What’s Behind the Berkeley Group’s Property Success?

An Interview with Berkeley Group’s Russia and CIS sales director, Stuart Leslie

With a varied career spanning from hospitality and hotels to the food industry and property, Stuart Leslie currently heads up the Berkeley Group’s Russia and CIS sales desk. His passion for customer service fits well with the “timeless” industries he has worked in and this is what thrills him about the part of the property business he is now involved with. It Is no secret that the UK has an obsession with property and Berkeley has played a role in satisfying the unending demand for new, high quality properties, so Open Central Asia magazine caught up with Stuart to find out more. Open Central Asia: Berkeley has been particularly successful through the market peaks and troughs, not posting a loss since it was listed on the LSE in 1984, what do you attribute this resilience to?

Stuart Leslie: We stick to what we know. We buy the best land, employ the best teams
and deliver world-class projects. The business is driven by determination and dedication
to our core values of looking after our customers, building a sustainable business, delivering fantastic homes and ensuring that our workforce is constantly up-skilling and
we find new technology to improve our construction standards.

OCA: You head up the Russia Sales desk for Berkeley Group. What are foreign property purchasers from Russia and Central Asia looking for when investing in or buying property in the UK? Is London the only hotspot right now?

SL: I have heard that New York, Paris, Miami and Hong Kong are also good markets but London is something special. Investors are looking for a safe place to invest where they will get good return on investment but more importantly the political, social and economic indicators suggest that it is a stable and safe investment for the foreseeable future with prime central London outperforming every commodity and financial investment vehicle since Berkeley Group began. Of course it is all about getting a good return on investment and we have demonstrated time and time again that London is not only a sustainable market, but it is so rich in culture, theatre, museums, schools and so much more. London is a world-class destination and we simply cannot build properties fast enough to keep up with demand.

 

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OCA: It is said that people from economies undergoing turmoil (such as Greece and Russia) are putting their money into safe havens like the UK property market and that this is driving up prices making it unaffordable for locals. Do you agree and what are Berkeley doing to tackle this perception or reality?

SL: People don’t just buy here because it has demonstrated great long-term capital growth or because of London’s great cultural wisdom, there are some of the best schools in the world, we have fantastic museums and theatres and we also have the financial capital, which continues to drive demand and opportunity in London.

OCA: Is there space in the Central Asian housing market for a company like Berkeley to expand and grow into? If so, why and if not, why not?

SL: We really do not have any interest in developing anywhere other than the UK. One of our
major strengths is as a business is that we stick to what we know. We established the Russian and CIS desk to service existing clients and interest from the region and that is what we continue to do. We do not see the market as opportunistic and we simply look to take care of our clients as we always do.

OCA: People in the UK are happy to borrow money to buy their houses (in fact it is a national obsession) but in Central Asia people tend to save up first. How can sustainable and long-term house building work with such a different approach?

SL: We see the London residential housing market as a good opportunity for buying a
house, investing and having second home and it doesn’t matter whether you buy with a mortgage or cash. We build on the best land possible and we build great projects. Whether our clients buy with cash or a mortgage, they have enjoyed a good performance of capital growth and good serviceability of the rental market, which has made it a good investment. We see the market as a long-term opportunity and look forward to sustained growth and future development opportunities.

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