In Conversation with Joanna Symes of Home Sweet Home, London
23 June 2022
With a rapidly changing market and scarcity of supply, buying agents are more valuable and in-demand than ever.
Joanna Symes of Home Sweet Home talks to Julia Poulter, a Partner in Lewis Silkin’s Real Estate team, about working in the prime central London property market for over 20 years. Those in the know have her number on speed-dial and appreciate how she runs a super discreet London property search and acquisition business with lightning efficiency.
Julia Poulter (JP): Joanna, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about your business and the prime central London property market. Let’s dive straight in with a brief introduction to you and your business.
Joanna Symes (JS): Sure, thank you Julia. Home Sweet Home offers impartial, independent and expert advice, often sourcing properties that most will never know even exist. We act for a buyer or tenant from their initial requirements to search, through to offer stage and the often daunting conveyancing process. Our clients will benefit from access to our “support system” of removers, interior designers, architects, builders and even a family doctor, at times vital to a transaction. I have recently extended the business to include “Staging a Property” for both sales and rentals using furniture and art from my curated collection, as well as offering an investment focused Contemporary Art Consultancy concentrating on purchasing the most exciting and emerging artists to complement a client’s existing collection.
JP: What’s keeping you busy?
JS: The prime central London property market is never static. My work and social life blend into one as our whole business is based on recommendations, rather than website led. My team have a vast wealth of knowledge of the London market, understanding the nuances of different houses in the same road for example which can equate at times to a substantial difference in value. Many of these properties we have already been invited into over the years or indeed acquired at some point. We have just acquired two substantial unmodernised houses in Notting Hill between £15m-£18m, which are once in a generation homes. On the strength of our reputation, we are often first through the door as sellers, landlords and agents know the quality of the clients that we represent, and it is this first mover advantage that gives us our edge and accounts for our high success rate.
JP: What new ideas or opportunities are set to become part of your future business fabric?
JS: I have been passionate about art and design and the quest for the “new” ever since I can remember. For many years now, I have travelled the world seeking out the latest artists, architects and exhibitions. I have applied this knowledge and passion to my property work, as real estate and art are inseparable bedfellows and I offer my consultancy services to clients in my chosen field of emerging artists in Contemporary Art. My own personal art collection includes pieces by Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin and Harland Miller, which I bought over twenty years ago and have performed very well in terms of investment. Recent purchases include a young Chicago artist monochrome Lino cut piece which was subsequently shown at the ICA, a young Polish artist’s first etching which I purchased just before the rest of his show was acquired by a large museum in China, and a young British ceramicist’s piece that I can’t wait to use in one of my property styling projects and was recently shown at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
JP: What are the biggest challenges that you are facing right now?
JS: People who are embarking on buying a property always ask, “When will the property market nosedive?’ So far, we have survived stamp duty increases, changes in taxation, Brexit, the pandemic, interest rate rises and now inflation. Clients want to know that we understand the market and can convey that in a way that is appropriate to their search and requirements. It is our data that they want, as information is the new oil. The most up to date research is predicting a 7.5% growth through 2022, which is higher than the previous predictions of 3.5%. While the pace of growth will fall in the coming months, the risks of a correction have been overstated. Wealthier buyers are less impacted by the cost of living crisis and interest rate rises.
My largest challenge is the lack of choice/supply. The supply/demand dynamic will underpin further price growth in the short term, despite the strengthening economic headwinds. It is assumed that the Bank of England base rate will not exceed 1.75% by the end of 2026 with the annual rate of inflation falling rapidly in 2023. Annual house price growth across 150 cities is rising by an average of 12%, the fastest rate since Q3 2004. St John’s Wood NW8 and Bayswater/Queensway W2, which are both brilliant in terms of location, are seen as areas that are rather ‘undervalued’ in terms of price per square foot in comparison to some of the other established golden postcodes of W11 and SW3. I see these areas prospering in the coming years through further regeneration, new transport hubs and the increasing use of the electric car, which will make these areas feel less polluted and urban, particularly in the case of W2.
JP: Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
JS: It would have been wonderful to have high speed, fully loaded internet in the 90’s! It is quite unbelievable how the job was done back then, and the intensity of research helps enormously with the advance of tech and being able to do many things over multiple platforms. If only I had come up with the idea of selling property in the metaverse, one that we haven’t been asked to search for yet, though I’m sure it will only be a matter of time!
JP: What inspires you?
JS: Travel is a great source of inspiration to us all, the thrill of new sights, smells and sounds is such an evocative experience. I try to be more eco-conscious about my mode of transport these days. The Eurostar has become a great friend! I was invited recently to the opening of the Venice Biennale which was a great source of inspiration. It made the trip doubly inspiring that the British Pavilion exhibited the first Black female artist Sonia Boyce who won the top Golden Lion prize. I also recently visited the East London studio and home of Conrad Shawcross, an artist and sculptor I greatly admire and to see first-hand the enormous public works he is creating at his former factory home ready for installation at Liverpool Street Station and MONA Tasmania.
With thanks to Joanna Symes, founder of Home Sweet Home.