Pictured above, Toby Corban, the UK's most followed estate agent and founder of Corban Group

From negotiating discrete off market transactions to building their brands via social media property consultants exert power and influence on the property market in Mayfair and beyond

Words: Will Moffitt

Like a lot of people, the pandemic forced Toby Corban (pictured above) to get creative. At the tail end of 2019 the property obsessive had decided to go it alone, leaving behind the safety of corporate structure to found his own real estate advisory firm. Corban had always had an independent, entrepreneurial streak and he’d just secured his first deal: renting out a mews house on Adams Row when the pandemic struck a fortnight later.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. All of a sudden, we’re all locked down and I'm panicking and I think I've made a huge mistake,” he recalls. “I was stuck at home and I knew that my network was going to run out, so I started scouring the web.”

He found a niche; filming enviable properties across London, touring grand houses and chic flats while the rest of the world stayed indoors. His first video was in Carrara Tower, a million pound newbuild in Islington. His next outing in Hampstead to a property designed by world famous architect Claudio Silvestrin went viral.

From converted warehouses to elegant townhouses, Corban didn’t just want to do deals but create compelling content that took followers beyond bricks and mortar. His commitment to social media platforms has paid dividends – at the time of writing he is the UK’s most followed real estate agent with 348.7 thousand followers on TikTok.

Meanwhile, Corban Group, his privately held advisory firm, has carved out a concrete reputation for connecting clients – mostly high-net-worth individuals – to their dream homes, helping them buy, sell and let prime property across the globe.

While his brand is personal and idiosyncratic and his focus extends beyond Mayfair, he is representative of a broader ecosystem of independent property advisors that are working outside of traditional corporate structures to help facilitate transactions in prime central London.

Barbara Chanakira, CEO and founder of Eaton Property Consultants

By operating more autonomously – in some cases consultants or advisors are still partially attached to an organisation and many still work with corporates – these smaller, nimble operators have the freedom and flexibility to pursue their own leads and build their own brands.

Invariably social media has helped to burnish credentials and spike interest from the property curious, but it would be a generalisation to paint this as a space dominated by the social media savvy. In some cases it helps to be more confidential, conducting business under the radar and leveraging decades of industry knowledge and experience to good effect.

Christopher Proctor, cofounder of Penny Black Group

“Confidentiality is so important in this business. Discretion is a byword that is often used, but not necessarily always adhered to,” Christopher Proctor (pictured left) tells me.

I meet Proctor at a private members’ club in Mayfair along with his Jack Russell named Noah. A vastly experienced operator with a detailed knowledge of London’s prime property market, he gives the air of someone that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, but cares deeply about his profession.

Proctor co-founded boutique buying agency Penny Black Group in 2008. Along with business partner Richard Cutt – formerly a proprietary partner of Knight Frank’s Mayfair office – he has built a distinguished reputation for delivering a discrete, highly efficient service to a global and diverse roster of clients.

“There's a lot of emotion that goes into buying a property. Education and buying a house are probably the two most important decisions you will make for your family,” Proctor says. “The fact that people trust in me to find them a home is something that I don't take lightly.”

By drawing on an extensive contacts book and close relationships with estate agents and property professionals across London, Penny Black aims to deliver privileged access to information about exclusive properties before they come on to the market. In this context, as Proctor makes clear to me, trust is everything.

“I'll never commit to something where I can't fulfil a promise, because every time you don't deliver on what you say you'll do, you're eroding your credibility,” Proctor says. “That credibility and that sincerity is so important to the agents respecting you and wanting to deal with you over someone else.”

“Relationships with your clients are paramount, but you need to be connected to the rest of the agent community and within the industry,” says Rosi Walden (pictured right), a real estate advisor at DDRE, the tech-savvy real estate business that prides itself on ‘rethinking the real estate experience’.

After working in investor relations for a large luxury London development and as an estate agent, Walden joined DDRE in October 2022 and cites the firm’s flexible recruitment model – whereby advisors are affiliated to the firm but work independently – as a big draw. “We're all self employed and run our own shop, which was something that really appealed to me,” Walden explains. “Now I'm able to go anywhere across London or internationally to support my clients, rather than delegate that responsibility to someone else.”

Rosi Walden, real estate adviser at DDRE

Alongside establishing strong relationships with property agents and industry professionals Walden has also leveraged social media to good effect, with her combined channels reaching a community of more than 35,000 followers. She talks passionately about how these platforms facilitate a digital “first impression” for prospective clients along with real time engagement. “It’s [a way of] putting yourself out there and have people associate you with real estate, and know that you can help,” Walden says.

“I think there's a misconception that it's just a younger generation who are active on social media, but I've had a lot of clients from my parents' generation,” she adds.“It's a broad range. I think everyone's using it now.”

For Barbara Chanakira, CEO and founder of Mayfair-based Eaton Property Consultants, social media has been a valuable tool, both professionally and personally. Born in Zambia, Chanakira represents a small minority of black female professionals and business owners within London’s luxury property industry. Bringing more than 14 years of expertise, she is known for her warm, personalised approach, which is communicated via Instagram.

“Social media encourages engagement, relatability, and authentic connections, offering you access to a much broader audience,” Chanakira says. “If you can give people a glimpse of how they would feel in that house, make them curious or engage with you, you may have caught their attention and therefore win an instruction or a sale.”

For Proctor, meanwhile, the aim is to stay discreet and do all the work behind closed doors. “I've been fortunate to work with some really great clients and some really great people,” he says. “It's great that there's different approaches to what we do. My approach is quiet, understated, under the radar. Some of the best deals I've done, people don't even know about.”