Telsar is fast becoming a leading player in west London. Founders Bal Panesar and Dipesh Patel are street-smart locals who speak the language. Stuart Watson met them
No matter how big the property company or agency, no matter how global the perspective, when it comes to doing deals, it is local knowledge that counts. Bal Panesar and Dipesh Patel know west London intimately. They grew up there, they live there, and their company, Telsar, is building a reputation as one of the most active advisers in the capital’s strongest industrial market.
In December, they landed Park Royal’s largest freehold occupier acquisition of 2012, persuading owners Canmoor and Standard Life to sell the speculatively developed 63,862 sq ft Lightning shed to their client, Speciality Drinks, instead of seeking a letting.
In the three years since they left Colliers CRE (now Colliers International) to set up their own business, Panesar and Patel have made impressive progress. They let, sold or acquired 550,000 sq ft in 2012, are acting on 135 instructions and have built up a client list that includes CBRE Investors, F&C Reit Asset Management, Caisson Investment Management and Legal & General Property’s Industrial Property Investment Fund.
They recount an anecdote to illustrate their familiarity with their patch: in October 2010, industrial REIT Segro organised a “Cannonball Run”-style event to familiarise west London agents with some of the properties it had recently acquired from former rival Brixton. Each team of agents had to dash in their cars between eight properties, receiving a stamp on their card at each, and the winner was the first to reach the final property, where a hog roast would be waiting.
“I was driving and Bal was doing the running,” recalls Patel. “Segro’s agents had done a dry run without stopping and getting the stamps. They did it in 54 minutes. We did it in 51. As local experts, we knew how to get from one to the other quickly, so we won comprehensively.”
“So much so,” Panesar adds, “that when we got there we were so early that we had to help them set up the hog roast. Living locally gives us the ability to do viewings at evenings and weekends.
“The market is changing and we need to evolve with it. It’s no longer nine to five.”
Being Asian in an English, white market hasn’t been a problem. We have been welcomed. Our business is judged by results. There has been no prejudice
Both men were born in the UK, but come from an East African-Asian background, which marks them apart in industrial property ¯ a sector not known for its diversity. West London, on the other hand, is a melting pot of different ethnic groups.
“One of the advantages we bring is we are bilingual. We can communicate with a lot of the local occupiers [in their mother tongue],” says Panesar. He speaks Punjabi, while Patel is fluent in Gujarati.
“Sometimes the dad started the business many years ago then the son has taken over,” Panesar continues. “The son speaks English, but there are occasions where you need to speak to the dad, and his English may not be great because he’s a first generation immigrant. That has helped us open doors that maybe our competitors wouldn’t be able to do.”
Patel adds: “In that sense we’ve had an advantage, but being Asian in an English, white market hasn’t been a problem. We have been welcomed. Our business is judged by results. There has been no prejudice.”
West London property DNA
Their family backgrounds among London’s prosperous East African-Asian community also helped to prompt them to take up careers in property. Panesar’s family owned a few small shops and warehouses. Patel’s contemporaries favoured the IT industry, but he did not want to be confined to an office.
“Around me, as I was growing up, family friends were investing in property and you just get an interest in it,” he says.
The two men met and became friends in 2003 when working for Jansons, a west London industrial agency that was taken over by Colliers CRE in 2006. They worked there together until November 2009, when they left to set up Telsar
Unlike many other start-up companies created in the downturn, the move was not prompted by redundancy, however. Consequently they had to use their savings as start-up capital. Their wives’ incomes covered their mortgages and bills while they waited for fees to start coming in.
“Looking back on it, I wish we had been made redundant so that we would have had some redundancy money to invest,” quips Panesar.
“We set up because there was a gap in the west London market for a local agent,” says Patel. “Jansons, Rogers Chapman and Holley Blake had been acquired.
“We took the risk at the worst time ever because the market was dead, but we tried to see it as a positive. We thought people would give us an opportunity when there’s not much going on, whereas at the top of the market, when properties are being rented and sold, it’s hard to break in ¯ the conveyor belt is going. When it’s slow you can jump on.”
They decided to target the local owner-occupier market, which they felt had been neglected by national firms. Telsar’s point of difference from other agencies was to be its website. Panesar and Patel expended much of their initial effort and money on setting up an online portal where occupiers can input their needs in terms of location, size and tenure, which are then automatically matched to properties as they become available. An email is dispatched to invite them to view them.
“Commercial agency was sleepy and slow to embrace online. Now everyone’s catching up, but that made us stand out initially,” says Patel.
Telsar represents big local occupiers such as Dhamecha, a cash-and-carry operator for which they secured a 3 acre site in Catford before Christmas, and Kolak Snack Foods, which they advised in the acquisition of a 61,104 sq ft unit in Park Royal in 2011.
They made a point of being available to their clients at evenings and weekends and chose a base in Uxbridge, in the heart of their patch, so as to be able to attend viewings quickly, at short notice. Their only employee, an administrator, works at the office.
Everything east of Uxbridge, heading into London on the A40, is Patel’s responsibility, while Panesar travels west to cover Heathrow, Slough and the Home Counties. Industrial is their bread and butter, although they also deal in offices and land for storage or development.
“When we started getting results in the owner-occupier market, we got invited for pitches and the funds were saying: ‘We need one London agent and one local agent,’” says Patel. One of the firm’s most prized instructions is Chancerygate’s 80,000 sq ft 4-40 Link in Southall, one of the few speculative warehouse schemes to be developed in recent years. All but one of the 12 units have been sold since the development was completed at the end of 2011.
Pension funds prefer to let units and keep them as investments, so although there are plenty of sheds to let in west London, there are few available to buy.
“We have people who missed out on 4-40 Link backed up,” says Panesar. “We were quoting £145-£150/sq ft [for investment deals] there and we have done deals close to that. Because of scarcity, freehold values will increase,” he predicts.
Panesar and Patel are in no hurry to recruit new staff until they have established Telsar in the market.
“We would like to have a strong brand in every field of commercial property ¯ management, professional, valuation, business rates,” says Panesar.
That remains a long-term goal, however. Telsar will remain a two-man operation until they can afford to pay good people. That means more long hours and weekend working. Neither man has much time for activities that are not work-related. Socialising with clients provides an excuse for them to have a drink together. Otherwise, they head home to their wives.
The pair are passionate about their business, but it has taught them some tough lessons: “Losing a big deal hurts, but when it’s your own money that’s another thing altogether,” says Panesar.
Patel adds: “And don’t count the money until it’s in your bank account.”
Contact for enquiries
Caisson Investment Management
+44 207 280 9600