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How Abby and Michaela turned their friendship into an agency

Agents working for themselves, supported by a ‘broker’ organisation are on the increase in the UK after becoming almost the norm in places like the US and Australia.

But what’s it like to leave the comfort and security of full-time employment and to take that scary step into the unknown and begin to build a business for yourself?

Agents Abby Wheeler and Michaela Sanders did just that just over two years ago when they set up Heart & Home just a few months after Covid lockdown restrictions were lifted.

Determined to work in a way that fitted their lifestyle, they researched the market for potential partners before deciding on agency services provider, Agent and Homes.

Since then, they haven’t looked back.

Agent and Homes managing director, Jas Sagoo, said: “Women in self-employed hybrid estate agencies are trailblazers, blending traditional high street estate agency practices, demonstrating independence, resilience to provide personalised and efficient services.

“Their commitment to understanding clients' needs ensures a smooth and tailored experience, whether buying, selling, or renting. They provide the best of both worlds, making the process efficient and stress free.

“By leading their own businesses these women not only achieve personal success but also inspire others, setting new standards and driving positive change in the industry.”

Here, in their own words, Abby and Michaela describe their journey so far…

Q1. What were you doing before you entered the property business?

Abby: I pretty much started my career in property as soon as I left college, where I was studying to work with children, but I decided to change my career path as property had interested me from a young age.

Michaela: My first real job was selling bricks for a local brick making factory, so when I got into selling houses, it really felt like a full circle moment for me!

Q2. How did you get your first jobs in estate agency?

Abby: I spent a long time reaching out to Estate Agents in my local area, asking if they were looking for a junior or trainee position. The only agency that replied to me was a small independent in a local town, who then became my employer for many years.

Michaela: I saw a small ad in the local paper (yes back when jobs were advertised in the newspapers still!) it was a little suspicious with no mention of the company name, but I fancied my hand at it so I reached out. I later found out they advertised it discreetly like that so that their competitors weren’t aware they were looking for a junior as it couldn’t later be used against them! (Paranoia or cut throat agency, you decide haha)

Q3. When did you first become aware of each other, and did you become friends immediately?

Michaela: We were working for competing firms, so we were aware of each other for a long time before we became friends. There is a weird unwritten rule in agency that competitors are not your friends, so we kept each other at arm’s length.

Abby: Yes, we’re not sure why there is a stigma that is engrained in us when it comes to other agents – I wonder if it’s the same in other industries?

Q4. How did you first come to work together?

Abby: during my role in the High Street office, I showed keen interest in sales progression and the legal aspect and so I reached out to a law firm who we recommended as an agency and applied for a position there.

Michaela: I had recently gone on maternity leave from my agency and everyone knows being a working mother is hard. The hours I was offered to return to the agency I worked at were not child friendly and so I was looking for a career change. I was also aware of the same law firm and applied for a job. Neither myself or Abby knew we had both applied and been offered a job to work on the same team – we now think it was fate.  

Q5. How did you decide to go into business for yourselves?

Michaela: working at the law firm exposed us to lots of agents across the country, and it opened our eyes a little as to a new, modern way of doing things.

Abby: It’s not modern for places like America or Australia but we slowly saw the ‘brokerage’ type model becoming increasingly popular especially in London and we thought it was worth investigating.

Q6. What made you decide against opening a ‘High Street’ branch?

Abby: Of course we discussed going back into the high street, but when we were starting our business plan, we had just hit COVID and it was apparent many companies did not need a business premises to operate successfully.

Michaela: For us, our priority was market exposure and customer service and by saving funds on a premises we were able to concentrate all our energy into these goals. By not having the overheads some agents have, we are able to limit our clientele meaning we could offer higher levels of customer service.

Q7. What was the process you used to select the right partner organisation for you?

Michaela: For us it was about getting the ‘right feel’ when speaking with a company we were looking to work with. We did of course speak to the big names that offer this type of model, but something didn’t sit right with us when we spoke with their representatives.

Abby: It was apparent many of the larger companies’ main focus was to recruit and employ and many other brokerage models didn’t require for their ‘employees’ to have any experience in the property field. We wanted to surround ourselves with people whose main focus was property and building a successful career.

Q8. Why did you decide to join Agent & Homes?

Abby: I was researching other potential companies and came across a blog that had been written by Tim Lawler, a self-employed agent working under the Agent & Homes brand. We reached out to them and had an initial conversation about how they work and what they offer.

Michaela: We arranged a face- to-face meeting and travelled to London. Form the first meeting we just knew they were the company for us. Our business ethics aligned, their standards aligned, it just felt right. We even had similar business names, which again just felt like fate to us.

Q9. How has the first few years been for you since going into business for yourselves?

Michaela: It’s certainly been a journey, we had some reservations and of course concerns about whether it will work, whether we will be successful, whether people would want to use us.

Abby: but we did have over 20 years’ experience between us, in our local towns, where we were now operating our own business and so we held a launch party, told everyone we knew about our plans and previous clients, family and friends started to approach us.

Q10. How does the relationship work between yourselves and the support staff at Agent & Homes?

Abby: One of the reasons we chose Agent & Homes was because of their support staff. We are always the point of contact for our clients, but the support staff help things tick over in the background.

Michaela: By assisting with many of our administrative tasks, ensuring we are compliant and covering the phone when we are on appointments. This enables us to be out there with clients, carrying out viewings, valuations etc. It would be much tougher if we did not have them.

How Abby and Michaela turned their friendship into an agency

Danielle Glancy -Operations Manager (left) and Ida Elledil - Lettings Head Administrator (right)

Q11. As successful women in estate agency, what are the advantages in running your own business?

Michaela: We are completely in control of how we do things. When we worked in the high street and at the law firm, we often didn’t agree with how many agencies ran their business. We saw lacklustre sales memorandums, poor quality marketing and agents that didn’t truly care about clients, just the commission that came from selling/letting a home.

Abby: We just wanted to do things better. Now we are in control of the marketing, the quality of photos, the way we communicate with people and the level of service we provide.

Q12. Now that you’re experienced in business, would you consider opening a ‘High Street’ branch?

Abby: No, we just don’t believe this to be the future of Estate Agency.

Michaela: Couldn’t agree more.

Q13. Would you recommend this career route to other property professionals?

Michaela: Absolutely, being your own boss in an ever-changing industry means you are able to keep ahead of the competition and up with the times.

Abby: I would say it is important that you have had some experience in High Street agency before doing so however, as it really exposes you to the endless situations that can arise. Being an estate agent is not the glorified job that you see on those TV shows. It’s hard work and you need a lot of knowledge and experience to overcome some of the hurdles we face on a daily basis.

Q14. Where do you see Heart & Home in five years’ time?

Abby: We both see this as our ‘forever’ career. We have put everything into getting to where we are and want to continue to build our client base and business in our local area.

Michaela: There have been some discussions about how we wish to expand but we are keeping our cards close to our chest at this time.  

Heart & Home Property Professionals covers the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. Find out more about them here.

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