Thanks to Ed Thompson of Brick & Wonder for this story. Brick & Wonder brings together a community of exceptionally talented creative professionals in the real estate industry and highlights the most extraordinary properties for sale around the world.
A small group of innovative real estate agencies are taking a cue from the editorial world, combining beautiful photography and architectural research to tell the story of each home for sale.
One of the earliest to adapt this approach is The Modern House in the UK. The Modern House was founded by Albert Hill and Matt Gibberd in 2005, drawing on their editorial backgrounds to develop a crafted approach to real estate storytelling. Their growing company now boasts an immaculately curated roster of well-designed homes for sale across the UK.
We asked Hill how the Modern House was founded: “I was a journalist trying to find a way out of journalism and my wife was obsessed with property. We happened to spend a weekend with a ‘gazetteer’ of modern housing in London, where we lived.” On their modern architectural tour, they noticed several homes for sale and looked at the online listings. “They were being marketed so appallingly. I almost felt it was my duty to try to get these houses into better hands.”
Hill teamed up with Gibberd whose architectural pedigree runs deep. His grandfather was Sir Frederick Gibberd, a well-known Modernist architect, and so was his father. Gibberd started out as a writer for The World of Interiors and continues to write about architecture and design today.
Hill and Gibberd had no experience in the real estate industry, but used what they knew of styling and photography to offer an online-led agency in London, selling only the finest one-off Modernist and contemporary houses. “We went in with no entrenched wisdom. That created some learning curves. We did a lot of things that other estate agents were scratching their heads about: in 2005 to not have a physical office was insane,” Hill explained.
In an industry known for its ruthless sales culture, getting deep into the story of each house and investing heavily in photography and writing may seem like a bold approach, but the business logic is sound. “Buying a house or an apartment is a very emotional thing to do,” Gibberd said. “Much like an auction house or an art gallery, we try to create provenance.”
The Modern House draws in a community of design savvy buyers and sellers. “We treat the website like a magazine, a filter for the most exciting homes,” Gibberd explained, “We turn down as much work as we take on. We discriminate in terms of aesthetic quality, but we have an open-door policy when it comes to price. We try to treat a modest studio apartment with the same reverence as a multi-million-pound house.”
Hill also shed light on a quirk of their clientele which isn’t always good for business. “One of the Achilles heels of our business is that people don’t buy again. In the UK, the average homeowner moves every six years, but by comparison the number of resales we’ve seen is incredibly low. People buy our homes, love them and stay there.”
The Modern House makes up for longer sales cycles by forming deep bonds with clients. “The networks of the people who own these places are often interconnected. You become trusted to handle someone’s primary financial asset and shepherd them through a massively emotional transaction,” Hill continued. “It’s people’s emotional best and worst – the stakes are high!”