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Foxtons - “too aggressive and too nasty” admits former boss

The man who admits he was “the acceptable face of Foxtons” in its golden period says he finally left because it had “zero empathy”.

Peter Rollings is now a veteran of the agency industry, a non-executive director at outsourcing viewing service Viewer and a non-exec at Irish agency Sherry FitzGerald.

But he’s very much better known for having been managing director of Foxtons between 1997 and 2005 (he had joined the firm in 1985) and then managing director of Marsh & Parsons, which he joined in 2005; he retired from that agency in 2016. 

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Now he has - arguably for the first time at such length and with such candour - given the lowdown on what it was like to run Foxtons under the ownership of Jon Hunt, who is still in the Sunday Times Rich List on the strength of his sale of the agency in 2007 for £375m. 

In a new podcast with eXp agents Scott Gunn and Ben Moore, Rollings spills the beans on what it was like in Foxtons when it was most aggressive in the London market.

Rollings says that in the early days of his leadership he would interview up to 100 prospective employees a week, sometimes getting them into a room together for a social event. “At the end of the evening we’d put their pictures on a wall and say Yes, Yes, No, No, Yes … it was that intense.”

He admits now that the huge level of staff churn was sometimes “too brutal” but on other occasions it was necessary “because they were in the wrong job.”

Rollings says Foxtons in the 1990s and 2000s was ”amazing” and “revolutionary” thanks to Jon Hunt, and deliberately went in the other direction from what the calls the “boring” work of estate agency at the time.

He uses the podcast to reveal the sort of team strategy and pressure individuals worked to, and the unique way the company had of running teams.

“We had eight different caps - baseball caps - and you earned a cap on the basis of the deals you’d done, and they’d say Ace or Genius, right up to Superstar or God. We had an army of people delivering them round the offices as people hit targets.”

Rollings says the company was “universally hated” by rival agents and some clients, and was intentionally aggressive. 

“I left in 2005 and at that stage we were still hyper aggressive. The internal lingo was that if a property was under offer with another agent it was ‘Under Offer EA” - and EA didn’t stand for estate agent, it stood for enemy agent. We really saw our competition as the enemy” he tells the eXp interviewers.

“We wouldn’t do any fee split. Fee splits in London were all over the place at that time, but bollocks! We wouldn’t do that at any stage, and we wouldn’t go to the drinks parties to launch a house…There was nothing genteel [about Foxtons].”

He says he was the acceptable face of the company “being quite nice to people” - but he says that while the company under his stewardship was undeniably tough, it was also fair.

However, Rollings then explains why he left Foxtons in 2005. 

“I’d fallen out of love with them. They had become too aggressive and too nasty and too unfeeling and with zero empathy. I think that’s changed now, but at the end [of his time at Foxtons] I was severely managed by Jon - let’s put it like that.”

It’s a fascinating interview, and Rollings goes on to give his insights into estate agency today too. You can hear the full 47 minute podcast here, although the Foxtons section is chiefly in the first third. 

  • Matthew Payne

    And they have never been more successful since those heady days of the early/mid 2000s. I competed with many of their offices every day from about 2000, and this culture worked for them, worked to intimidate other agents who weren't up for a scrap, and made them the go to agent when somebody simply wanted results and irritatingly more often than not they delivered that when they got the chance. A well known and defined reputation that worked well for staff, the competition and vendors all in one fell swoop. Not sure what it is now.

  • Franklin I

    Characteristics of an everyday estate agent.
    Required qualifications: Aggressiveness, Pernicious and a Professional liar without a solid governing body to hold them accountable for their actions!

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    Bore off

     
    Kristjan Byfield

    For someone who holds our profession in such disdain (not just this comment but others historically), you spend a lot of time on our industry blogs. I'd have thought a Landlord, often treated by the public with the same disdain you treat the millions in our industry, might know better. If you genuinely believe your own comments- why are you hanging out with us low-lifes?

     
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    What an awful way to want to treat people.

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    Sorry snowflake

  • Russell Quirk

    Foxtons’ previously aggressive approach and it’s culture are what made Foxtons great and infamous amongst sellers and landlords.

    It’s lost its mojo in that respect now under a management team that are far too corporate, not adventurous enough and that have squeezed the culture out of the business.

    For Foxtons to be ‘valuable’ again it must return to its purposeful ‘kill or be killed’ approach. But it won’t - not under the current regime.

    Kristjan Byfield

    I think a 'kill or be killed' approach would only kill one thing Rusty- their business.

     
  • Matthew Gardiner Legge

    Mixed feelings about Foxtons. A company of two extremes - highly successful and produced some great estate agents and yet universally hated by just about everyone including many of their clients. I used to enjoy getting a fair amount of business from disgruntled punters.

