Leaders List Interview: 60 seconds with Will Watson, The Buying Solution
Citywealth speaks to Will Watson, a London Buying Agent with The Buying Solution, the independent buying consultancy of Knight Frank. He tells Citywealth why Bayswater is emerging as a top location for buyers looking for value, and how clients’ wishlists have evolved to include electric charging points for cars, air conditioning and the all-important outdoor space.
Will Watson joined The Buying Solution, the independent buying consultancy of Knight Frank, to head up the London team in 2019. He has specialised in the London property market since 2001. After moving to the buying side in 2014, he now specialises in advising clients on finding their perfect property.
Citywealth caught up with him to find out more about his role, client preferences and the latest London property trends.
Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.
I head up the London arm of The Buying Solution, the residential buying agency which sits under Knight Frank’s global umbrella but operates independently. My role is to look after the best interests of buyers and ensure they get the best deal. We aim to provide a high level of customer service, and always go above and beyond our clients’ expectations.
Alongside being a buying agent, I manage the London business and look at ways in which we can expand and take advantage of new opportunities.
There has been a huge change in the London residential market over the past five years. Buyers are valuing advice more than ever before. Our team has probably entered a property on almost every street in central London so we’re confident in knowing whether a property is the best fit for our clients, and whether something better exists. It’s a murky world if you don’t know what you are doing.
Talk us through a typical day.
I’m an early riser and I like to squeeze in some form of exercise first thing. It’s essential to let off some steam. Then it’s into the office. I love the quietness of early mornings and being able to get through my emails and admin without being disturbed.
Once the team are in, we have a catchup to discuss what’s happening with deals and clients.
After this, it’s on to viewing properties. We spend around 60-70 per cent of our time viewing properties on behalf of clients – and writing off a good percentage of them as not being suitable. On average we shortlist just five per cent and we’ll view around 2-3 per cent of the original list with clients. Between the three of us in the team we’ll probably view anything from 40 properties up to 100 in a week.
Lunchtime is an opportunity to catch up with a professional friend. We receive referrals from private banks, wealth managers, law firms and property management teams so it’s important to keep up these relationships.
In the afternoon, I’ll likely be accompanying a client to view our shortlist. Often clients have an idea of a style of house they’d like, but it might not match up with the area in which they wish to live. Our job is to help clients understand the market and by the end of a tour we want our clients to be clear on what the possible options are.
For the rest of the day and into the evening, I’ll be catching up with the team for a debrief on the day and speaking to international clients on a later time zone.
Does London remain a destination of choice?
100 per cent yes. At the moment, London is very busy. We’re seeing a huge amount of investment in prime central London real estate. Throughout COVID we were busy with domestic clients but the international market is back. We have clients from Asia, the US and the Middle East all interested in buying. Some might buy within the next 12 months, for others it might be 1-3 years.
The rationale is all the usual reasons: the rule of law, educational system and seeing property as a safe haven investment.
What are the latest property must-haves?
There are a few trends. Electric docking stations for cars are increasingly being requested, and security is a big area. Lots of London properties have access directly on to the street with no private gate so security is a big concern. We carry out risk surveys for clients and recommend the areas where they need to improve their locks and alarms.
Air conditioning is also on the list. Period properties don’t usually have it, but it’s becoming more popular and people are installing it where they can.
Outside space is increasingly important and I don’t see that changing. COVID changed the way people view their property. They are now looking for private outdoor space and a short walk to a park.
When it comes to flats, wide lateral spaces in mansion blocks are popular, particularly with Europeans. It’s easy living and harder to find, so naturally as a result it’s more expensive.
Best and worst parts of your job?
The best part of the job is getting to work closely with impressive international people. It’s a privilege to work with them. It can be a long, emotional and sometimes intensive journey. Once the trust is there and they see we are on their side, the relationship goes to the next level and it’s incredibly satisfying. Our clients often become friends and ambassadors for the business.
The next best part of the job are the properties. We’re incredibly lucky to be viewing some of the best properties that money can buy. Only yesterday I was in a penthouse overlooking Hyde Park with a guide price of £150million.
The worst part is being let down by a seller. In these situations it’s often completely out of our control and we have to start the client’s search all over again. Everyone feels the pain.
Most memorable work moment?
The most satisfying moment to date was when I signed up a new client around three years ago who not only didn’t want to meet me, but also didn’t see the value in a buying agent. He was recommended to me by a professional friend so after reluctantly meeting me, he signed up. I was able to unearth a very special off-market house. Since then he has been my best ambassador. I’ve worked on buying properties for his business partners and children.
What is the biggest disruptor in your industry?
There are a few areas that come to mind. The first is the lack of supply of property in London and I don’t see this changing. People are moving less often due to the high stamp duty. People can’t afford to get it wrong when they buy and they have to take a long term view. As a result, clients need to be prepared to wait longer for their dream property.
Flooding is also a worry. The weather earlier this year caused flooding in many basements in south west London. There is a concern over whether this could be a continual issue.
However, the changing climate is also bringing new clients. A US client moved over from LA just recently citing the fires and the rising temperatures in LA as the reasons for leaving. This client viewed the UK as a much more green space in comparison.
Top location for 2022?
Bayswater. It’s an interesting area. Geographically it sits in the middle of Notting Hill and Mayfair. Both these areas have received significant investment in recent years and now it’s the turn of Bayswater. Developments such as Park Modern and the redevelopment of Whiteleys are attracting the global elite. There is some lovely architecture and it represents good value in comparison to its neighbours.