It started with a phone call to Versailles. A senior curator there trekked into central Paris for an unusual undertaking — assessing the importance of an extensive collection of Louis XVI furniture and artworks. It was worth millions, the owners already knew, but would they be allowed to take it with them as part of their looming move from Paris to Geneva? It was entirely the curator’s call.
No one breathed a louder sigh of relief than relocation consultant Pierre Jéronimo to read that while precious, the pieces were not such essential parts of French patrimony that they could not leave the country. Jéronimo then set about arranging that complex process. It meant securing special insurance for a shipment whose cargo was extremely valuable, engaging specialist art handlers and packers to prep the containers and even booking unmarked lorries to ensure discretion — and deter carjacking art thieves.
“I was the master of ceremonies,” he says, of his role co-ordinating it all. “We’re a 24/7 service that’s ready to help.”
Jéronimo is country director, Switzerland and the Middle East, for the relocation services company Anywr, and works as a consultant for ultra-wealthy clients moving into those territories. His role is a unique mash-up of personal assistant, estate agent and therapist, handling every aspect of his clients’ arrivals to make sure their landing in a new country is as frictionless as possible.
There’s a growing demand for such services, according to Edward de Mallet Morgan, partner and head of international super prime sales at estate agency Knight Frank, who says that the number of his buyers who are relocating from another country has doubled since 2019, as pandemic-induced flexibility freed up their log-jammed daily lives.
“It’s encouraged people to think about not needing to live in the same country as where you base your business, because there are often lifestyle and, potentially, tax advantages to domiciling somewhere else,” he says. He’ll often play a role in smoothing their arrival as well as selling them a home. “In some jurisdictions, it might be a conversation about if that person moves to a country, what level of tax they might be paying.”
Switzerland-based Jéronimo doesn’t haggle with the authorities to secure a more favourable personal tax rate, but his team handle almost anything else. “Our role is to help them build their autonomy — we might accompany them to the shopping centre for the first time to show them how it works,” he says of his engagements, which typically last for three months after arrival. Moving fees usually come in at €5,000-€8,000 per family, but for Jéronimo’s wealthy clients can run much higher. A recent move, involving a family going from Geneva to the US, was so complex the relocation cost was €200,000.
Jéronimo and his team play an almost paternal role with their charges, often schooling them in Swiss mores. “People are very polite in Switzerland, so you don’t make noise after 9pm and don’t take a shower at midnight. You don’t make garden work on a Sunday because that day is dedicated to family. Go shopping on a Sunday? Sometimes Geneva looks like a post nuclear-war city, there is no one on the streets.”
That city, of course, is already heavily international, thanks to the presence of both the UN and several multinational banks, but the rules of Swiss life remain consistent — and often resistant to the demands of the global 1 per cent. “It’s also not the Swiss way to make a red carpet just for you.”
A recent project for Jéronimo involved the arrival of a wealthy family from the US. “We assisted them in buying cars and boats but this client also bought a beautiful house — and when they did, they bought the Ferraris that were in the garage, too.”
Jéronimo’s expertise in collectors’ items stretches beyond art to other commodities such as wine. Year-round, he’ll fly in the finest bottles rather than transporting them by road into the country, while in winter, the entire collection will probably be air freighted. “If the wine gets frozen, it will be dead.”
Anywr will also offer advice on what to leave behind, as it did recently for an Israeli banker. Cars are highly taxed there, so his Mercedes E-Class E200 had cost him $125,000 — the same car in Switzerland, where auto taxes are far lower, costs around $50,000. There was no point shipping it to his new home, says Anywr’s Eymeric Moura. “We told him to sell it, and he could buy two for the same price here, though actually he upgraded to a Porsche,” he laughs.
Switzerland is a common destination for one percenters in need of relocation reassurance thanks to its favourable taxes, high standard of living and superb schools. London is another hotspot for much the same reasons and where Tim Fitzgerald has carved out a two-decade plus career. The fast-talker — who calls himself a human Swiss Army knife on his LinkedIn profile — says his role is simple.
“It’s to avoid the potholes, as it were, to handle whatever dust doesn’t settle after they’ve made it through passport control. I can flip from setting up a utility bill to sourcing a hard-to-find Aston Martin within a single hour. I might be training chefs, or interviewing security, then it’s back to those utility bills.” Fitzgerald typically works with one client at a time — “the 1 per cent don’t like to share support” — and his services start at £100,000 per year, but can easily cost more.
Most of his clients aren’t rubes roaming London for the first time, he says, but, rather, longtime visitors who’ve finally made the decision to live there. “They’re not walking around Mayfair in an ‘I Heart London’ T-shirt. They know what they want and need, but they need someone to handle it in the background.”
