60 second interview with James Bunker, Vardags
In our 60 second interview series, Citywealth speaks to James Bunker, Director and Head of Property at Vardags about the challenges of advising foreign clients who are unfamiliar with UK property laws, and why the traditional model of buying and selling residential properties is ripe for transformation.
Tell me about your role.
I am a Director and Head of the Property Department at Vardags. The company was created by Ayesha Vardag in 2005 and has built an enviable reputation as the home of life-changing and law-changing divorce and family litigation for high and ultra-high net worth clients. In recent years the firm has diversified into other complementary areas of law, including civil litigation, crime, privacy and defamation and property.
Together with my team, I act for individuals, companies, trustees, executors and family offices in the buying, selling and mortgaging of luxury residential properties in England and Wales, with a particular focus on the Prime Central London and country estates. I also act for a number of banks on their secured lending activities. The role is fast-paced and very exciting as we look after amazing clients who are dealing with some of the country’s finest properties.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The day always starts early with a brisk walk and then an hour or so commute from my little Hertfordshire village into the City, during which time I respond to overnight emails, plan the day ahead and catch up with the latest news in the world of luxury property. Subject to the trains behaving, I tend to arrive in the office around 8:30am, fill my veins with coffee (white, no sugar) and check in with the team to make sure everyone is starting the day well; the health and happiness of my team is really important to me. The morning tends to be spent communicating and co-ordinating with clients, agents and intermediaries. I will very often go to see a property that I am involved in buying or selling which I think is crucial in providing the best possible service to our clients (and, I love it) The afternoon tends to be spent analysing or drafting documents, advising clients and generally pushing transactions along. Emails and phone calls come in like falling Tetris blocks and it’s always a fun challenge to keep on top of them. I particularly enjoy days when exchanges of contracts take place; they tend to be extremely fast-paced and require considerable focus and lightning speed reactions. My day in the office can come to an end at any time depending on the deals I am involved in, though typically I will leave the office around 7.30pm. I think it is important to cultivate a good work-life balance in this modern world where we are always connected. I usually get home just in time to talk to my children about their days and kiss them goodnight.
Tell us about interesting client instructions.
I was very recently instructed by an Indian client who was domiciled and resident in Mumbai. He had recently sold various incredibly successful divisions of his Indian-based business and was looking to buy a property in Mayfair for him and his family to enjoy from time to time on an increasing basis over the coming years. A brilliant buying agent friend of mine introduced him to an extraordinary lateral apartment overlooking one of London’s best squares for just under £12,000,000 for which there was fierce competition. We had to move extremely quickly before the opportunity was lost, but there was a snag: while the client had just under a billion US dollars in India, the Indian foreign exchange controls limited the way in which those funds could be taken out of the country and there was also prohibition on the taking of mortgage funding or the purchase of overseas property in the client’s personal name. The conundrum required some agile thinking and sophisticated collaboration with expert Indian advisors. The only viable solution lay in a painfully tax-inefficient scheme involving multiple companies in England, Mauritius and India, which the client was happy to accept. The English model of property ownership and our property laws were completely unknown to the client and his Indian advisors so an extremely detailed advisory approach had to be taken with complete and transparent reporting to the Reserve Bank of India. It is one of the most fast-paced, exciting and complicated transactions that I have ever worked on, but in the end it was a brilliant result for my client.
What challenges do your clients face and how are you helping your clients to overcome them?
The traditional model of buying and selling residential properties is ripe for transformation. The Government attempted to improve the process a few years ago with the introduction of the short-lived Home Information Packs but, while the concept was right, it was an initiative that was ill thought-out and poorly executed. Too many property deals are delayed or fall through due to issues being identified far too late in the conveyancing process, which is an appalling waste of money and causes incredible levels of stress. It really does not have to be that way and I am helping my clients to abate the risk and get ahead by impressing on them the benefits of carrying out a thorough analysis of the legal paperwork before the property goes to market. That way, any obstacles can be resolved so that, when a buyer is found, my clients have absolute confidence that the sale will be as streamlined as possible and any problems will not be at their end. Similarly, for my buyer clients they need to be in pole position when they present an offer to buy a property so that the seller and their agent can feel confident that there is no risk of the transaction being delayed or falling through. Speed is so important these days. For those clients, I impress on them the real benefit of preliminary investigations into the property making it clear that, when they make their offer, they must promote the fact that they have already instructed a first class legal team that is truly prepared to go the extra mile to get the deal done quickly. Failing to prepare really is preparing to fail.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
I am beyond thrilled to have joined Vardags to set up the property department which, while only just three months old, has already got off to a mind-blowingly good start but, overall, I am extremely proud of the strong and trusted relationships that I have built with clients, and the amazing friends that I have made in the industry who all share a similar passion to be the best of the best. Corny, but they really do drive me on each and every day.
What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a leader?
The best leaders listen, inspire, are never quick to judge, always show gratitude, and recognise and reward contribution.
Who do you most admire and why?
Anyone with a flair for DIY. My family will never let me forget the day I accidentally wired up my brother’s metal curtain poles to the National Grid.
Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?
To the south coast with my husband and children for a traditional British day at the beach, with fish and chips and penny arcade games.
If you weren’t in the legal industry, what else might you be doing?
Sitting in a countryside recording studio, writing and recording music.
How do you relax after a long day?
Theatre, music and reading, often interspersed with a visit to a local watering hole.