Susan Battson – Residential & Commercial Property Manager at Davis Brown.
Where did you begin in the property industry and how old were you?
I started in the property industry in about 1984 and I began in a company called Batty Stevens Good in Museum Street in WC1, where I was a residential sales and lettings negotiator. I was probably about 24.
What kind of properties and clients were you dealing with in 1984?
We were based in Bloomsbury and I was dealing with properties around that area, stretching right down to the Barbican in EC2 and Clerkenwell. We dealt with a mixed portfolio of flats and houses. The Barbican was very modern whereas Bloomsbury was really quite traditional with lots of conversions where we had dealings with developers who were looking for buildings to convert.
Wow so there were even developers back then?!
There were! I’m not such a dinosaur after all!
And the kind of clients that you were dealing with then – was it fairly split? What kind of clients did have on your books and who did you primarily deal with?
In terms of lettings, we were letting to students but not really overseas student like you are nowadays, that is something far more recent, if there were students potentially more English students, otherwise they were just people looking for rentals because they weren’t buying a home in this country. The sales were people either looking for a second home or looking to live in central London. The Barbican was particularly popular for people looking for a second home.
And what about the clients?
The clients were a complete mix of private individuals and portfolios.
What do you think has changed since you left the estate agency industry?
I think there has been a huge input from foreign investors and I think the pace has got much faster, I think there’s a lot more legislation you have to deal with as an agent and as a lettings negotiator – far more than we ever had to deal with. It’s much tighter, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I think a lot of it’s a very good thing, but I think there’s a lot more work that you have to do as an agent, especially in terms of a letting agent to get a deal through than you had to do back in my day.
How have the properties changed in your eyes?
The properties themselves I think are much improved, I think people want a much higher standard of property; I think they’re looking for clean, sharp lines and for good refurbished units, they’re looking for high quality. In those days, I’m going back over 20 years, people would often settle for a lot less, but then rents were a lot lower.
With the property market now, what do you see? What’s the first thing that comes to your
head when you think of the market now?
How high the prices are!
How do you think the buyer has changed in the last 30 years?
Well again, I think there are a lot more foreign investors than there were before. A lot of the young people who are buying have much more parental help these days, which we didn’t have before. I think that’s because prices are quite high. So maybe we have families buying into a property with their children, to get them started in central London.
Where do you see the property market in the next year and then within the next 10 years?
That’s a really difficult question! I think it’s probably slowed down a bit in central London, I think it’s almost peaked. But I think London is always going to remain very popular, it’s a global capital city, everybody who wants to come to England is drawn to London, so there will always be great demand here. But I think, as has been historic, there are peaks and troughs, and that’ll continue. Where it’ll be in the next 10 years is anybody’s guess.
Have a guess?
I’m sure it’ll be on the increase.
Do you think buyers will change?
I think the buyers will change. I’m not quite sure how the young people are going to be able to sustain buying in central London with the prices that they are. I think that with the salaries that people are on, I’m not sure that that is going to be sustainable. Depends what happens to London prices.
Did you have your kind of ‘top deal’ in the 1980s – your favourite property which you let or sold, and whereabouts was it?
Oh, I had a top development deal which was in Bloomsbury and I’d worked on that for months and months and I can’t remember the name of the street, it was adjacent to Museum Street. It was a building that we’d sold to be converted into flats. But I really, really also enjoyed working down in the Barbican, because that’s where I went to school. I think it’s a fascinating place and I thought the flats were quite quirky. They were actually at that time, beginning to become almost slightly dated because they were built probably in the 1970s, and so by the 1980s they were beginning to need a little bit of interior work being done to them, but the time I spent on the Barbican was a very interesting, fascinating time and there were great deals to be done there and it was a lot of fun!