Take the couple referred to him by a local watch dealer, from whom the husband had bought a pricey timepiece. They mentioned needing assistance and quickly tapped Fitzgerald to flesh out their London life. He helped the thirtysomething pair do everything from being seen at the right restaurants — “‘Can you book me a table at [a lacklustre restaurant] in Chinatown? Everyone I know says it’s good’; ‘No, I can’t because you’re not going to eat there’” — to hiring the right chauffeur.
Identifying a suitable interior designer fell to Fitzgerald, as well as arranging for Cartier to make a house call so that the husband could pick a gift for his wife rather than simply strolling in to the shop. It was also Fitzgerald’s efforts that ensured the husband’s admission to the best private members’ clubs. “At that sort of level, we had to manipulate his profile to make sure he is the type of person they want.”
More than anything, Fitzgerald says he’s learnt that his clients are prone to whims. One wealthy family new to London had told him to secure a chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant to cook dinner at their house for the principal and some friends. Shortly before supper was served, though, they decided to head to Notting Hill for a pizza.
“I’ve been on my way to Harrods Aviation in Luton for a private flight with three vans and 25 suitcases, and 10 minutes from the airport, the client has changed their mind,” he says. “But it isn’t about you, it’s about them.”
At this level, global mobility for VIPs should require an awful lot of KYC — short for “Know your client”, which can refer to a litany of identity and anti-money laundering checks — cautions Gavin Ball. He is technical director for the boutique consultancy Hive Risk, which works with both lawyers and estate agents on compliance in these circumstances. He says that the UK in particular began enacting tighter protocols beginning in 2007. “It really started to ramp up around the financial crash, and then was reviewed again in 2017, which is when it got really stringent,” he says, referring to an amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Due diligence is required on any incomer and many companies subscribe to services such as Legl and Smart Source, which will establish the veracity of any identification provided.
While transparency groups still criticise the level of scrutiny, Ball says not every jurisdiction is as diligent as the UK, including Switzerland. “Their AML regulation isn’t as stringent because of the anonymity around some of their banking rules,” he says. Switzerland has proposed measures to clamp down on money laundering in recent months, however.
Jéronimo says his company relies on the government’s vetting of applicants, but will also make decisions on a case-by-case basis. “Once their application for permanent residence has been approved, we start delivering our services,” he says. “I have turned down business on several occasions when a potential client could not justify their source of income or residence status.”
Robert Bailey is another specialist in helping high-net-worth newbies in London, working as a buying agent to help them find the right home and then prep it for their daily lives. His three-person team handles up to 10 clients simultaneously, and charges a registration fee plus 2 per cent-2.5 per cent of the purchase price of a property they secure, depending on its price. Last year, he helped clients buy 32 homes, many of them off-market.
“We have relationships with architects, builders, interior designers, electricians, plumbers, gardeners, tax lawyers, schools advisers — the full gamut,” he says. “And we don’t take fees for that, so we can sit impartially on your side.”
Britain’s non-dom status, which essentially limits UK tax to money earned in the country, is a popular choice for Bailey’s clients, he says. The clincher for one Canadian client, an important fabric manufacturer in his home country, to buy a flat in Belgravia’s Eaton Square was memorably idiosyncratic, Bailey says. “It was beautifully designed by one of the top London developers, but he pulled a tuft of the carpet out and lit it on fire. He said ‘This is a really good quality carpet.’”
But the tax status is under threat. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to get rid of non-dom status if elected and spend the money it raises on the NHS. Bailey says he has seen little impact on his business so far, though. “There hasn’t been an exodus yet as the feeling is it won’t be as draconian as we might fear,” he adds.
Low taxes, the relatively low cost of prime property and the low crime rate have long drawn wealthy buyers to Dubai — an appeal that, since the invasion of Ukraine, has only been boosted in some quarters by the fact that the UAE has not imposed sanctions on Russia.
One relocation agent has extensive experience helping expats adjust to Emirati life, assisting clients when purchasing a car, finding a maid or renting a home. Middle Eastern culture shock is commonplace, they say, so it is vital to focus on managing expectations from the very first briefing call with a new client — and explain how processes and procedures differ from the person’s home country.
For example, wealthy new arrivals might consider that splashing out on a house that costs Dh2mn (about £450,000) per year to rent would ensure a certain level of service and willingness from landlords to make changes or repairs quickly, but that’s not always the case.
Families arriving from the UK also need to understand the difference between hiring an au pair there and the maids that are more common in Dubai. The overhead may be lower — even the best-paid maids earn less than $1,000 per month — and childcare may be offered as part of the role, but they may not be specially trained.
Culture shock, of course, is what each of these consultants is aiming to offset and absorb. But perhaps the biggest issue isn’t centred on social mores or stress around staff; it’s squabbling over hierarchy in their new homeland.
“Very wealthy people expect very VIP treatment,” says Pierre Jéronimo with a wry laugh. “But the problem now is that there are a lot of VIPs.”
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