Overview: Snooping around to see how the other half lives

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The Independent Online

Emily Anson has the job of telling some of the world's wealthiest purchasers that they can't always have what they want. But when they ask, quite frequently it appears, for a 15,000 sq ft house in Belgravia with six double bedrooms for the children, integral parking and half an acre of "back yard", it is not so much a matter of compromise as tearing up the wish list and starting from scratch. But then Anson, the buying agent for Sotheby's International Realty, has learned to let her clients down gently, as we will soon see from a new television series called Superhomes.

Emily Anson has the job of telling some of the world's wealthiest purchasers that they can't always have what they want. But when they ask, quite frequently it appears, for a 15,000 sq ft house in Belgravia with six double bedrooms for the children, integral parking and half an acre of "back yard", it is not so much a matter of compromise as tearing up the wish list and starting from scratch. But then Anson, the buying agent for Sotheby's International Realty, has learned to let her clients down gently, as we will soon see from a new television series called Superhomes.

While this might sound like a brand of identikit housing, it in fact promises to be cracking viewing and all the more welcome during the summer's televisual drought. In the first programme of six looking at what the international rich expect from their homes, the destination is London, where Emily Anson is house-hunting for "Sergei" who has £20m to spend and a fear of being kidnapped. This gives us an excuse for a tour around some of the capital's most expensive properties, and if this seems a golden opportunity to wonder at the tastes of the rich, just wait until we get to Moscow. Gold leaf as the material of choice may be missing in London, but security more than makes up for it.

Paul Tayler, director of Sotheby's, who explains in the programme the motivations of the wealthy buyer, tells me that London is regarded as a safe base, economically, politically and physically. The main problem is that it doesn't have enough of the right kind of properties. His buyers want a huge lateral space, not gracious narrow townhouses on four or five floors. "They no longer want a chunk of old England, and are more interested in gizmos than whether a building is listed," Tayler says. "They want to be able to walk in and at the touch of switch for everything to be up and running." He points out that these demands have fed down through the market, in the same way that security features and design trends have altered the way everyone aspires to live. If the hotel-look is now replicated in every new development, it is doubtless because those at the top who spend their lives hopping from one place to another feel most comfortable in that setting.

Since stringent planning regulations prevent the wholesale alteration of period buildings to fit in with current trends, these top-end buyers have turned to developers to provide what they want. Emily Anson suggests that everyone has benefited from wealthy buyers' expectations. She says that there was a time when new developments were second rate and needed a great deal of money spending on them. Not so these days. But that doesn't stop moneyed buyers still having work done, usually only if they haven't been able to call the shots from the outset. It means there are often rich pickings to be found in numerous central and west London skips. Even if it is brand new, out it goes.

"Sometimes I will be asked to sell items, or give them to a charity," Anson says. "I have been asked to sell some rather awful but very expensive flooring." Wealthy buyers are famously cautious with their money and Anson says she is often reminded of this by her clients if it looks like a potential purchase is starting to creep above budget. "Their big fear is that they will be taken for a ride and so might choose to reach an agreement without anyone knowing who they are. The really rich don't part with their money lightly, and they know the value of everything."

And sometimes, like the rest of us, the cost comes as a nasty shock. Paul Tayler says that the main area of compromise is price. "Few people can believe how expensive property in London is. They either have to spend one-and-a-half times more or accept half as much for their money." So there are some things we all have in common.

'Superhomes' starts on 7 July on BBC2

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