With the often negative portrayal of agents in the media and popular culture, you might ask yourself why anyone would want to enter the profession.
In reality, of course, most agents are hardworking, knowledgeable and out to do the best for their clients, and there are many attributes of the job that make it a desirable career choice and a position to be proud of.
This is perhaps best highlighted, though, by people who have chosen to move into the world of agency from a very different career path beforehand. Here, I speak to two agents who have done exactly that.
Mark Bower, former professional footballer
Mark was a centre-back who played over 370 games in a career spanning more than 16 years. He also managed Guiseley and Bradford Park Avenue after retiring.
Tell us about your background before becoming an agent...
After leaving school at 16 I went straight in to 'work' as an apprentice at Bradford City, turning professional 18 months later. I spent the next 13 years there and loved every minute of it. I had supported the club growing up, so spending the majority of my football career there was a dream come true. I also played professionally at York City, Luton Town and Darlington.
It was during my time at Darlington that I realised it was time to look seriously at my career after football. I had suffered from injuries that year, was 30 years old and was ready for a fresh challenge.
How did you make the move from football to agency?
Throughout my football career I had bought and sold a few properties and had a small rental portfolio. My wife had worked in estate agency and one of my best friends, James Hamilton, had managed a couple of estate agency branches for a national chain and was keen to set up on his own.
Everything seemed to fall into place at the right time and James and I launched Hamilton Bower and opened our first office in Shipley in March 2010. I continued to play football at a semi-professional level at Halifax Town and Guiseley and this allowed me to dedicate more time to gaining experience in the office and to educate myself by going on various courses relating to the property industry and running a business.
The first few years were tough, market conditions at the time were challenging to say the least, but we built up a strong client base and a good reputation locally to establish ourselves as a leading independent agent in the area. Earlier this year we opened our second branch in Northowram, Halifax, and we have further expansion plans for the future.
What are the best things about being an agent? Do you get the same buzz from successfully letting/selling a property as you did from being out on the football field in front of thousands?
It has been an interesting transition from football to estate agency and there are similarities. In football you are involved in many people's biggest passion and in estate agency you are dealing with most people's greatest asset so there is always pressure to perform to your best to achieve results. I do not think you could ever replace the buzz of winning football matches in front of thousands of people, but the disciplines that were instilled in to you as a footballer are useful today.
Hard work, teamwork and doing the little things consistently well reap rewards and I have taken great satisfaction in meeting different people from all walks of life and being able to help them with their property requirements.
Craig Lundberg, former soldier in the British Army
Craig, who was seriously injured and left totally blind by a rooftop grenade attack on his second tour of Iraq in 2007, has since gone on to run the London Marathon, climb Kilimanjaro, carry the Olympic torch, appear in a Ken Loach film and play blind football for GB at a World Cup and European Championships. He also made national headlines earlier this year for an epic tandem charity bike ride from Land's End to John O’Groats.
In 2016 the 33 year old dad-of-three became a franchisee at Whitegates Woolton in Liverpool.
Tell us about your background before becoming an agent...
I was in the British Army. I joined at 16, just after I left school. In 2003, I went to Iraq for my first tour, just a week after my 18th birthday.
I came home and was made Lance Corporal and then, later, at the age of 21, I became a full corporal – one of the youngest people to do so. On my second tour of Iraq, I was deployed to Basra and involved in a number of high-profile jobs. One of these was a strike-op with special forces, where we came under heavy fire. There were roadside bombs, fierce fighting for 20 minutes.
I was hit by two RPGs and blasted across the roof. I got up, injured, not knowing the extent of the injuries, and kept giving orders and returning fire. Eventually I was walked off the roof by one of the team and sent by a Warrior support vehicle to a helicopter landing site. I was taken to Basra, then Baghdad, then flew to Germany where an American field hospital was based.
I woke up there three days later, still not knowing what had happened. My injuries were severe – a broken jaw, three teeth missing, a broken nose, wounds to my arm and face, left eye removed, right eye had shrapnel in it. They did their best to save my right eye, but in the end I lost my sight completely.
Later, I was transferred to a hospital in Sellyoak, Birmingham, where I spent another month recovering from my injuries. It was here I first came into contact with St Dunstans, now known as Blind Veterans UK, a charity which helps ex-servicemen. I met WWII vets who had been blinded, too. The age difference was huge – me at 22, them in their eighties, but we had a lot of common ground.
They said you can be miserable, angry and feel sorry for yourself, or you can be a happy blind man. Not let it hold you back. So that’s what I decided to do, doing all sorts of challenges and vowing my blindness wouldn’t prevent me.
How did you first get into agency?
After returning to civilian life, I was given some money as compensation for my injuries. Most of my family had been brought up on council estates, so I didn’t really know what to do with that sum of money at first.
Then the recession hit and it seemed a good time to invest in property, with property prices going down. I decided to buy up properties and rent them out, bringing in a steady rental income. Over time, I’ve built up a decent-sized portfolio of 22 properties, and am still looking to grow this.
It was through the regular interaction with estate agents that I met my partner Nicola, who was already an estate agent. She wanted to branch out on her own and we soon realised that an already established franchise - Whitegates Woolton – was up for sale. So I used the capital from my portfolio to buy it. We’ve been running it ever since.
What are the positives and negatives of agency?
The positives – getting good staff. Working as part of a great team in a small working environment. Also, in property, every day is interesting and different. You learn about the history of homes and people – why are people selling? What are the reasons? I’m interested in property and people. With Whitegates, we wanted to be part of the community, a face, and to focus a lot on what estate agency should be.
It’s a service, a customer service. We are, at the end of the day, service providers, not salespeople.
We’ve also benefitted from being a franchise, with a lot of support from The Property Franchise Group in terms of legals and regulations.
The downsides are getting to grips with running a small business. I went from an industry where you’re paid a set wage to running a small business. You’re now suddenly held accountable for ensuring the day-to-day running of the business is still going ahead no matter what the weather. You now have to pay VAT, tax, PAYE, staff wages, etc, as well as managing marketing budgets, online platform subscriptions, while still trying to stay ahead of the curve and keep yourself educated in an ever-changing market.
The fantasy of leaving one industry to join another is very different to the reality. And the reality is you need to become many things to many different people and wear a lot of different hats. Which at first can be very offputting until you put the right systems and procedures in place - this goes for any small business
And understanding how to run a business – the marketing, the pyschology of consumers.
Are you looking to expand?
We would like to have another agency in the Liverpool area within 18 months, but it’s all about timing and dependent on economic and market factors. The market is up in the air at the moment. The risks and rewards need to be calculated. We’re also keen to only grow organically, and not to the detriment of customer service.
Great answers both - thanks very much.
Until next time...
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.