Business

Extreme personal shoppers buying for the mega-rich

Champagne Image copyright Thinkstock

Consider a problem that most people would like to have: a big pile of money but not enough time to spend it.

The wealthiest people in the world are often cash rich, but time poor, so an industry has built up an offering to serve these millionaires' requirements.

Need a mansion in leafy London? That can be organised. How about some fine art to make it feel like home? No problem. Perhaps a little housewarming present for the family? Leave it to us.

So, how do these services work, and how prescriptive are the mega-rich with their requests?

Here's the view of those chipping away at the face of the diamond mine.

The property buyer

Spot Nathalie Hirst speaking intensely to somebody in an exclusive Chelsea club, and the chances are they are discussing a potential multi-million pound property purchase.

They are more likely to be seen in a chauffeured car, touring around some of the latest high-end homes that have gone on the market.

"People like property, they can touch bricks and mortar," she says of these investments.

Ms Hirst, a 54-year-old buying agent, will have between seven and nine clients on her books at any one time. She charges an upfront fee of about £3,000 and then a success fee should she find a property that the client buys.

These clients pay for her knowledge of the market in a relatively tight, but exclusive area of South West London. In return, she shows them property for sale, but not openly advertised, and, crucially, takes the helm when it comes to negotiations over the price, drawing on 20 years in the industry, often battling against other buying agents.

She says about 70% of her clients are from overseas, but are buying in London for a variety of reasons.

Their wish list is dominated by location, but includes homes with natural light and, often, with parking - "not something that is easy in this city," she says.

She believes the job requires skill in building relationships and, most importantly, trust. On three occasions, clients have bought a home she has suggested, without ever seeing it. One client made her the godmother of her child.

The art expert

Image copyright Daniel Morris

Millionaires, having bought a new property, might want to furnish it in style with fine art on the walls and perhaps a classic car parked in the garage.

They may turn to people like Daniel Morris, of independent art buyers Corfield Morris.

His clients, he says, are often international, with multiple homes. Some want to furnish these homes, others are collectors of art.

He encourages those with money to spend, often self-made wealth, to buy what they like, not to "copy their mate who has a Warhol".

"They have not followed the crowd to get where they are, so why follow them now? They should buy something they love and really want to live with, not something to sell in a few years to make a few quid," he says.

The 43-year-old works with six to 12 clients at any one time, aged between their early 30s and late 50s, many of whom have fascinating life stories. Mr Morris, like all buyers in this business, does not name names.

Some clients pay a retainer, while others pay commission on a purchase, but the range of price paid for art and antiques is huge, he says.

He argues that his job is to "nurture" new clients who may only spend a few thousand pounds at first. Older, more well established collectors, may be happy to wait years for a specific type of art to come up for sale, at which point money is no object.

The key as a buyer, he says, is to be professional and transparent, especially as the art market is unregulated.

Hot ticket sellers

In addition to long-term investments of property and art, some of the world's high-rollers want to enjoy the finest things in life.

Some sign up to concierge services such as Quintessentially - a business operating in 78 countries, serving ultra-rich clients' requests.

For an annual membership fee of between £2,000 and £150,000, it organises anything from last-minute table reservations at the most exclusive restaurants to luxury gifts or travel itineraries.

One recent birthday request to be stranded on a desert island saw the business organise a castaway experience on a private island near Fiji.

The fixers say they only draw a line when requests are illegal or immoral.

Co-founder Aaron Simpson, 42, says that there is a relatively even split of male and female clients of all ages. Those from Russia, Israel and Scotland are among the most prescriptive, he says.

Image copyright Ten

The lifestyle management sector is a crowded one with a string of businesses surviving, and even flourishing, despite the financial crisis late in the last decade.

Alex Cheatle, of Ten Group, another global business in this industry, says many of the mega-rich are socially competitive. Not only do some want to be seen in the trendiest restaurants, they want to be seen at the best tables in the trendiest restaurants.

Many restaurants tend to hold these tables for such requests, knowing that when these wealthy individuals come, they are likely to spend more at their sitting than the average diner.

Agreements and access such as this are, Mr Cheatle admits, "unfair and undemocratic". Moreover, he says, the buying power of the wealthy means that they can also secure better deals.

Money off for the mega-rich may seem a little perverse, but even multi-millionaires love a bargain.

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