50 YEARS OF MEWS SALES
This is the first in a series of five articles to be published in 2021. The year in which Lurot Brand celebrates its 50th year as a specialist Mews estate agent in London. All of ECM’s 2021 articles have been written in collaboration with Lurot Brand. We at ECM congratulate them and look forward to their continuing years of achievement.
MICRO PERSPECTIVE ON MEWS
These articles will relate to house prices and sales that are specific to London Mews over the last 50 years. As the Mews represent a small-scale world themselves, we start with a micro perspective to consider the detail that underlies the selling of the Mews over the last half a century.
SELLING THE MEWS
Since the start of their ‘golden age’ 200 years ago, the London Mews have undergone remarkable changes and it is a testimony to their adaptability that so many remain in occupation. No longer home to horses, but home to people who have come to expect such comforts as indoor sanitation, changing the way estate agents operate, market and sell Mews properties.
Today modern technology such as the use of computers, digital cameras, laser printers, and specialised software have transformed the processes.
MEWS IN THE 1970’S
In the 1970’s, London’s Mews were very simple. Most were still unmodernised and retained the old equine proportions with large drafty stables, coach houses below, and cramped flats above.
Back then, buyers tended to be from one of two main groups: well-to-do individuals who were young and successful or had inherited money and older individuals, probably downsizers, who wanted to move back into London.
Basements with gyms and multimedia rooms were highly desirable but seemed a long way off.
In 1970, people had long enjoyed refrigerators, freezers and other appliances. For over 50 years kitchens had been equipped with large, buzzing boxes to keep food cold but their capacity was limited compared to current, efficient appliances.
Kitchens were also equipped with automatic washing machines, generally unstable top-loaders and clanking dishwashers, which had been around for about 20 years. No one had heard of self-cleaning ovens, environmentally friendly appliances, robotic vacuum cleaners or Alexa!
Back then televisions in the corner of each living room only had three programme channels with sets in black and white or colour. Whilst this now seems primitive, remember that only 30 years before, those seeking contemporary information had to rely on cinema newsreels to see broadcasts of major events like the Coronation or the Olympic Games.
remembers Mews selling in 1970’s
50 years ago, we had just opened our first shop in Brompton Road and the real world as well as the Mews world were very different places.
Estate agents everywhere appeared to be fueled by coffee and nicotine. As hard as it may be to imagine today, puffing away on a cigarette whilst quaffing copious amounts of instant coffee was the way to pull a deal together.
Offices were conspicuously overflowing with paper. Before computers made an appearance, we were helped by the use of electric typewriters, that crucially allowed mistakes to be dealt with without the inconvenience of having to start the entire process again which, for those fortunate enough not to recall, a traditional typewriter required.
Analogue photographs for our sales particulars were taken more sparingly than is now the digital norm since the film reels were a notable expense and needed to be properly accounted for within each fee. This required more imagination and skill on behalf of the agent, but arguably the quality of the product was today’s equal… and all the better to show off the fashionable avocado bathroom suite!
Sales pitches were harder than at present and were to become harder still. Certainly, descriptions were more florid, as there was less legislation to guide us with…’tucked away out of sight and mind with oodles of period charm, many original features, some modernisation needed… and priced to sell!’
MEWS IN THE 1980’S
By 1980 people were showing greater interest in the Mews and were beginning to speculate in ever increasing numbers. This resulted in a rapid reduction in the number of decaying Mews in rundown streets.
To begin with, these properties would be just smartened up, but with the advent of new technology and an emphasis on glossy appearance, driven by the popularity of American serials such as Dallas and Dynasty, more ambitious conversions were undertaken.
Before the arrival of the internet and desk top computers, estate agents would continue with their daily mailings to their customers, most of whom had probably responded to newspaper advertisements. Each agent had a box of plastic cards containing client details that would be used to conduct their business.
The agents would spend their time dictating creative and flowery property descriptions into a tape machine and the office secretary would type them out. The details would then appear on a dot matrix printer – which as it was so noisy, was situated under a huge double glazed Perspex capsule that occupied too much of the office space. Photos would be taken sparingly and were generally of exteriors since interiors were deemed to be a security risk. There were no requirements for floorplans, no video tours or energy performance certificates (EPC’s).
remembers selling in 1980’s
40 years ago there was a massive reliance on newspaper advertising as Antoine Lurot remembers… such as The Sunday Times and Telegraph.
No sooner had we established our best practices for selling the Mews when the vagaries of supply and demand intervened, and we became first inundated with sales and then abandoned by the market.
1988 was our best year, selling around 80 properties across the whole area of central London. From the slightly down at heel ones in Kensington to the highly polished ones in Knightsbridge.
1989 could not have been more different. For Mews that were fair or foul, the sales wind would not blow and it is difficult to recollect any number of sales much beyond double figures for the year.
Still, there was no shortage of cigarettes or strong coffee to keep us going.
Mews in the 1990’s
The 1990’s were nicknamed the ‘slacker generation’ or ‘generation X’. Whilst Mews owners and tenants might not all have dressed as if attending a Nirvana gig, dress code in the Mews was certainly less formal.
Over this decade people looked for a more flexible approach to Mews living and because of the proven capital appreciation, were looking to invest in expanding and extending the properties.
Initially, this came with a desire to build upwards and in a number of different ways – subject to planning approvals. Planners were generally accommodating, although each planning department had its own perspective on how roofs should adorn the Mews.
