The Turnbull Property Acquisitions is a proudly independent firm of four partners, Johnny Turnbull, Samantha Blomfield-Smith, Louisa Brodie and Paul Tabor, all with in excess of 15 years experience in property. We specialise in acquiring properties in prime central London and offer a very personalised service, never taking on more than 5 clients each therefore being able to give each client search the time and attention to detail that is required. Lucy Russell heads our international department and is able to acquire anywhere in the world and we have a reciprocal arrangement with both a country search agent and commercial partner in London, so we really can cater with all property requirements.

James Thomlinson (JT): So how is the market at the moment, has the new levels of SDLT had an impact?

Samantha Blomfield-Smith (SBS): The market is finally moving again, every year we come back from Christmas raring to go, nothing happens the first few weeks of January, and then it snows, and then things pick up! Regarding the budget, it definitely left a back-log from last year with people undecided what to do, but so far indications are good for a busy year ahead. A handful of clients have come back to us having decided to hold off whilst the budget was brewing and they are now committed buyers. The extra 2% SDLT has certainly made a difference to properties between £2m - £5m, the purchase tax now being 7% for properties over £2m (when bought in an individual's name and 15% if purchased in a company structure). This extra cost has to come back from somewhere and it will be the purchase price of the property. It shows statistically too - sales are down between £2m-£5m by 18% from 2011. Many buyers looking around the £2m mark are mortgage reliant so this increase creates a significant barrier. Purchases below the £2m mark are up by 9% from the same period in 2011. This is by the very nature predominantly a central London phenomenon.

JT: What is your view on the last 12 months and how do we compare to our neighbouring countries?

Louisa Brodie (LB): Globally, the return to growth does look set to be a longer path than some had initially expected. In October the IMF cut its forecast for many world economies, with the UK economic forecast being downgraded from 1.45% to 1.1% for 2013. For London, 2012 bought much to celebrate and not just for sports fans and royalists. London's residential property market actually benefited from policy changes in the Eurozone such as Francis Hollande's much publicised wealth tax, and political unrest in other countries, whilst international demand in London remained strong. The UK national housing market saw small but positive growth in average prices with growth of 0.9% in the 12 months to November. Low interest rates and a shortage of supply helped support values in many areas. Although national growth looks very low compared to London (5.9%) and especially the prime boroughs, the UK outperformed many of its European neighbours – with price falls of –1% seen in France and –12% in Ireland.

JT: What is your forecast for 2013?

SBS: Forecasts for the UK house prices this year range from a pessimistic –5% form Capital Economics to + 2% from the RICS. A return to higher growth levels is not expected until 2014. However, who can tell with prime central London and super prime? Knight Frank recently reported that the market had risen an astonishing 59% in the last 3 years alone in prime central London, and for the best addresses I can see this figure being true, however it is impossible to predict how much and whether it this will continue at this rate. There is still a shortage of stock and it seems more and more buyers are coming to the UK, whilst supply is short and demand high I cannot personally see anything halting the market increase. Property in prime central London continues to outperform, Goldm, The FTSE 100 and fine wines.

JT: Is there an increasing number of overseas buyers and do they have an advantage?

LB: Overseas buyers have continued to flock to London over the past few years. Whilst the motivations to owning a home in the capital are many and varied, exchange rates continue to play a part in the buying decisions of many people coming from abroad. For buyers purchasing with the Sterling, prices in Kensington & Chelsea have increased by 32% in the last 5 years, adding an additional £266,000 to the average house price. For overseas nationals, only those buying in Rupees will have to contend with similar price rises (30%). Euro buyers will have to pay an additional 14% with both US$ and HK$ purchasers paying just 4% over 2007 levels. The real winners in exchange rate terms are Singaporeans. The change in the value of the Singapore dollar against sterling means prices are 13% lower than those in 2007.

JT: What are most of your buyers looking for at the moment? Are there any trends?

LB: At Turnbull we only take on a maximum of 5 clients each, therefore being able to give each client search the time and dedication that it needs. We also never have two clients looking for exactly the same property, that would create an obvious conflict – I would say we have a broad spectrum at the moment, but between the partners, we are looking for homes, both freehold houses and lateral flats, lock-up and leaves, pure long term investments, rental investments and also development opportunities. I would say that people have now come round to the idea of more lateral living - our clients are wanting wide, low-built houses which creates much easier living than a tall skinny town house and lateral flats, perhaps converted across two buildings. Most of our international clients would prefer to buy something "turnkey" that they can move straight into, but there is still a lot of demand for owner occupiers wanting to put their own mark on their new home and buy un-modernised.

JT: What are the advantages of using a buying agent such as yourselves do you actually save your clients money?

SBS: Firstly, I would say "yes", we do save our clients' money on most occasions. With current market conditions as they are, and many vendors just chancing the market by putting their properties on at over inflated prices and then believing the selling agent that it is worth the price, it is our job to provide comparables and give an informed opinion of what is the correct level to buy the property at. Our clients don't always take our advice but if they decide to overpay they have at least been given the necessary advice in advance. In this market it is very hard to find what you are looking for as many properties are already Under Offer by the time they come to the market, if they come to the market at all, or have serious interest, meaning that it becomes a very competitive environment.

A really good buying agent will have excellent relationships with all the estate agents, solicitors, private bankers, family offices, anyone who has clients who may have properties to sell - therefore getting the first call to hear about properties before they come to the market, thus giving our clients a head start to those without a buying agent. The fact that a prospective purchaser has retained a buying agent makes them a serious buyer in the eyes of the selling agent and their vendor, therefore increasing the chances of the purchaser's offer being accepted. Before putting in an offer we make sure that our clients are ready to buy, with the mortgage if needed in place, and a solicitor instructed, so that they are ready to proceed swiftly thus avoiding losing the property.