Interview with Hannah Aykroyd, Managing Director, Aykroyd & Co.

  1. How did you get your start in residential property?

I had set my sights on being a lawyer. However, whilst undergoing my law degree, I took a work experience role with a property company and rather surprised myself when I fell in love with the world of property. So after I completed my degree I embarked on a career in property, beginning on the selling side before moving across to the advisory side. I’m much more comfortable working as a buying agent because I can solely focus on representing the buyer’s interests at all times, and importantly flag when there is an issue with a property rather than gloss over as an estate agent might be tempted to. 

What led you to leave Van Han and set up Aykroyd & Co?

I had always wanted to establish my own agency and having worked in the property industry for over ten years, I had a clear vision of the ideal boutique advisory firm. I wanted to offer a highly personalised, discreet service to UHNW clients from the UK and abroad. I knew this could only be done a with small, extremely professional tight-knit team working with a few clients at a time. My opportunity came in 2018, when the gold-standard buying agency where I was a Director was wound down after the agency’s Managing Directors were poached by a larger agency. I set up Aykroyd & Co. My colleague Sophie Bonsor came with me, and we have now been joined by Edward Towers, who is one of the very few London buying agents who is also a Chartered Surveyor.  We have had a hugely successful inaugural year, completing over £60 million in transactions. And I’m delighted that we’ve recently been named among the top 10 buying agents, alongside much larger and more established agencies, which is very gratifying.

What is unique about Aykroyd & Co?

We offer an extremely intensive service focused on superb client care at all times. For an average client search, we spend time with clients discussing exactly what they want now and in ten years – asking them questions they often haven’t considered – to ensure we future proof their investment. We then focus on sourcing off-market opportunities, preview 40-50 of the best properties, and carry out extensive research on the final short list before we even show a single property to the clients. This is time-consuming for us but ensures our clients’ time is used most effectively. Once a property is found, we provide comprehensive real-time data analytics to our clients, and strategise on how to best approach negotiations. Our clients benefit from our strong track record, which enables us to negotiate firmly – the lower the price per sq ft achieved, the happier we are. We then pull in a tried and tested team of professionals to ensure a smooth transaction through to exchange and completion, and offer exceptional after care well after our clients have moved in. Our goal is always to build a long-term relationship with clients, and importantly, ensure our clients’ interests are fully protected at all times.

Describe your typical client. 

Each of our clients is unique, and I wouldn’t say that we have a typical client. Our clients are evenly split between British and International clients; they’re a mixture of private individuals and families and investors; and they have a wide range of very individual requirements. What they generally have in common is an appreciation of the efficacy of bringing in the right professionals to support their aims.

What’s the most surprising request you’ve had from a client? 

I’m sorry, but we don’t discuss our clients in this way. One of our hallmarks at Aykroyd & Co is complete discretion.

What benefits are there to having a Buying Agent? Why should savvy buyers look to work with Buying Agent, as opposed to just working with estate agents?

Quite simply, estate agents represent the seller’s interests. Buying agents represent the buyer’s interests. In the crudest sense, buying agents are known for carrying out a property search and for helping a client to find the right property. However, there is so much more to providing a top-quality service as a buying agent. We act as 360 degree property advisors: we help to refine search requirements, access off-market properties well before others, cut through pricing by providing relevant comps and analytics, advise on refurbishments and planning, and support a smooth transaction through exchange, closing and beyond. Whether one is purchasing residential property for personal use or investment or a mixture of both, the outlay is significant and can be emotional. Retaining a buying agent is just common sense.

What qualities do you think are essential in a Buying Agent? 

Above all else, a buying agent must be utterly professional. Perhaps because I did a law degree, I’m a great stickler for professional standards and attention to detail; this is absolutely key in the world of property. Having a strong visual sense of space can also be helpful. My husband and I have done seven major renovations ourselves, so this has helped to refine my ability to imagine and describe the potential in a property. Finally, it’s important to have plenty of energy as top buying agents keep long hours previewing numerous properties weekly, attending property events, and keeping an ear to the ground by catching up with fellow property professionals. The London property market is like a village, and face time is critical.  

Do you think there are advantages/disadvantages to being a woman in what is still largely a man’s field?

There are many women as well as men working in the field, and I think each individual brings a different set of strengths and weaknesses, aside from their gender. It may be that women have to work a bit harder to earn professional respect and authority. Fortunately, I am passionate about what I do, so am very happy to put in that hard work.

In what ways has the Ultra-Prime Central London property market changed since you started working in it? For example, has the makeup of nationalities changed among UHNW buyers in London? Are UHNW buyers looking for the same or different things in a £10 million + property?

I have experienced recent highs and lows in the Prime Central London property market with the crash of 2008, the peak of summer 2014 and a decline since then. This has not been helped by the Government’s focus on increasing Stamp Duty  Land Tax (SDLT). This relatively new tax is the bane of the property world, but fortunately there are often interesting ways to minimise the SDLT outlay on a given property. As prices have come off, one can no longer rely on a rising market. That means that buying smart is more critical than ever, and a long-term hold is required to mitigate significant SDLT outlay. In terms of the nationalities of buyers, we have seen a pretty steady, even mix of British and international buyers. In terms of what people look for in a £10 million + property, this is also fairly consistent. Period homes are almost always preferred, with their high ceilings, beautiful architectural detail and often interesting aspect. We constantly advise clients to focus solely on best in class properties as these will more likely retain their value and saleability even in a downturn. This can be as nuanced as buying on the right side or end of a particular road or square.

Which are the best areas in PCL to invest? Which areas are up-and-coming? Which areas do you expect to offer the highest rates of return?

There are two clear areas in our opinion. Firstly, Marylebone was the only area of PCL to increase in value last year and with such significant redevelopment you can understand why. The Celebrity favourite, Chiltern Firehouse, opened back in 2014 and although the sheen has come off slightly, it is still a huge draw and the positive ripple effect has been huge for Marylebone. The key development in the area is Chiltern Place which has bolstered the price per sq ft achieved for any new scheme here, with many trying to replicate their success. The Howard de Walden estate has worked tirelessly to overhaul Marylebone High Street and Marylebone Lane, creating a unique shopping experience with predominantly independent retailers. Buyers are quite rightly attracted to this buzzy neighbourhood, and for a fraction of the price of neighbouring Mayfair.

Secondly, Bayswater is another undervalued pocket which is undergoing a significant £1bn regeneration backed by a Brunei family and Dutch property fund. On the back of this announcement in 2013 there has already been substantial development in the local area by some leading developers. There is now great momentum with this long-overlooked pocket north of Hyde Park becoming a draw in its own right, where the price per sq ft is lower than neighbouring Notting Hill.

The rest of this editorial will be published at a later time.