John Birch

A Life In Lettings

I first came to London in 1960 and knew I wanted to be in the property business. Things were different then. There wasn’t much of a lettings market. Most properties for rental were low-end or bedsits. There was little high-level demand and tenants from overseas were limited. Few estate agents specialised in rentals.

My first job was at the London County Council. A good career prospect but not for me. I quickly realised that I needed something where I would be responsible from beginning to end and the total timeframe would be reasonably short. The private residential market was ideal.

Residential Lettings - 1962

I moved into residential lettings in 1962 at the London Accommodation Bureau in Oxford Street. In 1967, I joined a firm in St James’ called James & Jacobs – it mainly catered for people from abroad and those who worked in embassies. It was through James & Jacobs that The Beatles rented a property when they first came to London as an unknown band from Liverpool (a house in Montagu Mews West) and later Sir Paul McCartney bought his house in St John’s Wood through the same firm.

Newly Married - 1967

By late 1967, I was newly married and working in lettings at James & Jacobs. However, the independence bug bit me and although I was offered a partnership, I left. In 1975 I started ‘Birch & Co’ from premises in Marylebone Lane, covering residential lettings in the whole of London, central and the inner suburbs.

ARLA Founded - 1981

In 1981 it was obvious that lettings lacked and needed a professional body. I got together with Neville Lee, who also ran a central London agency, and in August of that year we set up a meeting of London letting agents at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair – fifty plus attended. What emerged became ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents), now part of Propertymark, which today has thousands of members throughout the UK. Nowadays, my connection with ARLA is through my continuing interest in what is happening in the profession, and through my honorary designation of PPARLA (Past President of the Association of Residential Letting Agents).

New Housing Act - 1988

In 1988 came the major Housing Act (starting Assured Shorthold Tenancies) and that’s when things took off. In 1967, a three-bedroom house in North West London rented for 21 guineas a week, which is equal to just over £22.00. Today, that same house would rent for at least £500.00 per week.

Present Day - 2020

Much has happened in the nearly forty years between ARLA’s inception and the present. Residential rentals – and the administration/management arising from those rentals – is now a major part of the burgeoning property sector and still expanding, apparently, whatever the general economic climate.

Still Enjoying Every Day

I enjoy the everyday business of marketing property, and having personal contacts with landlords, tenants and agencies. Birch & Co is – and always will be – a small firm. I see this – the knowledgeable, personal touch – as being an advantage for all parties. Is residential rental different from what it was twenty years ago? Undoubtedly – computers and the internet have brought about great changes. However, lettings to me will always be a personal service business; where the landlords, tenants, and contacts within the business are of paramount importance.

We are essentially a people business and, whilst it stays that way, I will continue to do what I enjoy: giving a personal, professional service to everyone with whom we have contact.

John Birch
Birch & Co Lettings

Birch & Co


2 Queen Anne’s Gate Buildings, 22 Dartmouth Street, London, SW1H 9BP.
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7222 1975

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