INTERVIEW: Mark Parkinson & Tom Hudson of Middleton Advisors on the art of giving good advice

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1 primeresi.com INTERVIEW: Mark Parkinson & Tom Hudson of Middleton Advisors on the art of giving good advice Started up in 2008 by two of the UK s most experienced buying agents, Middleton Advisors has gone on to become a go-to name for purchasers in need of pro advice. We asked the two founders, Mark Parkinson and Tom Hudson, about their market projections, toughest searches to date, and why they don t get paid a penny in commission You started Middleton just after the global financial meltdown of 2007; what made you so confident the good times would return? MP: Having been in the industry for a long while we knew the market was cyclical. We could see that London was changing as a city and becoming more international quality was increased dramatically over the ensuing few years as buyers flocked to London to shelter from the financial storms. TH: It was clear at this time that there was a need for guiding purchasers through this process. Of particular importance was strong clear advice, rather than just property search, which has always been the focus of our business. You were both at Property Vision during the Noughties; how much competition currently exists between buying agencies and do you think there s room for new entrants into the marketplace? Mark Parkinson MP: The two market places in London and the country are vastly different. London is awash with fixers, brokers, middlemen and runners. We saw this as an advantage: going into a complex market place, our advice-based offering has attracted a lot of interest from similar professional advisors like family offices and private client focused law firms. TH: I regard my time at Property Vision as being some of the most enjoyable times of my career. The business was small and innovative and the market was strong. Since those days there have been a lot of new entrants to the buying business, especially property search. There is always space for good advice in any market place. Buying is generally not seen as a volume business, do you account for market ups and downs in your business projections? MP: It s a good question. We have always been very cautious as a business. We have retained and reinvested all our profits over the years so that we are in a strong position to weather the storms. If you are in the business of providing professional advice to clients you cannot have a deal by deal mentality you have to create a solid foundation so that you can give clear long-term advice. This is aligned all the way through our business no one at Middleton is paid a penny of commission, as is common

2 practice in our industry. People are rewarded on the results of teamwork and clients being delighted in the advice we give them. TH: Yes we do. As our business has grown the peaks and troughs are less noticeable. You re both passionate about rugby and sponsored a number of youth teams last year; how important is sponsorship and marketing to the business? MP: Teamwork is central to our business and to the game of Rugby. The man that scores the try does not get there alone. Usually a good proportion of the team are involved in the phase of play preceding the result and so is the case in our business! Sponsoring mini and junior rugby has been a great success; many of our old, current and future clients children will wear a Middleton shirt during the season. It has created a lot of goodwill for the brand. Tom Hudson TH: We both enjoy supporting grass routes rugby for a number of reasons not least we both have children who play. We have always focused on sponsorship where we can support our friends, clients and professional network. How else do you ensure a constant stream of new clients? MP: We have a very wide network of old clients and professional contacts. I now spend half my time maintaining