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    Have to agree with Russell on this one. Foxtons high fees were great for us and when they opened in my areas this was good news for us. But the over valuing, ha ha, well that's another story.

  • London Agent

    Poorly researched article which suggests he 100% owed Marsh and Parsons.

  • Kristjan Byfield

    The 'old Foxtons' was hated, feared & admired in equal measure by most London agents- they were marmite but, my god, were they a machine! However, this approach to agency would never work in today's digital landscape. With social media, videos and reviews so prevalent today, maintaining this course would have killed the business- and they knew it. Foxtons, like so many of us, have had to evolve with the times focusing, not just on results, but on service, innovation, charity, inclusivity...and so much more.
    The luxury brands (not just in London but across the UK) prove one very important thing for every agent- if you can convey the qualities a client wants they will pay the fee you demand. In an industry when so many agents bemoan 1% fees and lower- these brands show that 2, 2.5 even 3.5% (all plus VAT of course) are all acheivable- with lettings & management often charged at 17% + VAT + other charges- they have destroyed the 'fee ceiling'.
    It would be unfair to ignore Foxtons innovation- noty just it's selling style- but cafe style offices, branded fleets, in-house CRM, cutting edge website- constant innovation that set them apart from every single agent out there- in a stagnant industry they paved the way for the eco-system we very much see today of proptech powered agency.
    I could never have worked for them at that time- if anything they solidified my reason for setting up base as I was adamant that, if done right, you shouldn'tr need to 'go to war for our clients' (as was their famous mantra).
    Foxtons and other major brands will see a resurgence in share value as the digital disruptors continue to struggle and flounder to maintain growth and establish any sort of comfortable profit margin.

    Matthew Payne

    Completely agree on fees, they paved the way showing impossible was possible getting 2.25% Sole, 17% FM where most other leading agents struggled to get 1.5% or 12%. Fees are a matter of value only, not expense, a question of presentation or justification. An objection to fees is simply "a request for more information", a cry for help from a seller/landlord to the valuer that they haven't done a good enough job of justifying why they are worth it, so they say no. There's a lot an agent can do to influence that just as Foxtons did as opposed to simply accepting the apparent status quo.

     
  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    I'll be glad when we buy property on Amazon. 2028 or sooner. Tap in click, move in.

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    Opened up my eyes to a different way of doing things in 1999. I'd been an agent for 3 years and spent 1998 setting up a new office for the now very large agent I worked for so i ha d done a little bit already. Pete said they took a chance on me as they preferred no experience (aka fresh meat) but I'd managed to make an impression. With Foxtons I learnt how to sell a house rather than just selling our services and waiting for the market to do the rest-suggesting a price reduction if it didn't. Turning up at the old Park Lane head office (converted bank for those not familiar) on a chilly and dark December afternoon for my interview was a real head turner after the provincial estate agency I'd got used to. The Friday evening treks up to Park Lane for the big team meeting, results call out and car/prize reveal was equally head turning. Pete's advice to me when, after my first week in Chiswick, telling me that that they wanted me to move to upper price range properties in Fulham was: 'You are doing great and you are great with customers but you need to drink more coffee!'.
    A really lovely guy but never one to shy away from a tough conversation. When seeing him cross the road to the office speculation would always turn to which unfortunate 'Pistol Pete' might have come to shoot that day. It was a really tough day after just a year, when I had to tell him that we were returning to Yorkshire as we'd heard the pitter patter of tiny feet.
    Foxtons were amazing at what they did. not for everyone and much of the criticism came from people who were jealous of what we achieved or wanted what we could do but weren't prepared to pay the fee. That's not to say that occasionally the approach and some of the staff didn't overstep the mark though-which is a risk you run when operating that way. Despite all I've done since I remain proud to say I worked for (and survived) Foxtons under Pete Rollings. I look forward to listening to the pod cast later.

  • Algarve  Investor

    Fascinating insight into an undeniably Marmite brand. I think that era of win-at-all-costs, ruthless, dog-eat-dog agency is over - and all the better for it. It was of its time but now just looks dated and questionable.

    Business should never be carried out in a gladiatorial manner, but in a collaborative way. That said, Foxtons knew - and still know - better than most how to ruffle feathers and get under people's skins. Arguably, though, they have become quite establishment and have seen their love to hate tag taken on by Purplebricks and Boomin.

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    I was in Shepherds Bush at the time they opened in Notting Hill, in my view 90% of every dreadful estate agency story has started in a Foxtons branch, Jon Hunt and Rollings presided over the very worst of agency which has led in large part to Estate Agents very poor reputation, they have nothing to be proud of and I speak as someone with over 35 years in the business.

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