Game of Thrones

Wednesday, March 05, 2014 by Douglas And Gordon

Annabel Harrison meets property expert Ed Mead, who has been immersed in the industry for the last 35 years, finding his opinions and approach thoroughly refreshing

Ed Mead is what one would justly call a ‘voice of the industry’, and his is a loud one. Mead is outspoken and knows his own mind, which makes for an interesting, engaging interview. He has just taken up the role of executive director at Douglas & Gordon, having been with the company since 1994; “It is a trusted company that does everything; we don’t just do the bits that make money. We do block management and our lettings management is huge. We’re very well placed to handle any residential investments that people might be otherwise frightened of.” Douglas & Gordon started off as a lettings business in 1958 and Mead tells us more.

What would you single out as a USP of Douglas & Gordon?

One of the areas we want to trumpet about is what we actually do; we have some 3,000 let properties under management and, including block management, we manage more than £4.5 billion worth of property. We don’t shout about that nearly enough, but that’s what we do; we manage blocks and lettings. That’s an enormous undertaking, and we do it quietly, efficiently, and just get on with it. People are beginning to notice that’s what we do.

What change would you most like to see take place in the property industry?

From an industry perspective, I’d like to see all agents licensed; why wouldn’t you entrust your biggest asset to someone who’s licensed? At Douglas & Gordon, all our negotiators, within a year of joining us, have to do the NAEA tech awards, which is actually quite onerous. The industry still isn’t regulated, although luckily from April all lettings agents will have to be members of a redress scheme. Until now, lettings agents haven’t had to, yet they handle cash, so you get cases of people who advertise a flat, take deposits from 15 people, then close the business up; it’s just ridiculous. 

And what’s your next biggest frustration, now that steps are being taken in the right direction there?

My biggest bugbear is the internet. Everyone these days becomes a property expert but more irritating is that people go onto a property search portal and will type in ‘I want two bedrooms, two bathrooms, in this area’… and then
they’ll wait for properties to drop into their inbox. When I first started in the late 70s and early 80s, you didn’t even have photographs, or floorplans; someone would ring you up and say ‘I’ve got £25,000 to spend and I want
a flat in Beaufort Street’. I’d say, are you sure? Why don’t you come in for a few hours, we’ll go and see a few things around that price range and go from there?’ So they’d come in, you’d get to know them a bit and work out that
actually what they need is a little three bedroom house. So I think the biggest problem we have is trying to persuade estate agents to be estate agents, and not keyholders. That’s a real problem; at the moment everyone expects to get all their information from the internet. Why wouldn’t you go to someone who knows the area backwards? 

What’s the impact of what you term the “dependence the industry seems to place on dubious statistics” on vendors and buyers?

It depends. The problem with the culture we have these days is that the objective is to try and persuade people that things are better than they are if you’re a buyer, and worse than they are if you’re a seller. That’s mean, because the market will ultimately determine what a property is worth, but what these things do is move peoples’ expectations or perceptions of the market. You actually need to have 20 viewings on a place before you know if you’re at the right price or not. The market will do its job, but all statistics ultimately just serve the purpose of the person who is releasing them. That’s all bar the Land Registry, which is now up for sale, which is depressing; the Tories are talking about selling it. The problem is that you’ll say to most estate agents who produce stats that ‘the only ones you can trust are the Land Registry and they’ll say, ‘oh, but they’re two or three months out of date’. Well, if the market really can’t operate on data that’s only two or three months out of date, but is precise, that’s a real problem.

Do your teams employ different approaches when they’re working in Chelsea and Notting Hill?

The difference in approach is huge. The Chelsea market is almost all European, and relatively young – people between 30 and 40, and often Italian – and therefore our people there all speak different languages. Kensington tends to be a more English market, and Notting Hill is still what it always was. The best thing to happen to the Royal Borough in the last three months, which is really naff and I hate to mention it, is the Beckhams looking for property here, and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, because that’s what the borough used to be about; groovy artists living here, not bankers, so I hate to say it but bring on the Beckhams and the Wests.

Do you invest in property for yourself, and do you invest in property for your children?

No I don’t. I invested in Douglas & Gordon instead of property itself. I never liked employing people who were obviously property developers; the awful truth is a lot of estate agents out there are. I decided very early on that wasn’t what I wanted to do; I had people working for me who’d obviously been buying and selling houses, so I said ‘you can either be a property developer or an estate agent, which one do you want to be?’ I have a house in London and one in Dorset, and that’s good enough for me. You asked about children, and the fact is that a certain chunk of the equity from the house in London will go to our kids for a deposit on a property. Our objective is to die with nothing and the kids get a deposit on a flat. 

What advice would you give people looking to buy in our area in the coming months? 

It’s obvious that the credit cycle is starting again; banks are beginning to get a bit easier, in terms of lending, and in that market it’s the cheaper properties which people borrow on, and would like to buy. Most people who want to live in Kensington and Chelsea would love to live in a mansion but what they actually need is a £600,000 flat. When the credit cycle starts to turn, those are the sort of flats that people can afford to start buying again.If I was buying for investment in the Royal Borough, I’d be buying at the bottom end of the market and I’d make sure that whatever I bought would be capable of being lived in for ten years, because with Stamp Duty the way it is, every time you move it’s going to cost you eight or nine per cent of the entire value of your property.

Are you still a trustee of the Hepatitis C Trust? What’s the most recent news?

There are new, oral-only drugs coming soon that will cure almost all genotypes of Hepatitis C within 12 weeks. On current regimes people have to inject themselves for six months and take combination drugs, which are horrendous. Two American companies, in particular Gilead, have produced this oral-only drug which sorts 92 per cent of people with Hepatitis C out; a radical change. If you had a blood transfusion pre-1991, you had a good chance of getting Hep. C. An awful lot of people who read your magazine may have it but not know, and the new treatment’s going to be amazing; if you think you might have it, get tested. It’s easy to get treatment now.