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Makeover specialists

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MAKEOVER CASE STUDY: Raynham, W2

Parkgate Aspen were appointed by the leaseholders after their acquisition of the freehold interest from the Church Commissioners.  A high-rise building of 74 flats, this was the tallest and most prominent block on the Hyde Park Estate. But it was also one of the most neglected with failing lifts, and an entrance lobby and common parts which had not been touched for decades.

Parkgate Aspen is a private and independent firm which has been managing blocks of flats for almost 40 years. In recent years they have turned themselves into ‘makeover specialists’ with impressive results at many older properties. Its senior partner Sol Unsdorfer believes that up to 80 percent of London flats are selling below value for the want of what he calls ‘basic threshold management’.  “£20,000 spent wisely on an entrance lobby can sometimes add at least the same amount to the sale price of each and every flat” he claims. 

Working with the resident directors, his company invited refurbishment proposals from five designers and architects, including those nominated by lessees.  The objectives were to upgrade the exterior entrance doors, steps, ramps and walkways, provide landscaping and foliage, and to resurface the front forecourt, lay it out with newly marked bays and install rolling security gates at both ends.  The interior plan was to re-design the vast reception and mezzanine areas, replace all the mirrored columns with modern materials, repair, rewire, reglaze, redecorate and recarpet those areas and provide a grand  porter’s desk, with tea room and restroom facilities hidden behind.  A matching decorative and carpeting scheme would then be applied to all the upper floors and corridors provided with new wiring and light fittings.  Back staircase and storage areas were also specified for attention.

One of the invited architects said there was space to create two new flats in the vast mezzanine area. This was considered very seriously as it could effectively  pay for the whole project and leave the resident owners with a windfall surplus. However, not all lessees were participants in the freehold and some - resident abroad and with deep pockets - launched legal action against the proposals.

Against the background of this dispute, Parkgate Aspen set about renewing the 4 passenger lifts on a phased programme which assured uninterrupted lift service to each wing of the building at all times.  These works were completed on time and on budget leaving residents delighted with their new swift and silent lifts.

Highly CommendedAlthough the resident directors offered to abandon the plan for new flats, the refurbishment proposals were still opposed by the dissenters and the whole £2m major works plan ultimately came before the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.  The opposing lessees hired solicitors and counsel to fight their case along with a top surveyor well known in LVT circles.  Sadly the resident directors had no such financial resources and looked to Parkgate Aspen and its senior partner for a solution. Sol Unsdorfer is a Fellow of the IRPM and based on his experience in prior tribunal proceedings, he agreed to take on the case. And he won it.

Although the case was won conclusively on all issues relating to the works and the prior consultation procedure, the respondent lessees still tried to appeal. Fortunately the LVT refused leave to appeal.   As soon as the process was final, Parkgate Aspen issued updated notices to the leaseholders and went ahead with the works a month later.

In less than 30 weeks, Raynham was transformed from its neglected shadow of former grandeur into ‘arguably the best block on the Hyde Park Estate’.  The architects even found space to create a residents’ boardroom above the porter’s reception area.  No agent or visitor to the building fails to be impressed by this transformation.

This project is not just an amazing makeover story. It is also about resident directors who worked to get control of their block and then focused on restoring the property and its values in a professional way. It is about an exemplary partnership between those directors and their chosen managing agents, Parkgate Aspen who went the extra mile in defending their case at the LVT and winning it.

As an interesting footnote, after the works were completed the directors decided to hold their subsequent AGM in the stunning new lobby. Halfway through the meeting, a Rolls Royce drove into the forecourt and out stepped the corporate director who had represented the group of dissenting overseas leaseholders. He sat down at the back of the meeting and just before the end, offered a vote of thanks to the management board - for getting it right.