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October 8, 2012

From William Cash: Bienvenue a Londres!

By Spear's

David Cameron was sneered at by the French media when he said he would ’roll out the red carpet’ for any wealthy French citizens who wanted to flee the new 75 per cent tax rate.

DAVID CAMERON WAS sneered at by the French media when he said he would ‘roll out the red carpet’ for any wealthy French citizens who wanted to flee the new 75 per cent tax rate. According to the French, this could never happen as Parisians (even the super-rich) are just too patriotic to decamp abroad.

Yet according to Sotheby’s International Realty, its French offices reported selling more than a hundred properties over €1.7 million between April and June this year, a huge jump from the same period in 2011. It looks as if they are packing up their Louis Vuitton trunks and departing en masse.

London is the obvious choice for residential defection. But where in London will Cameron’s red carpet be rolled out and fitted? The French are notoriously precious about their postcodes; the problem, however, for the Parisian address snob is that not even the richest French, who are used to much lower property prices per square foot anyway, can now afford some of the frankly absurd prices that are being asked in the Golden Square of Chelsea, Belgravia, South Kensington and Holland Park. In Addison Road, around the corner from where I live in W14, houses are now selling at £40 million-plus. A buying agent I know said that one owner recently turned down an offer in excess of £50 million — that’s over £5,000 per square foot.

For the past twenty years, any Frenchmen moving to London (and there are an estimated 400,000 in London) would only be prepared to live in SW1, Chelsea or South Kensington, the latter having long been turned into a French colony, with proximity to the Lycée Français, French bookshops and cafes.

Today, however, the French — like the English themselves — are finding them squeezed out of prime areas like Chelsea and Belgravia and forced to decamp to the ’burbs, with Fulham and Parsons Green regarded as the most desirable for the French address snob looking for a family home under £1.5 million.

In 2008, the Lycée opened a primary school in Parsons Green which has helped push Fulham property prices up by 15 per cent in the last year. For any Parisians reading this, your €1.7 million will not buy a house around Hurlingham Road, but it will get you one on the desirable Hartismere Road.
THE CONTINUING CRAZY property prices of the Golden Square are one reason why I’ve put my Holland Park flat (which also doubled up for three months as the Spear’s offices three years ago) on the market.

The property business for super-prime London is curious. It has self-divided into two classes: general estate agents and buying agents, who view themselves as a different breed. Ten years ago, if you were an ambitious trader or analyst at a bank like Goldman, it was almost inevitable that you would be tempted into setting up shop on your own as a hedgie or asset manager, taking a few of your team with you. This is what buying agents do, leaving the big firms to put their own name above the office door — if they have one.

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Basically, being a buying agent means you don’t have (or need) a proper day job: they enjoy a life of semi-retirement, use their kitchen table as an office and go to the odd open-house lunch or drinks reception in order to cream 2 per cent commission off some wealthy French or Italian banker who wants to move to London but certainly hasn’t got the time to schlep around 30 properties in four days and wants the buying agent to find him something ‘off market’. There used to be a few dozen or so buyers’ agents (the top six will be shortlisted in the Spear’s Wealth Management Awards on 30 October), but now there are several hundred.

So thriving is the new community of such agents that they now even have their own new website,, which was founded a few months ago by brothers Dan and Matt Crofton, the latter of whom also helped to launch Spear’s six years ago. I will never forget how we launched the magazine just before Christmas back in 2006, with an ‘invitation’ to subscribe sent to every person on the Sunday Times Rich List.

Two days of licking and sticking ensued, before it turned out the Post Office won’t accept a thousand envelopes over the counter. So Matt had to spend the entire day running around Notting Hill, stuffing the invites through postboxes, which were mostly already full to capacity. I can fully understand why is a purely digital, subscription-based website — no postage involved.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT about the legacy of the Olympics, which has not really been discussed. London’s legacy is partly to do with the extremely fortunate fact that Her Majesty the Queen was not only able to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee earlier this year, but was also able to follow it with opening the Olympic Games themselves — two major appearances of London in the international spotlight.

Years ago, I attended a series of classes at UCLA on sports management which were being given by a top sports and pop talent manager whose previous clients included Lionel Richie. The most acute thing he said was about Richie and his legendary performance in front of billions at the closing ceremony of the 1984 Olympics. At the time, the singer was performing before the largest televised audience in the world. It was a triumphant show and crowned Richie as a truly global pop superstar.

Yet two weeks after the closing ceremony, the talent agent was summarily fired by Richie. Why? Because when Richie did his gig, his manager had failed to capitalise on the global audience and had not organised for him to have a new album out, unlike Mike Oldfield, who cannily had a greatest hits album for sale following the 2012 opening ceremony. Richie was singing to a billion people with nothing to sell.

To have a true legacy for the Greatest Show on Earth, you always have to have something to sell at the same time. Cameron used the Olympics to try to sell the Great Britain brand — let’s hope we see some returns from our £10 billion investment.
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