By Elizabeth Greatrex
When high-end property expert Dan Stein told me that he fell into the industry of high-end property search by complete accident, I found it a little hard to believe. Dan is the founder and director of HiPE Property Search, a company that prides itself on its commitment to complete privacy and discretion for its very high-profile clients. For countless celebrities, Hollywood royalty, footballers and Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, HiPE has been their go-to for renting or buying their perfect property in London. Not only do HiPE give their clients guaranteed privacy, but they also take care of every detail of the process such as travelling to and from viewings, finding a mortgage company or even an architect. And as I came to learn, when dealing with this sort of clientele there are definitely more than a few details here and there to iron out. Naturally, HiPE’s online presence is rather quiet, so I jumped at the chance to find out more.
Elizabeth Greatrex: What gave you the idea for starting a company that specialises in discreet home acquisitions for high-profile clients?
Dan Stein: I’ve always worked in property, and a few years ago I was asked by a friend to find a client a new flat in London. The day before we met, I found out this client was in fact, Hollywood royalty. I had underestimated that with this sort of client, we couldn’t just get black cabs to and from appointments. You have to have a car waiting. And when going to viewings there are suddenly all these people watching and there is just no privacy. It is just a different kettle of fish altogether.
EG: How do you personally deal with high-profile clients?
DS: I’ve acted for Hollywood royalty, footballers, celebrities, etc, but I don’t really care about their fame. You just chat to them like you would to anyone. I’m too old and cynical to get starstruck, I don’t do selfies with people or anything like that. You just treat them as human beings. The difference with me is I like to keep things informal, professional, but it is informal because I’m not an estate agent. I’m not their accountant or lawyer. These individuals are surrounded by ‘yes people’ and that doesn’t benefit me because they’ll buy a house and then a month later it won’t be right for them anymore. For me, it’s about finding the right thing and if it takes another month then it takes another month – it’s not about the quick deal. You’ve got to narrow it down, find out what they actually want, and what aspects of their search are non-negotiable.
EG: What is the key to your business?
DS: Finding someone a home is half the business. Then privacy is the other half. It is about understanding what someone wants and needs in a home. When it comes to buying or renting property, what you choose really depends on what you want in life. Some people are happy to jump on the tube, and some people want to travel in a blacked out Mercedes. Everyone wants different things, for example, there are properties in London that are designed so you would never have to see another human being, if you didn’t want to.
EG: Are the requests of your clientele in particular more demanding?
DS: It’s not about the fact that they’re famous that they’re demanding, we are all demanding as humans, it’s human nature. It doesn’t matter if you’re spending £10,000 a week or £1000 a week, we all have our own desires. Whether that desire may be for the property to be close to the best school or the station, or to have an indoor pool or gym. The thing is, famous or not, everyone has something that they want.
EG: Talk to me about the charm of London in terms of property?
DS: London has a lot of character. The great thing about this city is that with many of the properties, by looking at the front of the house you could have no idea what is going on behind it. It could actually be three houses knocked into one. It could be that it goes back for two blocks, or it could have an iceberg basement. You have no idea, I suppose that’s part of the charm of London, whether the house is worth £2 million or £20 million.
EG: Within London, which areas are the most popular in terms of buying or renting?
DS: London, the home counties and the surroundings of London. Surrey is popular, there are some beautiful houses there and it’s not far from London. Richmond and Twickenham, Notting Hill Gate, almost anywhere, really. Most of the people who don’t live in London and who are coming from America, for example, want to live in Mayfair. Then you point out to them, where are your kids going to go to school? We have to think about a lot of different things, it’s an education. What I do is I educate people about where they want to live. What do they want and why? It’s difficult for someone from Beverly Hills to downsize when they come to live in a mews house in Notting Hill Gate, for example, because they’re used to having so much space. It’s about adjusting their mindset to that.
EG: Keeping your clients names out of the tabloids is clearly vital to your business. What is your opinion on the power that the press can have in terms of causing irrevocable damage to people’s lives?
DS: There is a real fine line between freedom of press and freedom of speech. But where do you draw the line? Because quite clearly it has gone too far. Part of it is that need for us to have information to consume. I don’t understand why people are so consumed by what people do in their day-to-day lives. It’s so sensationalised. People can’t go about their daily lives and it’s ludicrous. The trust circles of high-profile people are very limited. I’m dealing with their homes so there definitely has to be trust there between the client and myself.
EG: Do you think that HiPE has filled a gap in the market? Who are your competitors?
DS: We do have competitors, some big-name estate agents have teams in the same area, but I suppose we offer that complete independence. We offer that familiar, family feel where you are only dealing with one person at the same time. Clients will deal with me from start to finish. It’s very bespoke.
EG: Who is your idea of an ideal client vs a nightmare client?
DS: I want somebody who wants the service, when I launched the business I thought that our target market was 18-65, but it’s not. If you think of a footballer, at eighteen, you want the world to know who you are and what you do. When you’re older and you’ve got a family and you’re going across Europe what you really want is security and privacy for your family at home. So now we’re looking for more of a mature client than necessarily an eighteen-year-old who has just signed a massive contract. A footballer, who will remain anonymous, was robbed just because he posted a few photos on social media and the robbers managed to put together a floor plan of his house. My perfect client is someone who doesn’t want to put everything on social media because there is no point in us doing all of the hard work on all the privacy for something like that to happen. We want someone that wants to control the narrative.