Yasmin Ulhaq is not an average letting agent or property manager by any stretch of your estate agent imagination. Operating under her own company Glenfield Property Management she looks after landlords and property investors with homes to rent in London’s most upmarket postcodes let to tenants on both long and short lets who themselves are wealthy and, from time to time, starry.
Property owners expect a round-the-clock service, constant and timely updates…
This high-pressure sector is not for the feint-hearted. Property owners expect a round-the-clock service, constant and timely updates and often much more than property management. For example, Ulhaq says she recently helped a client on his way by plane to New York to find a hotel room by the time he landed, even though it was already getting late in London and she was at the cinema. “But if you think prime landlords are handsoff then you’d be wrong; they want to know what’s going on and be kept in the loop all the time, so for me communication is paramount whether it’s on WhatsApp, phone, email or whatever,” she says.
International client base
“Mine is also a very international client base including American, Middle Eastern and Europeans with investments in London, so as a minimum we update them at the end of every month on what’s happened, even if it’s nothing to report other than the rent.
“They just want reassurance so if we do have a phone call, I follow it up in writing. That’s something I learned at Knight Frank – leave no room for misunderstandings.”
Ulhaq says her clients have properties in London because the Capital’s property market is always going to retain its value and the city is an ideal place to diversity their portfolio – although it does have quirks; for example its rents are quoted weekly rather than monthly.
“But we don’t have enough stock to meet demand at the moment so it’s not surprising that rent rises are in the double digits,” she says. “Add to that talk of a mansion tax and the renting reforms going through Parliament, which are just another attack on landlords – speaking as a landlord myself and not a property manager – this means the market is shrinking as some landlords look for other places to invest their money.”
She points out that these measures are unlikely to trouble the super prime landlord and investor market.
These individuals are in it for the long term and she says that one of its most contentious proposals – the removal of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions – is not a factor in most prime landlords’ activities because very few tenants need to evicted.
“I understand that tenants need more protection but landlords need Section 21 ‘no fault’ notices to evict on reasonable grounds. It’s unfair that, to get a property, a landlord will have to go court under the proposed reforms; we need a compromise,” she says. Ulhaq reveals she’s only had to ask two tenants to leave a property since she began working in London.
“One case was a wealthy renter who had complained about mould in a part of the flat and, despite it being fixed at considerable cost including new windows, refused to pay any rent and fell into £80,000 of rent arrears,” she explains.
“He had a well-known model as a partner and to solve the problem we contacted her manager and negotiated that they left, something as a smaller company we can do informally but that a corporate would have conducted via lawyers.”
One thing Ulhaq cannot deny is that she’s chatty – something she posted about on her LinkedIn profile highlighting her ability to talk, but says the key other skill that is useful in the intoxicating world of prime property is resilience.
In this market you need a thick skin and the ability not to take things personally.
“In this market you need a thick skin and the ability not to take things personally because with high-end clientele you’ve got to have that detachment, be succinct and concise in your work and give them the problem, the solution and the timeline,” she adds.
Lifestyle service to the stars
One thing that sets her apart from most other lettings professionals in the UK is that she also offers a concierge-style ‘lifestyle service’ which “is very much a 100% London thing” she says.
“We work with some of the world’s big media production companies and help bring A-listers to London – for example one recently rented a property for £20,000 a week and had their luggage delivered three days in advance. We had people in to prepare all the wardrobes, stock the fridge and in general make the house ‘turnkey’ so all they had to do was walk in through the front door – oh yes, I and the introducing agent, were at the front door at 5am to welcome them when they arrived – which happens six or seven times a year.”
Talking to Ulhaq, it’s clear that the service her firm supplies for clients means she’s always on duty and admits that she never says ‘no’ to a client request, although naturally her ‘lifestyle concierge’ services are charge on top of her firm’s property management fees. Despite her bulging diary and constantly bleeping phone, Ulhaq says she is considering expansion overseas although would never opening branches like a traditional agency either inside or outside London. She says her main focus is to build her network of introductions and contacts who recommend her, not increase her overheads with a high street presence.
“It’s all about keeping my relationship with client to the forefront because I know that at some point down the line, that will come back to me. It’s the people that make me excited about my job – people are buying from me now so to speak and that’s what I love.”
Yasmin Ulhaq – career history
Yasmin was brought up in Edinburgh and had a father who operated a residential and commercial property business in the city and that “growing up I watched him navigate the intricacies of real estate and as I got older I would help him draft tenancies, collect rent, carry out inspections and therefore I picked up his passion for everything residential property related,” she says.
Yasmin then went on to complete a law degree as a mature student and began using her student loan money to begin building her own portfolio while she studied and, at 21, had bought her first property, a five-bedroom Victorian apartment in Glasgow and rented it out to other students.
On finishing her studies, Yasmin relocated to London working for a recruitment firm and, after having her first child, began investing in a property portfolio with her husband. After building it up, she realised she wanted to stay in London and have a career in property.
Knight Frank apprenticeship
After working at several boutique property management firms, she joined Knight Frank in 2016 working within its prime property management team.
“I wanted to take the next step and get into the more high-end property sector in places like Knightsbridge and Kensington and after talking to local agents realised you needed to be qualified and really ‘up your game’ so working at Knight Frank was an amazing experience getting involved with an exceptional client base including family and institutional offices, embassies and the entertainment world,” she says.
After nearly five years she decided to part ways with Knight Frank because it didn’t give her the work flexibility she needed as the mother of two children doing their 11-plus exams.
“One of my clients said I could do the job on my own and provide an even higher level of service, so I set up Glenfield Property Management which is a family-run service specialising in luxury homes and lifestyle services in London – and sometimes further afield – for property investors and landlords.
“I didn’t feel I could really get to know my clients at Knight Frank because it had such a big portfolio of properties, but Glenfield enables me to focus on a smaller group of core London, super and super-prime clients and offer a higher level of service,” she says.