Eram Ayub – a new face in the auction room

Eram AyubMacho, cliquey, and “phenomenal” is how Eram Ayub describes the auction industry, five months after holding her first sale as founder and director of Lansdowne Property Auctions.

Setting up a new business in a landscape dominated by well-established players was a risky move, she admits. “I have always known it wouldn’t be the easiest,” she says. “It’s a very bullish industry, and personality plays a big part.”

Ayub comes across as an individual who is not easily intimidated. The 34-year-old was born in Manchester before moving to Lahore, Pakistan, with her family aged 13. After persuading first her mother, then her father, to let her study abroad – the first girl in her extended family to do so – she returned to the UK to study business administration at the Richmond, the American International University in London. Aged 17, having been moved up a year at school, she was the youngest student but, she jokes, “might have been the wildest person at university”.

A masters degree in development economics at SOAS, University of London, followed, before Ayub landed her first job, working at MPG Investments as a buyer of below-market-value properties.

This seemed to suit her. “I have a natural ability to negotiate property,” she says. A couple of years later, Ayub decided to set up on her own. “I was working [fewer] hours and making more cash,” she recalls. But then came the recession – “a dark, dark time”, she says.

Ayub did not sit still for long. She completed a law conversion course at the College of Law, and got married, before deciding to jump back into property, buying buildings for an auctioneer.

“I have always known it wouldn’t be the easiest. It’s a very bullish industry, and personality plays a big part.”

“I realised that this is something I had a knack for,” she says. “It’s all about the kind of lots you can get into your catalogue and making sure you can achieve the best price for your sellers.” After a stint at an auction house, she felt ready to do her own thing, and Lansdowne was born.

The huge amount of work involved in preparing for and holding Lansdowne’s inaugural auction in March is wedged in her memory.

“I did everything myself,” she says. This involved going to all the viewings, and preparing the catalogue in just 48 hours. Then the big day arrived. “The room was full, and there was a good ambience,” she recounts. “I was so nervous up until the day. I didn’t know how many people were going to come or what was going to happen.”

In the end, 11 of the 12 lots sold, raising £2.7m. “It was just amazing. I loved every single moment of it,” says Ayub, who adds that she has since learned how to delegate.

Lansdowne’s top auction so far came in June, when £3.4m was raised from 14 lots out of 15 offered. But there was one lot in particular, sold at Lansdowne’s April sale, that got Ayub’s heart racing.

A three-bedroom house in Highgate, N6, was guided at £405,000 at a time when no other properties on that street were being sold. During the viewings, a house across the road went on the market at a much higher price, creating a “frenzy”, according to Ayub, who says there were around 100 viewings of her lot. The house was sold on the day for £697,000, following a “crazy bidding war” resulting in a round of applause, says Ayub.

Senior female figures are relatively thin on the ground in auction houses. Ayub has a view  on why this might be. “I think it’s because it’s primarily a macho industry,” she suggests. “Everyone’s fighting constantly for the stock. It’s a constant race.” Plus, the inescapable biological realities of motherhood “will always put the woman in a position where she will have to take a back seat at times”, she says.

“Auctions provide a phenomenal service for sellers. I’m so proud to be part of it.”

While describing herself as a tomboy who loves chatting about high-performance cars, she wishes there were more female directors and senior partners of auction houses. Not enough women, she concludes, realise how “time flexible” the property industry can be, nor how welcoming the atmosphere of auctions is. She points to the number of women who attend auctions with young children, and says she has never encountered problems taking her son, who is almost four, to viewings.

Ayub’s views on the subject of women in property encompass the polemic and the pragmatic, which could also be said of her politics. Having stood as a Labour councillor for Westminster in 2010 and 2014, she became disenchanted with the party’s tax policies, particularly the “unfair” mansion tax. She says she stood down before the most recent election but was included on the ballot papers.

Her attentions are now firmly planted on making her mark on an industry she admires. “Auctions provide a phenomenal service for sellers,” she says. “They get the property sold in an extremely short period of time. I’m so proud to be part of it.”