Property insider view: James Denne, partner at Knight Frank and the estate agent’s man in The Borders

James Denne is currently marketing Faldonside House, near MelroseJames Denne is currently marketing Faldonside House, near Melrose
James Denne is currently marketing Faldonside House, near Melrose
Job title Partner in Knight Frank, looking after the Scottish Borders and Dumfriesshire, as well as country houses and farm sales in Northumberland and Cumbria.

How did you get started? I went to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, and after I’d finished my rural estate management course I went back to driving tractors on my family’s farm in Kent. But, a few weeks later, the college put me in touch with Lothian Estates in Jedburgh who were looking for a trainee assistant factor, so that is how I arrived in the Borders.

I worked as a resident land agent for several years before I was approached by Knight Frank who were opening a branch in the Borders in 1998. A natural route would have been to go to land sales, but property just kept coming my way, so I started selling houses as well. Three weeks ago, I celebrated 23 years in the job.

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What is your typical day like? Busy! If I’m going south of the Border I leave early, but generally I go to the office first and then spend the day travelling around the area. It is not a desk-bound job, I’m out and about a lot, and in the Edinburgh office once a week. It is important for me to be part of the wider team, as a lone worker in my area.

James DenneJames Denne
James Denne

There is a lot of driving involved and chatting to people over tea and cakes.

Different agents have different styles, some will take clients through a formal sales pitch, but mine is very informal, which gives me the chance to hear what the client wants, and find a strategy that is right for them. Listening is key to getting a good relationship.

What is your most memorable client or sale? There are properties that stand out because they are huge or expensive, but the ones that stick in my mind are the clients who have been a joy to act for – where I know I have made a real difference to their lives. It could be someone with a small property who is genuinely bowled over by the help you’ve given them and the results.

That’s not to say that owners of expensive properties aren’t grateful too, but there is a special thrill in getting a life-changing amount of money for a property that is a client’s only asset.

What is your favourite type of property? We all love a Georgian house, but being a farmer’s son, I love getting out on a farm.

Where do you live? Bemersyde, a little hamlet near

St Boswells in the Borders. We live in a most wonderful spot with incredible views in a contemporary house which we bought when the children were born. We rent a field for our horses nearby as we are all keen riders.

Does your job affect your social life? I meet clients all the time as the Borders is such a small social circle. There are people that I’ve acted for several times over the years and clients who have recommended me to their friends. The downside is that you are constantly asked “how’s the market?” at parties – I don’t really mind, but it can be difficult to get away from the day job.

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What advice would you give someone wanting to work in the industry? The Cirencester route was the traditional way in, but that is less true now. There is a lot more diversity these days, so everyone has the same opportunity if they have drive and enthusiasm.

Having a qualification in land management is helpful for farm and estate sales, but not absolutely necessary – it is perfectly possible to start as a team assistant and work your way up to partner very quickly with the right mindset and ability to get things done.

What do you do in your spare time? I don’t get a lot of spare time, but riding and walking the dogs in the countryside is my form of relaxation, in between ferrying the children around.

How is the market in 2021? Last year was difficult, as were the years after the 2008 global financial crash. Both saw an extremely difficult market with very little activity. Since the turn of the year, however, I feel like I’m running on vapour as it is so busy and I don’t see any sign of a slow down.

There are some spectacular properties coming on to the market with more to follow. We have just been instructed on what I consider the finest property on Lake Windermere and we are currently marketing a beautiful country estate in the Borders, Faldonside House near Melrose.

The Borders market is unique because it is so accessible and yet so rural. It is not a million miles from anywhere, but there is a whole different atmosphere and from London it is quicker to get here than it is to get to the West Country.

The landscape of the Borders is incredibly diverse, some of the hills you might think you are in the Highlands, in the Ettrick or Yarrow valleys or the hills behind Hawick. And you also have the grain basket in Berwickshire, and mixed farmland in Roxburghshire.

In terms of property, we tend to sell anything and everything, as long as it is best in class.

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At the moment, buyers are not coming from overseas – for obvious reasons – but we are getting equal numbers of enquiries from either side of the Border. English buyers are not unduly perturbed by what might be happening at Holyrood, because it is about buying a dream home and getting value for money.

Requests come in for lifestyle properties, with a keen eye on catchment areas for both state and private sector schools.

This year, in particular, we are seeing that the length of the commute isn’t so important, as many people are switching to working from home.

That has been a big change, it used to be that if Edinburgh prices were hot, price rises would ripple out from the Capital, but never seemed to quite reach the Borders.

It seems that this has changed this time around, and I put that down to a whole different mindset of wanting to live in the country and work from home.

Life file

Born and raised Raised in East Kent, although I was born in London, within the sound of Bow Bells.

Education “Slough Comprehensive” [aka Eton College], and then the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester.

Family Married with two children, aged 17 and 14.

First job As a teenager, in Simpsons of Piccadilly and the ski department of Lillywhites. From a young age I was always on the bale crew at harvest on the family farm.

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First home Before I married, many of my homes were tied to my job as a resident agent. A memorable one was a farmhouse called Sorrowless Field near Earlston. So named because after the battle of Flodden all the men from the farmstead survived and came home – which was rare.

Plans for retirement With the way interest rates and pensions have gone, I have to keep working, so it is good that I really enjoy what I do.

Motto Never bear a grudge.

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