As a result, the relationship between inside and outside space was not consistent and this in turn determined the size and type of accommodation that could be produced. For example, an extra bedroom with an en-suite would not require any significant balcony or outside space whereas a reception room would benefit from a generous external space.
Not all Mews could be changed in this way as some Mews would not countenance any upward expansion at all, e.g. Bathurst Mews which, even today, remains two storey.
Improvements in technology, especially in communications, signalled a change in work environments and practices. The introduction of IT during this decade, sparked a big change to the estate agents’ business with far less reliance on newspaper advertising and a sharp increase in digital marketing.
1991 was something of an industry watershed as it brought in the Property Misdescription Act – making it a criminal offence for estate agents to make false or misleading statements about properties offered for sale. This Act was subsequently repealed and replaced by other consumer and business protection legislation.
remembers selling in 1990’s
30 years ago estate agents were embracing IT, new narratives and political correctness. We can no longer describe a property as we had before.
We can also no longer use terms such as ‘master bedroom’ since it has connotations with slavery.
The challenge was to avoid being too flowery or too dull and to jettison plain verbosity with imagery and direct communication, that appeals to the buyer, by conveying the best experiences the seller has enjoyed at the property.
MEWS IN THE 2000’S
By 2000, the number of opportunities for mansard roof extensions was dwindling. Awareness of the capital value increases that had accompanied this trend in development meant that a new direction for expansion was arrived at – digging down to create basements with gyms and multimedia rooms had finally arrived.
This trend was to last for another 15 years or so, until planners began to respond to public concerns about the disruption this type of development caused.
Televisions were now offering 300 plus channels and were vying for attention with computers and the internet. Laptops followed, until the end of the decade when the iPad arrived.
Laptops and tablets had the massive advantage of not needing a dedicated space, thus allowing more flexible arrangements in the Mews.
remembers selling in 2000’s
20 years ago estate agents were embracing the internet with complementary technologies such as digital photography.
The internet in the late 1990’s made everyone a property professional and meant we had to up our game!
With the likes of Rightmove (founded 2000) and Zoopla (founded 2008) the role of the estate agent has changed and was evolving.
And like everyone else, after 2007, we all had to stop smoking in the office.
MEWS IN THE 2010’S
By 2010 basement development had evolved all too frequently into basement wars… figuratively at least. At first, there were sufficiently few schemes to ensure that they were carried out by those with the specific construction experience. Demand for such developments increased along with the ambition of those undertaking the schemes; unfortunately the know-how of those drawn to these developments did not match demand.
Plans for single basements were soon replaced with plans for basements with lower service rooms, which in turn were replaced with plans for double (lower) basements. Such projects were stretching the bounds of domestic architecture and became major engineering exercises. The London Aquifer supporting them could not always be relied upon for this type of development. Neighbours were also increasingly up in arms about the disruption.
Planners responded to the objections raised by this mayhem making basement applications a much more rigorous process.
Technology continued to advance – the iPad arrived in 2010 and Alexa in 2014.
remembers selling in 2010’s
10 years ago estate agents were caught up in the fallout from the financial irregularities from the banking sector, which created the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act. This came into force to prevent criminal proceeds being invested into legitimate assets like Mews properties.
In 2015 the ‘on the Market’ property search portal became the third of the big three property portal providers.
MEWS IN THE 2020’S
The 2020’s started with a worldwide pandemic that at the time of writing appears worse than ever. But the news of vaccines means hope springs eternal.
THE MEWS MARKET TODAY AND IN THE FUTURE
The future offers up all manner of possibilities for selling the Mews. Estate agents continue to use and explore technology, experimenting with virtual reality and artificial intelligence in ways that we can’t begin to fathom.
Ultimately though, Mews will remain long term survivors. From cheap adaptable spaces, they have been altered and converted and imaginatively reworked to make the best of their limitations; to fulfil the needs of increasingly appreciative residents.
When stables were no longer needed, they proved to be sufficiently adaptable for motor trade use, only to find a more frequent use as residences for humans. Throughout their chequered history, Mews have survived until someone intervenes. Presently, they remain hugely desirable places in which to live and work.
Brexit and the new world order will inevitably bring changes to the planning process which should streamline and speed it up. Lessons learned from the past and the knowledge gained over decades, puts us in a good position to achieve our architectural goals and complement the art of living.
looks forward beyond the pandemic
LB believes that the role of the specialist estate agent will become even more important. The trend for fewer Mews coming to the market will mean that there will be a demand for those that do, to be properly presented and handled.
What we have learnt from our experiences over the last 50 years is that it is not sufficient to merely rely on technology, branding and all that stuff. Though they’re all fantastic tools there is no substitute for bringing our unique experience and insight to benefit those who appreciate good counsel. Ultimately, for all sales now and in decades to come, the one piece of kit you need to sell your property is the estate agent.
Whatever happens rest assured ECM will continue to record the Everchanging nature of the Mews.
This article was written by Martyn John Brown MRICS, MCIOB, MNAEA, MARLA, MISVA of Everchanging Mews – www.everchangingmews.com who is a specialist Mews Consultant.
Everchanging Mews is owned and run by Martyn John Brown MRICS, MCIOB, MNAEA, MARLA, MISVA who provides professional advice in respect of Mews development and refurbishment projects as well as professional surveying advice – For any appraisal or advice on Mews Projects and Surveys, Valuations and Party Wall matters contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Martyn on 0207 419 5033.