Established in the 1970s Hathaways is based in the heart of Westminster and comprises 3 departments: Period House, Flat Sales and Rentals.
The Period Houses department was borne out of a personal enthusiasm for historic and beautiful architecture, which is shared by all members of staff. They have earned a reputation in the niche market of fine period property and architecturally important buildings in central London. The department prides itself on concentrating on a small number of properties at one time, ensuring focused marketing and maximum exposures. Despite being a small department they have national coverage and in recent years have sold some of London's most prestigious properties.
The Flat Sales and Rentals department is dedicated to the sale and rental of Mansion flats as well as modern and new developments throughout Westminster. They are known for a clear and straightforward approach and for achieving the best possible outcome for vendor, landlord, purchaser and tenant. They have unrivalled knowledge of the Victorian and Edwardian Mansion blocks in Westminster, as well as the modern and purpose built developments that provide a unique mix of accommodation to the area.
James Thomlinson (JT): Kirsty, kindly start with an overview of your role.
Kirsty Sugden (KS): When you work for a small company you get involved in every single part of the business. My days are varied, although working on the marketing of the properties Hathaways is instructed on is the biggest priority. This involves everything from drawing up the marketing material, booking the adverts, liaising with our PR people, carrying out viewings and negotiating the terms of a sale. As well as giving market appraisals, on top of this we keep in close contact with potential vendors in the area and have long standing relationships with many. Meetings with developers and search agents are important as well keeping up to date with what is going on in the area.
JT: How do you interpret the trend in buyer type in your local market of Westminster/St James? Is the proportion of overseas buyers continuing to grow?
KS: 10 years ago, just about 100% of our buyers were British - civil servants, MPs and those working in various government offices in the vicinity as well as businessmen, but in the last 10 years there has been a steady increase in international purchasers.
Amongst those buying the traditional townhouses in the area, no single nationality stands out and the majority are well established in the UK. Often they are entrepreneurs, working in the financial institutions in nearby St James's and Mayfair and so the location is very convenient. Often their offices are merely a stroll across either Green Park or St James's Park. There are relatively few family houses in Mayfair and St James's and Westminster makes an attractive alternative, especially as this area is still less expensive, with the result that you can purchase more square feet for your budget.
JT: It appears that Westminster is undergoing a considerable amount of change. How do you see this?
KS: It's really exciting what is happening. Victoria Station and the surrounding streets are undergoing a complete makeover and this 'new-look' is attracting a huge amount of attention on an international scale. With its central location and the Queen being its most illustrious resident, you would have expected the area to always have been a prime spot in the capital. However under investment and bad planning meant that the area was frequently no more than a transport hub, somewhere you passed through to get to glossier parts of London, such as Knightsbridge and Belgravia. This is all changing however with Land Securities, Britain's largest developer, leading the regeneration of the area to create a go-to destination in which to work, live and play. This has already had a marked influence on people's perception of the area, with property values rising and forecasted to continue to rise as the 'makeover' gains momentum over the next few years.
JT: Are there any SW1 office to residential conversion opportunities left?
KS: Many period buildings in this area spent the majority of the 20th Century as offices whilst residential buyers favoured Kensington, Chelsea and Belgravia.
But starting in the 1990s, with the pressure on London housing stock, increasing numbers of developers turned their sights to these office buildings and started converting them back to their original residential use. There are however very few remaining.
What we are now seeing are the larger office buildings of the 60s and 70s being redeveloped. The press has focused recently on several redevelopments along Victoria Street and Buckingham Gate by Land Securities and Alchemi Group. Some of these are mixed schemes, with a combination of retail, office and residential units. Berkeley and Barratt Homes are taking a piece of the action with new-builds on Horseferry Road and John Islip Street and London Underground have also recently invited tenders for schemes for their iconic Art-Deco headquarters at 55 Broadway.
JT: You specialise in period and character properties. Is it fair to say that there is a growing demand for such properties?
KS: Period properties have an enduring appeal, especially as we continue to develop and modernise they are becoming rarer and rarer. I find that people who buy period houses are absolutely passionate about them, seeing themselves as privileged custodians of these historic masterpieces rather than just 'the owner'. So much new-build can be bland and unimaginative in comparison. There really is nothing like a grand, first floor period drawing room, with a marble fireplace, a bay window and a lovely high, ceiling with intricate cornicing. Buildings with these fine historic details are highly sought after.
JT: Finally which is your favourite street in Westminster?
KS: It has to be Queen Anne's Gate which is a unique enclave of Queen Anne townhouses. One side of the street runs along Birdcage Walk and the houses have lovely green views over St James's Park. Built in the early eighteenth century, the oldest of these houses have intricate Dutch style canopies over the front doors, and are full of period features, including the original grand carved staircases, panelling and fireplaces. Some boast intricate moulded plaster ceilings and cornices and a few even have spectacular fresco paintings which make for magnificent entertaining rooms. It is no surprise that these houses have had a colourful and fascinating history, with past residents including no less than 3 prime-ministers. If only walls could talk!