Natasha Higgins talks to Anita Mehra, Managing Director of Benham and Reeves Residential Lettings.
Put simply, Anita Mehra is a visionary. In the course of her career, spanning over 30 years, she has continually identified gaps in the buy-to-let market and successfully sought to fill them. As a result, she now not only runs a successful chain of ten residential letting agencies across London with offices in Singapore,Hong Kong, Malaysia, India and Dubai, her business has also expanded into other fields including interior design.
“I started in the accounts department of Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings in the late seventies,” Anita explains. “I didn’t have a background in property but I was ambitious and quickly developed a passion for it.” So strong was her passion, that by 1998 she had taken over as Managing Director.
“When I first joined the company there were few women in property; to progress in the industry you really had to stand out. I remember actively approaching agency partner Cyril Brown in 1983 about buying a stake in the company, his response was curt: ‘The company isn’t for sale’”.Anita-BR_1310_C
As Anita’s business acumen grew, so did her desire to offer clients the very best of customer service – something for which the company is renowned today: Efficiency, unbiased advice and value for money are at the forefront of her business model. “I still like to meet as many of our clients as possible,” says Anita, with genuine delight. “I also ask my clients to be honest, to tell me if they’re unhappy with any aspect of our service.”
By ‘clients’ Anita is of course referring to landlords throughout the world who use Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings to let and manage their London properties. Much of her time is spent in South East Asia where a vast majority of buy- to-let investors in the London property market can be found. “Twenty years ago we spotted the need for offices in the countries where so many of our clients are based. We employ multi-lingual staff and set up our first offices in Hong Kong followed shortly after by Singapore.”
“Lettings is a very different animal to sales,” states Anita. “As specialists in lettings and property management, we have on-going contact with our clients unlike sales which is based around a single transaction. We’re keen to have the same clients in 20 years time so we nurture those relationships: we offer advice from unbiased opinions on property investments to how much clients should be spending on furnishing their properties in accordance with rental yields. The bottom line is that investors want an easy service where everything is offered under one roof. In our case, we’ve grown with our investors’ needs.”
Catering for their clients’ needs led to the decision to open In:Style Direct in 2004 – a service offering furniture packages for buy-to-let investors wishing to dress their properties. “The service helps clients furnish a property bringing out its true potential and making it as attractive as possible to prospective tenants,” explains Anita. Much of the furniture is hand-picked by Anita herself who has subsequently opened a soft furnishings factory in India, her native land. She also travels to China, Europe and The Middle East to source cutting-edge items for each of the design packages.
“Some of London’s leading developers have liked what we’ve done to the extent that we’ve been asked to design their show flats”. Anita is involved in the design process mainly when a property is not letting quickly. She will look at it and advise if it needs freshening up with a new lick of paint or more modern furnishings. For most properties, however, the company employs a group of experienced designers.
Today, Anita and fellow director and Head of Lettings Marc von Grundherr travel around the world dividing their time between the various offices. Their expertise is also called upon by banks and organisations where they frequently give talks and seminars about the London property market to investors.
The agency has certainly come a long way since its flagship office opened in Hampstead in the fifties, over half a century ago. Today Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings have grown to become London’s largest , independently owned lettings agency. With a team of four directors, Vidhur Mehra, Finance Director, Simran Prasad who heads up the legal side of the business, Marc von Grundherr, Letting director, Mansi Mehra, Design Director, 15 management staff and around 100 employees across London, the business is growing.
So what exactly lies in store for the business? “We’ve recently opened an office in Kuala Lumpur and plan to open two further lettings offices in London next year. We have always had offices strategically positioned near or within developments to suit our demand and we have identified two further areas.”
As for Anita, she has no plans to slow down just yet: “If I had to give up my job it would be like punishment. I love what I do. I enjoy travelling the world and meeting new people all the time. My personal motto lies in treating people as you would want to be treated and always giving my best”.