Agent builds on firm foundations

By Charlie Jacoby, May 26, 2009
Sue Fisher: managing director  of the Preston Bennett group

Sue Fisher: managing director of the Preston Bennett group

At the end of 2008, agents across London were shaking their heads about prospects for the market. La vie was not, for them, en rose. Prices were going down, developers were holding up projects and work was about to get horribly thin. But then the economy did not vanish into a system of medieval barter and nor was sterling replaced by gold coin.

Staff at Stanmore’s Preston Bennett were pleasantly surprised that, as one set of developers pulled back from the market, another set emerged and instructed the firm to act. This has put it in a strong position for the foreseeable future. It has a range of developments to bring to the market, including properties outside its traditional areas of Stanmore, Mill Hill and Middlesex and South Hertfordshire. It also reports recovery in the market for secondhand homes.

“We’ve seen an increase in activity in every area,” says Sue Fisher who, while continuing in her role in the new homes consultancy, has now become managing director of the Preston Bennett group. “The general view from buyers is that prices are holding steady. With interest rates where they are, it’s time to take money out of savings and put it into the property market. Money is better off in bricks and mortar than in the bank.

“I don’t think prices have increased since November last year but, because they haven’t fallen further, buyers are now worried they might miss the boat and fail to snap up property before prices start rising again.

“People who have been in rented property for the last six or nine months are among those buying, especially people who are downsizing and looking to buy in the same area where they’ve always lived.”

They are still seeking and achieving bargains. New homes buyers want a straight discount on price, rather than a package of incentives, says Ms Fisher. “There are good deals out there.”

The other departments under Ms Fisher include land and development, planning and agency. Richard Henley is the director in charge of planning and land/development. Preston Bennett has also recently taken on a new land manager, Chris Ruggles, who has been working for a corporate housebuilder. He sold a residential site in South Harrow within weeks of arriving.

It is another sign of the renaissance of the property sector that the land market is now active again. “Normally, land trades pick up after everything else has picked up,” says Ms Fisher. “We’re starting to see land deals take place, as land values become more realistic. There are a lot of developers buying, but the corporates with land banks are not buying.”

Preston Bennett also has a role helping clients with planning. Thanks to Preston Bennett’s advice, the derelict Lazy Fox pub site in Bushey is now going to be 14 apartments. The market for these products is there. Preston Bennett launched a scheme, Holly Grove, for Cosway Land in March and soon reported reservations.

March was Preston Bennett’s best trading month for 18 months. Preston Bennett’s residential agency is run by Tony Stone and apartments by Emma Berg. Lettings, run under the name Preston Bennett & Stone, has remained strong during the downturn and staff numbers have increased to eight.

Ms Fisher started in house sales agency at 16, for another firm, before moving to the company founded by her father, Ronnie Preston, who was joined by Peter Bennett 38 years ago.

She says: “I’m going to maintain the values we have lived by for 50 years: integrity and professionalism.”

    Last updated: 9:00am, May 26 2009