High-end property broker: we should be more like the US on property

23 November 2020 | Investment

A Mayfair-based property broker, who has previously spoken of his ability to break into the old-money elite, has called for greater adoption of US industry standards and culture in the UK.

Thomas Balashev, the 31-year-old founder of Montague Real Estate, has urged the UK property industry to borrow inspiration from the US as a means of refining its practices and cultures.

This follows the company’s debut listing in the States, with the boutique firm recently breaking into the US by bringing to market a £9.1 million Miami property.

Balashev argues that there is much to be learnt from the ‘US way of doing things’, especially regarding industry regulation and how individual agents market themselves. 

“The lack of training and regulation of British property brokers in comparison to our US counterparts has really struck me,” he said.

“In the US, agents must take an exam – often based on having done 90 hours of studying, including on all the relevant local and national laws – before they can become qualified; even then, they continue their education and must renew their licence throughout their career.”

By contrast, in the UK, he argues that weak regulation and low barriers to entry to becoming a property broker is tarnishing the reputation of the quality agencies.

“Anyone really can declare themselves a broker, and in my view this undermines the industry. When I think about the other parties involved in a property transaction in the UK, you would expect any competent financial adviser or solicitor to be trained and qualified – so why not the property broker?”

It is for this reason that he is calling for a minimum required amount of training and the establishment of a central licensing and regulatory body in the UK, to ensure an ‘examined standard was met’ before individuals or agencies could call themselves property brokers.

“I understand that for many agencies and brokerages, the idea of having to invest in training and then face greater regulation and testing is instinctively off-putting,” he added. “But ultimately those aspiring to be the best should want to invest in their people – training, regulation and testing will only help further increase the quality of their staff.”

Balashev also argues that US real estate agents have much more autonomy and scope to develop their individual brand outside of the brokerage of agency they work for, whereas in the UK building a personal identity is frowned upon and penalised.

“I’ve seen how in the US the agents develop their own identity and following, but in the UK the culture is very much against this. In my view, the British approach stifles talent, individual identity and ultimately growth,” he said.

“In the UK, the emphasis is very much solely on the brand, not on the broker. Clients therefore feel they have a lack of choice within the industry, as they only have a certain number of brands to turn to.”

He added: “Take football clubs, for example: they build their own brand, but also support and nurture the individual brands of the players, who the clubs know are the real individual assets and stars of the show. I believe agencies should be the same.”

“Of course, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. But investment in the individual agents and their brand offers a more human, accessible, and relatable service – people prefer to do business with people, not with less personable companies and corporations.”

Balashev says Montague Real Estate will be looking to further develop its engagement with the US market, including a view to establishing a physical office Stateside next year.

He previously spoke at length to PIT about his unconventional journey into the higher echelons of property investment – he left school at 16 and by 25 had two failed businesses under his belt, plus he was certainly not part of what we’d term as the traditional Mayfair elite – and how he is attempting to improve the lot of people who were in a similar position to him by opening more doors for those from non-traditional backgrounds to get their chance in the property industry.

Established in 2015, Montague Real Estate is a boutique real estate firm and private office specialising in complex global property investments and acquisitions. The firm works across all aspects of the property investment process, including sourcing, negotiations, media and marketing, and legal.

It says its main mission is to ensure clients not only receive the best investment opportunities and returns, but also the ‘emotional rewards’ that come with successful property investment. 

This post has originally been featured in Property Investor Today.