Marshall, who is excited about the arrival of his second daughter, is no stranger to disturbed sleep, having to liaise with clients with irksome time differences. ‘I once had to make a two am call to dozens of wealth managers in Asia who wanted to know the state of the residential markets to report to clients.’ Just as internationally, he deals with Gulf clients, many of whom are channelling investments into London, away from the current volatility in the region.
Brooks Marshall’s director says referral is a core part of the firm and they often look after clients of large private wealth offices and family offices: ‘[We’re] on a panel of advisers on a number of large banks that we deal with and we’re on there because we are completely discreet. Some of the clients we refer are very high profile figures. We’ve been working with some of the biggest banks for about seven to eight years, one of which we’ve done about £80 million deals with.’
Marshall says that there is a ‘huge discrepancy’ between prices and actual values: ‘Buyers want to make sure they’re buying the right product, but ultimately they don’t want to pay too much. Asking prices can be as much as 15 per cent above value and an international buyer is unlikely to realise that, so it’s important that they get the right advice.’
When asked what the secret of an upper end transaction is, Marshall says having the right information upfront and discretion are key: ‘If you do a £50-£60 million deal, there’s a lot of work that goes into it that can take two or three months, for a buyer to get to the position where they can put the money down and exchange and complete, you need a two or three month grace period where you get to work on it and put all the information together. Key is that everyone has what they need.’
Marshall also highlights market liquidity issues. ‘While we are in a softer market we have not had a significant correction in asset prices, and weakness has instead manifested itself with declining liquidity, with turnover in the prime central market currently down 30-40 per cent.’
He says that government stamp duty hike has also hit properties above the £2 million mark and observes that investors are reacting to the change by buying a portfolio of smaller assets: ‘The stamp duty below £2 million hasn’t really changed much. People see that if you’re looking to invest £20 million and you want to buy a £20 million residence, rather than paying 12 per cent stamp duty, if you were to split that down to smaller assets, [the] buying margins would be a lot less.’
Marshall further comments that ‘due to dysfunctional debt markets in recent years, asset prices have been driven mainly by cash rich investors and with interest rates at all times lows there is limited appetite for owners to deal. On the flip side buyers are aware of market weakness and will not chase properties unless they are either very special or are priced at fair value.’