Home movers bruised by the experience of buying and selling property in London may already think estate agents speak with forked tongue. To find out they speak with more than 32 forded tongues might come as a surprise. Such is the global nature of the capital's property market, estate agents agents have to be fluent in numerous languages. While standard European languages, such as French, German and Spanish, are well represented in the estate agents' repertoire of talents, some are also fluent in more far-flung tongues, including Shona, Zulu, Afrikaans, Cantonese, Croatian, Tamil, Swahili and Welsh. Foxtons can muster an astonishing 27 languages across their London branches.
In Foxtons' Notting Hill branch, manager Tom Mellon says they find Spanish is the most useful language to be fluent in, but they can also handle Polish and Welsh as they have native-speaking staff. "We haven't been stumped yet," he says. "The influx of a broad range of overseas purchasers, investors and tenants into central London has made multi-lingual offices a pre-requisite," says a spokesman for Winkworth (15 languages, at the last count, including Arabic, Swedish and Ukrainian). "London's schools, universities and international academies also encourage investors to buy homes for their children to live in while they study (and while capital values accrue).
Heathrow airport, the third busiest in the world, also promotes investment from foreign nationals." International schools inevitably attract residents for whom English is not the first language. St John's Wood, where there is an American School, has seen some notable demographic changes that have stretched the linguistic resources of the local Winkworth branch. Franchisee Richard Woolf says: "Over the past 25 years we have seen influxes of buyers and tenants from Arabia, Nigeria, Iran, Hong Kong, malaysia, Singapore, central Europe and Russia.
Our office currently includes Arabic, Spanish, Greek, French, German and Hindi speakers." South Kensington's popular Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle attracts high-earning French families, catered for by agencies such as Winkworth, who can also sell flats in Spanish, Swedish, Mauritian, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian and Armenian. Gary Hersham of Beauchamp Estates explains: "It is important for an estate agent to understand a buyer's own language for clarity," says Hersham.
Knight Frank tops the poss with 32 languages, by its count, including Japanese, Hungarian and Serbian. Liam Bailey, head of residential research: "As London becomes increasingly global, so does the property market. The languages spoken by our London estate agents reflect the changes in the city."