it’s still perceived to be a safe reservoir for money, so it’s attractive for foreigners.
Historically, the Lebanese, for example, used to go to Paris, but now they’re going to London. I’ve seen a rise in Lebanese and Turkish buyers here in London in the last five years.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your home?
NH: I live in a very open-plan home. So the whole of my ground floor is a hub for everything. The kitchen is where everyone helps me cook and watches me drink wine.
MG: What best describes the theme to your home and why?
NH: Small, perfectly formed and very elegant.
MG: What’s the most valuable thing in your home?
NH: My family and friends and my dog.
MG: What’s the most valuable amenity to have in a home right now?
NH: It varies so much from person to person. A sad reflection of the time is that we need good security— glass that’s so strong it can’t be broken, alarm systems that are connected. That peace of mind.
MG: What’s your best piece of real estate advice?
NH: Buying property is not like the Olympics—second place isn’t silver. You get nothing. You have to stop and think: For that extra, say, £100,000 or £1 million, am I going to be kicking myself in 10 years? If the answer is no, then move on, but if it’s yes, you should do it. If you’re fortunate enough to have the wealth to buy a mega house, does that smaller amount really matter?
MG: What’s going on in the news that will have the biggest impact on the luxury real estate market?
NH: It’s Brexit for us. There’s so much uncertainty. The London property market is very, very slow. Any agent who tells you otherwise is lying.
MG: What is the best area now for investing in luxury properties?
NH: People are always asking, but the main thing is that you have to minimize your risk. Stay with safe areas.
MG: If you had a choice of living in a new development or a prime resale property, which would you choose and why?
NH: I can’t choose. Modern ones are the ones that make life so much easier, with underground parking, pools, etcetera.
But you cannot build another Eton Square or Chester Square. Those are special. But, of course, they don’t have the parking, the concierge or the pool.
MG: What area currently has the best resale value?
NH: Tried and tested areas that always have demand— Prime Central London. You always need to think about resale. You never know what’s around the corner. Since Brexit, the chance of being able to up and sell something in six weeks is pretty slim, but you want to be able to sell it in 16 weeks.
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