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Fri 8 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Offering the VIP treatment

Just what does it take to cater to high end private clients in the Middle East real estate business?

Just what does it take to cater to high end private clients in the Middle East real estate business?

Bovey Property Consultants provides a VIP service to private clients in the Middle East wishing to buy homes in Europe.

Company founder Jane Bovey travels far and wide to find the ideal homes for her clients - whether they are looking for a second home or an investment opportunity.

She tells Philippa Kennedy why VIP property consultancy is such a lucrative niche market.

What exactly do you do?

It's a highly personalised service and I deal solely with private clients. I find high end property for them in London, the Home Counties, Paris and Switzerland. It could be for investment or I could be searching for a home for them. They are a mixture of VIP clients based in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They can be both institutions and privately wealthy people.

How did you get into the VIP property business?

I have totally changed direction. I started off in real estate mainly dealing with British expats looking for buy to let properties but I have completely shifted emphasis in my business.

When I see something that looks suitable I have someone who visits the property to check it out.

We have moved away from that because property prices started to increase and rents did not. Six or seven years ago we could sell an apartment to an expat who would then let it out. The proceeds from the rental would cover their mortgage payments and hopefully their capital investment would go up as well. It's still possible to do that but it's much harder.

It has become much more difficult to find a property where the rental income will cover costs and it's a struggle to find cheaper properties for younger expats. So we have diversified into a more niche market. Of course we will try to help anybody who contacts us if we can and if we cannot then we will point them in the right direction.

So it must be worth your while financially?

Yes it is worth our while financially. However, it can be a bit like feast or famine. You might have a good month followed by a couple of bad months but it usually evens out. We work on a commission basis and usually charge between one and two per cent. It's not always the client who pays. It can sometimes be the developer depending on whether it is an off-plan new property directly from the developer. We would only expect to receive one fee.

We tend not to advertise anymore but we are in the process of redesigning our web site to fit in more with the more prestigious and high-end properties. I believe we are better at doing this than the bulk sales thing.
How do you find the properties?

I have a network of excellent agents in the UK. They are constantly sending me details of properties. We get regular updates. I would like to think that we can have some of the nicest properties available on our books or at the very least find them through our contacts. I spend a lot of time and effort in nurturing these relationships. I have several really good people in London and someone who helps me in Paris with who I'm constantly in touch. I ring them up and they come to Dubai. I try to keep communications going.

When I see something that looks suitable I have someone who visits the property to check it out. If they think it will suit our clients requirements and it matches the brief then I will fly over personally and check it out.

How did you get your first client?

It was through a contact at a Swiss bank who had a VIP client who was looking for a place in London. After that it has been word of mouth. That very often happens if they like you. I didn't know what to expect.

What's it like dealing with VIP clients?

If you are dealing with any VIP clients you obviously have to go to them. I have an Arab gentleman who helps me with translation. It's a little bit harder dealing with them as a woman. Sometimes I meet my Saudi clients in Bahrain. I wear a smart suit. The only place I cover up is in Saudi where I will wear an abaya.

Visiting any Middle Eastern clients you have to respect the culture. I find the Arab clients that I have had the privilege of dealing with, to be some of the most hospitable people in the world.

Nothing is too much trouble when you visit their homes. They welcome you with coffee and water and trays of sweets, dates and cake and you are made to feel very welcome.

I understand the culture and understand the way people behave. Dubai is such a multicultured melting pot that you almost forget the Arab ways. I believe people do respect older women here. They listen to you more and respect experience.

How does it work from day to day?

We will contact our clients and introduce a new investment opportunity that we have for sale.

Our clients are very shrewd individuals who have been in the property investment market for a long time. Arabs have been buying in London since the 1950s or possibly even before. They are very astute and very savvy with their investments. They usually want to spread the risk and property is very hot at the moment. My clients want value for money with good returns and good quality.
As most relationships are built largely on trust, a healthy respect and honesty is essential. I always look at a property and weigh up if I would be prepared to buy it myself, if I had the money, before I would introduce it to a client. You can't just sit back and think these clients have a lot of money and will buy anything because they won't!

What sort of properties and in what areas are your VIP clients buying?

If it's commercial property it's mainly in London and Paris. A lot of our property stuff is off the open market. For private homes our clients prefer areas such as Kingston, Richmond, Central London and the Home Counties. Prime central London properties tend to be the favorites. Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Park Lane, Notting Hill and Bayswater are especially popular.

These areas always command robust prices as they are popular with International clients. They are not so affected by price fluctuations.

Was it difficult starting a real estate business in this region?

Seven years ago when I started off it was very difficult. I felt I had to jump through rings of fire.

Everything was hard and there was so much bureaucracy.

I had to get a trade licence and find an Emirati sponsor in order to be allowed to start up the business.

I had to produce so many references. My sponsor is a very helpful local and has been really supportive.

I met him through a friend. I had to go to the Dubai Courts before the notary. When I went there at the time I was the only woman in the place.

I walked in and sat down and got into trouble because I was sitting with the men and I shouldn't have been. I was whisked into a room by myself. It took me two months to get everything sorted.

Once I had my licence I drummed up business by doing an advertising campaign in the local papers.

In those days you couldn't buy property here if you weren't a national so consequently there was no Dubai property advertised for sale only for rent.

We put ads in the local papers every week and soon we had lots of enquiries.

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