3 these relationships and forging new alliances with companies looking after the same sorts of clients as us. It takes a long time to build a successful relationship and hard work to maintain it. TH: We find that the quality of our workforce and personal networks help a great deal with this. You currently cover London and the Home Counties; are there any other territories you might look at in the future? MP: We actually cover the south of England from three offices from about 1m+. Tom, who specialises in the farms and estates, has bought commercial farms as far apart as Devon and East Anglia, sporting estates in Scotland and a number of residential estates in England. TH: We actually work across the south of England not just the Home Counties and this area keeps us focused. We have also acted for clients in the eastern counties, Yorkshire and even Scotland! What s your top tip for successful negotiation? MP: Employ an expert to advise you! TH: Working as a team to find the right answer. How many of your acquisitions are made off-market? MP: It varies according to markets conditions: A higher % when the market is rising, lower when it is falling because you tend to advise more clients to let something go to the open market as the vendors expectations are often 12 months out of date as is the case across London at the moment. TH: Although we have the opportunity to buy nearly all our property pre-emptively we often advise our clients to wait. What s the deal you re most proud of? MP: The one that stands out for me was a private deal that was on and off, fending off three gazumps. We exchanged in four hours and saved our client a seven figure sum in the process, the next day the underbidder offered our clients an eight figure turn for the contract! TH: Over the years there have been a number of houses we have bought for clients where they have initially refused to come and even see the house. It is here once again where strong advice is so important and they have always been very grateful for forcing their hand. What s the best property you ve ever acquired on behalf of a client? And the most expensive? MP: The most expensive was well in to eight figures. The best is a matter of opinion! We have bought some very cool London houses with amazing specs and basements, and some idyllic country houses. TH: Unfortunately, due to the confidential nature of our business we cannot disclose this, but it had quite a few zeros! What s the toughest search brief you ve ever been given? MP: Often new clients will describe a 10m house and give you a budget of say 7m. It then becomes a process of working out what compromises they are prepared to make. TH: We are not able to work with people who have unrealistic goals so I am pleased to say that all of our retained clients, albeit some more demanding than others, have achievable criteria.

4 How would you describe the public perception of buying agents? Do most people understand what you do? MP: Buying agents are a lot more common now than when I started in the industry nearly 20 years ago, especially in London, but there are still a fair proportion of potential clients who have never heard of buying agents. TH: Most people believe we solely search for property and do not understand how much more we do beyond that. What are the buying agent s tools of the trade in 2015 and how has this changed during your career? MP: Smart phones, as in many areas of life, have made a huge difference to the speed of information transfer. Only a few years ago we all carried digital cameras and rushed back to the office to photos of a property to a client. With the smart phone now you can do that before you have walked back to your scooter! TH: A good camera phone has been a great help! What are you predicting for the London and Country markets over the course of Q2 and Q3? And over the next 5 years? MP: For the rest of this year I think we will see negligible price growth in London and modest (5%) in the country. We are already experiencing increased activity outside London. Most of the main research houses are predicting 25% or so growth in prime London and prime country over the next five years. If you look at what is happening in the world both economically and politically and how attractive the UK is to international buyers, that looks quite conservative. TH: The country market will lift over the course of this year, but we now believe there will be a stronger lift next year. Over the next five years I would expect it to continue to rise steadily as it is clear to see that there remains strong demand for good houses.

5 You ve expanded the team significantly over the last couple of years; how have you found the recruitment process? Did you use an agency and were there lots of applicants? What do you look for in a candidate? MP: The ideal candidate for Middleton has to be something of a contradiction, with strong commercial acumen but also has to be considered, thoughtful and able to deliver the best advice. Empathy and emotional intelligence play a large part. Above all we look for the right attitude, if you have that you can train for most of the rest. We spend a lot of time and energy on training the team, which creates a strong culture. TH: Our Executive Assistants have primarily come through contacts and recruitment agencies whereas our fee earners have all come through personal recommendation. What advice would you have for someone thinking about buying as a career choice? MP: You need to be self-sufficient! TH: Spending time working in a professional service firm outside property would be seen as a real strength to us. Buying agents often say they are on call 24/7; what do you do to relax? MP: Watching my son play sport is a great diversion that won t last for ever I also play golf and watch rugby. TH: Anything outside property! What s the best piece of advice you ve been given? MP: Professionally: if you put the clients best interests first the rest will follow. We still passionately believe in this. Personally: my mother always said you have to look after yourself because no one else will! TH: The obvious answer is not always the right answer. If you could make one change to improve the way the industry works, what would that be? MP: Like many other countries, making acceptance of an offer legally binding to the extent that the vendor cannot accept other offers and neither buyer nor seller can pull out save for a pre-defined set of circumstances. TH: Speed up the processes between agreeing terms and exchanging contracts. Where would you personally buy tomorrow, given an unlimited budget? MP: Northumberland and London TH: Wales middletonadvisors.com

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