Words by Hannah Tapping
Providing full service and asset management advice for future planning, the estate agency bar is set to new heights.
John Bray Estate’s five decades of knowledge sets them apart in the property market in north Cornwall’s golden triangle of Rock, Polzeath and Padstow. Their historical knowledge, up-to-date planning expertise and in-depth community awareness have meant they are the go-to agent for the most discerning of private individuals and developers. As a boutique agency with Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) qualified valuers, the years of professional experience in planning, structural, holiday letting, managing, and building is invaluable to their clients. I speak with Managing Partner, Josephine Ashby to find out how their full-service provision and expertise set them apart.
“We look after our clients’ interest in relation to their assets, whether that’s in terms of maximising those assets via a sale or through retention. We also help our clients create the best fit for the surroundings and natural environment. With larger developments, that might be by balancing a sensitive need for local housing or creating the right product in the right place. Josephine and her team are adept at reviewing all aspects of a proposed development, including the layout, plot size, specification, and finishes. They can advise on how to optimise assets and the best strategies to maximise returns, whilst achieving optimal values and rates of sale. This teamwork approach with clients guarantees the very best chance of achieving exceptional results. The agency’s enviable portfolio and roster of past sales is a fitting testament to its skill set. “There is so much that can impact the return on investment, and our know-how ensures that you invest in the right aspects of your property or development, save money where possible, and safeguard the future value of your asset,” explains Josephine.
In addition to market appraisals, John Bray Estates also undertakes RICS valuations for Inheritance and Capital Gains Tax purposes. Many properties across north Cornwall have been owned for generations, so they need to be revalued for inheritance tax. These are formal valuations and are an opportunity for both parties to keep their finger on what is happening with the property market in the area, helping clients to understand what their asset is worth, and affording John Bray Estates with a deep and distinctive insight into a market that would otherwise be hard to achieve.
The team is also adept at connecting the right people together, be those architects, interior designers, or gardeners, essentially facilitating a smooth and enjoyable experience. “We are estate agents in the sense that we earn a fee from property sales, but it goes far beyond that. We act very much on a consultative basis, and sometimes those conversations can last decades as clients revalue, reassess, or re-establish what they’re doing.” The fact that John Bray has been operating in the area for over 50 years gives them a unique insight, depth, and level of detail in the market that is hard to rival. An encyclopaedic and detailed knowledge of a very niche area could cause complacency but not in this case, as Josephine asserts: “Granted, we do have all the history, but we’ve also got nimbleness and innovation. The industry operates on a very different model now, and we have no desire to be left behind.”
A case in point is Ocean View, Millook, a substantial clifftop plot offered with detailed planning. “It’s a very exciting contemporary replacement of a landmark building,” explains Josephine. “It’s in a really special location between Millook and Widemouth with totally uninterrupted sea views. We’ve worked closely with the developer and their architect on a development consultancy basis for the creation of a replacement dwelling. We’ve worked with this high-end developer on several projects now and have built up a level of competence and trust between us that makes the journey seamless.”
Josephine explains that this particular property is for sale with detailed planning permission. It will be going to market with the site and plans already in place ready for a buyer: “There are also occasions where we will sell a project off-plan, ahead of it being built, which secures the ground, and then the buyer enters a building contract. Effectively they’re buying the end house before it’s built. Alternatively, the property will be built, and we sell the finished product, an example of which was Cove, at Baby Bay. The developer in that instance chose to build it, partially furnish it to show how it could be lived in, we marketed it, and then it was sold.” The agency has also just completed on Rosevarlock, a development with a commanding central position in Polzeath village. The two adjacent semi-detached new builds, Penhale and Pendeen were sold as primary residences to be occupied full time and are an example of how John Bray can tailor projects to areas, as well as planning restrictions. Josephine adds: “It’s not just one size fits all. It’s about investigating what’s possible.”
Keen to gauge the current market in Cornwall, I ask Josephine for her take on where it’s currently sitting: “It’s seasonally a time where agencies will see much more come onto the market. The last two years were extraordinary and distorted the bigger picture. People held properties, particularly in prime coastal areas, because they wanted to use them, holiday lettings were at an all-time high, and any sellers in doubt opted to keep them. We’re now seeing a return to a more predictive market; it’s a prime time to sell, and there’s more stock coming, which in turn, settles the pace a little; but it’s still very, very active, and that’s positive. However, it is discerning because of the significant rise in prices that we’ve seen over the last few years, which makes it more fragile.”
“In the current market, more than ever, people want to understand what they’re buying and give it more thought. It’s not that things aren’t selling at guide price, but rather that buyers are watching the market and really considering it, instead of jumping in first and thinking about it later – the pandemic frenzy has definitely calmed. It’s left us with a good market, but a market that we should not be too arrogant about. While it’s possible to achieve strong sales at a good pace, it’s not quite a buyer’s market yet, but the balance is tipping, and this levelling is healthier. Sustaining the craziness of what we’ve seen over recent years was impossible. We must not ignore the fact that there is a war happening and our economy is in a very sensitive place now, however prime property in coastal locations tends to hold confidence; and when confidence is held, it holds the interest of the buyers and, to a point, the values.”
John Bray Estates is diverse and flexible at all levels of the market, whether that be second home sales or primary residences, as well as creating developments that, where feasible, help benefit the community. The agency offers the same level of service, the same quality, and the same attention to detail, whatever the sale size. With that in mind, the agency is growing consistently, expanding the team year on year to dedicate even more time to the detail. Josephine sums up: “Whatever the sale, it’s important to remember that our job is all about relationships, and there’s often emotion and a complicated legal process involved, often more so in smaller ones! We thrive on challenges, and if somebody says that something’s not achievable, we rarely accept that. We refer to it as a journey, and some of those journeys are quite long (years even), and there are often lots of bumps in the road, but it’s what drives us.”