The founding fathers of White & Sons soon found themselves running what was a very diversified business, but even they would be daunted by the range of services delivered by the current team almost 200 years later.
With offices in Dorking, Horley, Reigate and Oxted, White & Sons offers a complete range of professional services to farmers and landowners as well as buying, selling and letting land and homes.
Agricultural partner Stuart Walker’s team provides planning advice on new buildings and conversions as well as representations at development plan reviews and specialist advice in areas such as restrictive covenants, strategic land issues and enforcement notice appeals.
White & Sons also deals with grant schemes and is currently helping farmers prepare for the introduction of the Basic Payment Scheme.
New pipelines across the county and the changing rules around telecoms masts are just two of the issues currently keeping the firm’s professional department busy, while a boom in the market for homes to let is good news for landowners looking to cash in on the growing demand for farm cottages.
White & Sons also offers residential block management, valuations and buy to let advice and is the leading estate agency in three of the four Surrey towns it covers, as reflected in the record month the sales team enjoyed in September.
James White started trading in 1817, two years after the battle of Waterloo. It was the year the Luddites attacked Loughborough, Jane Austen died and the Elgin Marbles were displayed in the British Museum as a temporary expedient to keep them safe.
James and his brother Charles dealt with just about anything that could be sold, from a dung cart and the estate of Polsden Lacey to bonds secured on the Turnpike Road in Ockley, which was in time to become the A29.
Lists of furniture that would have today’s antique dealers salivating also came under the gavel at regular auctions held at the Three Tuns and Red Lion Hotels in Dorking, where the bar bills run up during auctions were legendary.
While they had many sidelines, the brothers’ main business came from the land, estates and farms that were the lifeblood of rural Surrey in the 19th Century, and that focus on the agricultural sector continues to this day.
It is a tribute to the reputation the firm has continued to develop over the past two centuries that many of the farms and estates the brothers dealt with back in the eighteen hundreds are today still being served by the firm’s current planning and agricultural partners.
James and his brothers were generalists – and among the first practitioners of estate agency in the country – but today the firm has qualified specialists in a broad range of disciplines, from professional services to managing accommodation on behalf of developers or resident management companies.
White & Sons’ thriving rentals department has fully embraced the buy-to-let phenomenon and is seeing considerable growth in this fast-moving market.
Lettings associate June Leitch said both 2013 and 2014 had been exceptional years in terms of residential lettings and said more people were seeing renting as a life choice, rather than as just a short-term expedient. That, she explained, was good news for the firm’s farming clients.
“Many of our clients have farm cottages that are no longer required for agriculture,” June explained. “We can provide advice on what needs to be done to these buildings and other properties to make sure they meet the needs of today’s tenants.
“This advice helps the landlord maximise his or her return on capital and is one of the many ways in which White & Sons delivers a real boost to the client’s bottom line.”
Taking the right advice before deciding to let is vital, as June explained: “The rentals market is currently under intense scrutiny by the Government, which is bringing in additional legislation, mainly to protect tenants. This makes professional advice essential to new and experienced landlords alike.”
White & Sons also takes a well-qualified and professional approach to looking after blocks of properties for developers and freeholders, and has just won instructions on a landmark development of 87 flats in Dorking. James Turnbull, partner, said block management was an increasingly busy area of the business, with more than 100 sites now on the books.
White & Sons residential block management team provides administrative support for building work and maintenance contracts, insurance, collecting rents and service charges, arranging repairs and paying contractors and suppliers.
With farm diversification an essential part of most agricultural businesses today, White & Sons’ agricultural specialists work hand in hand with the firm’s planning consultants on change of use applications.
As well as helping farmers obtain consent for a wide range of diversification projects and conventional agricultural development, White & Sons is heavily involved in promoting land for other uses through local development frameworks.
The firm is currently promoting land on the outskirts of several large towns across Surrey for both residential and commercial development. Expert advice helps to ensure applications reflect local concerns and meet the requirements of the individual planning authority.
Despite the relaxation of planning restrictions on the re-use of commercial and agricultural buildings – including significant changes to permitted development rights – planning associate Andrew Steen has found local planners less willing to shift their views.
“While it is certainly central government’s wish that agricultural and commercial buildings should be redeveloped, some councils are resisting many proposals,” he said, adding: “Farmers and landowners need professional help to make sure they have the best chance of success.”
Andrew went on: “Residential conversions should generally be acceptable, and we have dealt with a number of successful applications. We are, for example, in the process of selling a development of luxury flats in Reigate created from a former office development in the Wray Common area.”
On the agricultural side of the practice, the Basic Payment Scheme, which is about to replace the Single Farm Payment, is keeping the team busy due to its complexity.
“As with all new schemes, it is vital that farmers and landowners who want to make the most of the funding available follow the rules correctly, and we can help them do that, said Stuart Walker, agricultural partner. “It means looking carefully at what is available, making sure they comply with the rules and then completing the paperwork carefully.
“It is vital to get the right advice and White & Sons has the right team to provide this advice. Leaving it late – or getting the submission wrong – could prove costly.”
The firm is hosting a joint seminar with Kingston Smith Accountants on the topic of the Basic Payment Scheme and inheritance taxation on Tuesday 25 November. Anyone interested in attending should contact Becky Honeysett on 01727 896054.
The agricultural team also deals with pipeline compensation and reinstatement claims, which have become increasingly important in the past 18 months as a result of two major pipelines being constructed across East Surrey.
Stuart and his team are dealing with a number of claims for the Godstone to Tonbridge section of an oil pipeline as well as the Outwood to Buckland main being constructed for Sutton and East Surrey Water. There have been a number of reinstatement challenges due mainly to construction delays and the weather.
“Our agricultural department has many years of experience in dealing with compensation claims in connection with utilities and other statutory works,” said Stuart.
The Government’s review of the Telecoms Code is likely to mean continued consolidation and multiple use of telecoms masts, and White & Sons has considerable experience in negotiating with telecom companies to obtain a fair deal for landowners.
White & Sons expects farm rent reviews to be modest this year. “With global commodity prices, particularly the wheat price, falling, we expect less upward pressure on farm rents this autumn,” Stuart commented.
Better news for landowners is that farm land has outperformed other asset classes over the past year and is still rising in value at a time when the general housing market has levelled off. Recent land sales have included 48.8 acres of pasture and buildings on the edge of Epsom Downs which was sold for equestrian purposes in two lots at approximately £16,000 per acre.
While James and Charles White had a diverse portfolio in the early 19th Century, the scope of the services offered by their successors is even more impressive as White & Sons helps clients deal with the complexities facing modern farm businesses.