Natasha Higgins meets the team at Behr & Butchoff and hears about their 30 years in business
When it comes to selling houses and letting properties, long-established estate agency Behr & Butchoff are veterans in their field of practice.
“We opened the agency on the very premises it stands today in 1983,” explain Michael Behr and Martin Butchoff who started the company together after gaining experience at another leading estate agency in the area.
Behr was and still is the lettings and administrative side of the business while Butchoff is sales and marketing. “I remember Martin and myself desperately searching for an office in St John’s Wood. One afternoon, after we’d had lunch at a pub on Allitsen Road, we wandered over to St John’s Wood High Street and stood on the corner chatting. When we looked up we noticed a ‘for sale’ sign at 105 St John’s Wood Terrace. I popped into one of the red phone booths, the same ones as are still opposite our offices 30 years later, and made arrangements to see the premises. We’ve been based there ever since.”
Behr, who comes from a property background in South Africa, moved to London in the mid-seventies. When he and Butchoff started the business in the early eighties, there was only one other estate agency on St John’s Wood High Street: “The area was much sparser than it is today and the competition was nothing like it is now.” Both Michael and Martin believe St John’s Wood can be a tough neighbourhood to crack in the world of estate agency: “It’s all about who you know,” they explain.
It was Martin’s idea to start a business together. Michael was somewhat apprehensive as he had a family with four children to support. Still, he made the leap and has never looked back: “It took around three years to really develop the business – a new business always takes time and requires a huge level of commitment. We were both working over twelve hours a day in the beginning.”
Over the years the company has sold and let to celebrities, footballers and musicians alike and has expanded to cover other parts of north London including Regent’s Park, Hampstead, South Hampstead, Swiss Cottage, Maida Vale and Little Venice. Another string to its bows are commercial and residential investments. These cover all parts of London and stretch around the country to Brighton, Wales, Cornwall, Lincoln and just about anywhere else.
Paul Bennett, a third partner who joined the firm in 1990 looks after that side of the business and proudly states that an interesting commercial sale he’s been involved with was a 30,000 square metre nuclear bunker in Lincoln.
Part of Behr & Butchoff’s business model and a contributing factor of the company’s long-standing success is that every employee, even those at a high level including Michael, Martin and third partner, Paul, endeavour to look after each and every one of their clients personally. The team today consists of 12 members of staff, most of whom have been with the company for at least 12 years and all of whom believe in offering their clients a personalised service.
These days Martin is still heavily involved in the sales side of the business while Michael looks after lettings and management, an important part of the business: “I take a personal interest in every property we let and manage. In the last 30 years I’ve not had one horror story or disaster. I treat the property as if it were my own and I do the utmost possible for our clients. Clients who are abroad are reliant on a good level of service and I make sure they are kept satisfied.”
Michael is certainly well positioned to understand the ins and outs of the lettings business having been a founding member of ARLA [The Association of Residential Letting Agents] in the late seventies. “We set up ARLA at a time when the lettings market needed some form of regulation and landlords and tenants needed protection.” Martin, in turn, is the longest practising agent in St John’s Wood. He has been working in the area for over 40 years.
With three such prominent agents, the question beckons, what does the London sales and rentals market hold in store? “On the sales side it’s very difficult to predict but certainly prices have increased over the past year and we see no reason for this upward progression to not continue. There remains a shortage of property for sale and we have numerous UK based and overseas buyers keen to invest in this part of London. Rentals have consistently been a strong performer in our marketplace. This location is exceptionally convenient for tenants providing easy access to the City and West End. Furthermore, as sale prices exponentially increase, potential buyers are choosing to rent and are improving the rental sector even further,” concludes Paul.
In these uncertain times, at least one thing remains a constant in St John’s Wood: those two red telephone booths opposite 105 St John’s Wood Terrace.