Home sweet home on the road

One canny corporate lettings agency has cottoned on to demand for apartments for short-term contractors, says Christopher Browne
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The Independent Online

If you're Mae West, a hotel is like a second home. For most of us, however, checking in for more than a week or two is a less inviting prospect. You must eat in the hotel restaurant or find your meals elsewhere, you can never really enjoy a long lie-in, and you can certainly forget about asking the neighbours to come up and see you sometime.

It's a dilemma many company employees face when posted overseas, relocated to another part of the UK or sent with a corporate team on a long-term project. After all, what we really want after a long flight, car or train journey is a shower, a meal and a quiet nap in cosy and familiar surroundings - not the secluded lighting, formal fixtures and isolation of Room 109. Before long you find yourself in limbo-land, a Mr/Ms Have Suitcase Will Travel, as you lodge restlessly in your unfamiliar home until the day your boss tells you to return to base. Should your contract be extended, you at least have the option to rent or buy in the area.

Large companies rarely budget for long- or short-term postings, using relocation agencies or £120-a-night hotels whenever they need to send an employee away on business - until, that is, Nest came along with a fan-assisted microwave and a dishwasher.

This corporate lettings agency was founded just over a year ago by Sehaam Caselberg, a property investor and IT consultant who saw a gap in the market. "I've always managed my own properties and when I asked a few companies if they would be interested in using them for their employees, they had no idea what I was talking about. They did not even have proper budgets for relocations, often relying on very costly hotels or short-term holiday accommodation."

So Sehaam decided to build a "Nest", rounding up her fledglings and placing them in flats and houses near their new places of work. "Suddenly companies and large firms started approaching us and after a while said we had shaved 30 to 40 per cent off their moving costs," says Sehaam, who works with a team of four at the north London-based agency.

Nest charges corporate clients a service fee based on property volume. It then seeks out reputable lettings agencies in the chosen town or city and offers the client a selection of suitable properties-to-let. "We use a wide range of one- or two-bedroom flats with weekly rentals of around £300 a week right up to larger houses for employees with families costing £1,500 a week," says Sehaam.

Most of Nest's placements in the past 12 months have been in London, though it is also finding "Nests" for an IT team in Reading and another in the Netherlands. "We deal mainly with international companies and use interpreters if none of us speaks the relevant language," says Sehaam. Unsurprisingly, most of Nest's clients are IT companies, banks, management consultancies and financial institutions, which tend to send employees on six- to nine-month projects.

Nest is unashamedly upmarket, adds Gail Sixsmith, Sehaam's right-hand woman. "In residential letting, standards must be high, but not necessarily top-grade. We, on the other hand, have to be very demanding as we are dealing with corporate clients. Each Nest must be secure and smart, with double-locks, CCTV cameras, entry phones and, in some cases, 24-hour porterage."

Location is also key. Quite apart from such mod-cons as fan-assisted microwaves, dishwashers, power-showers, widescreen TVs, videos and internet links, accommodation must be close to stations and shops. "The average company employee doesn't want a 15-minute walk when they return home after working late, just as they don't want to have to make a trip to Ikea because a fixture's missing," says Gail. Most of Nest's clients come from word of mouth, repeat business and its www.nestmove.com website.

After several years in the lettings business, Sehaam likes the personal, hands-on touch. If a tenant has a query about his or her temporary home, they can phone the company's 24-hour helpline. It certainly proved a lifesaver for one client who got stuck in a communal lift for three hours.

Each tenant also gets a copy of Nest's accommodation directory, which spared the blushes of an employee who arrived at his flat after a nine-hour flight and couldn't find the heating switch. "I was near to tears as I had been relishing a long, hot soak in the bath. Then I found a section called 'How to regulate the heating and hot water'. Suddenly the world was a wonderful place again and within half an hour I was plunged into a deep sleep," he says.

You can contact Nest on 020-7354 0088 or mail@nestmove.com