It’s 12 years since we opened our doors with the Fine and Country estate agency in Drayton on April 1 2009.
The date was not lost on those who thought I was a fool to launch in the teeth of a vicious, stormy recession. But sage advice, as opposed to Sage advice, was that opening in the thick of an economic downturn gave time to establish a healthy business that would be ready for the upturn.
It proved the right choice and, 12 years on, here we are with two agencies rather than one and a satellite office in Emsworth serving the significant area including Hayling Island and the Hampshire/West Sussex border country.
Of course not everything has been a bed of roses but then life never is. And with 25 years in estate agency behind me before I set up as an individual rather than a partnership, I did have a fair idea of the local market even if I was born on a Scottish island more than 500 miles from the densely populated area I now serve.
There have been some funny (looking back on them) incidents such as a phone number that’s one digit removed from the Scottish and Southern Energy helpline based in the area. It was all caused by us having the new Portsmouth area code of 02393 instead of the traditional 02392 preceding our 277277 main number. Someone in the local media wouldn’t believe the difference and kept altering the 3 to a 2, resulting in SSE getting our calls when the paper came out on a Wednesday!
I’ve always been an enthusiast for getting involved and in my time with Fine and Country have chaired its national advisory council, on which I still sit as south eastern regional representative, and served on the board of the National Association of Estate Agents as I was a Fellow of NAEA. However, I abandoned that several years ago when I saw how things looked to be heading but have now re-joined with Fellow status as RoPA looms!
The NAEA says that the average agent has just 10 instructions in some areas but my Fine and Country office, and the Town and Country Southern agency I started to mop up sales outside Fine and Country’s parameters, has 157 on our books, of which 61 are currently available and the rest going through the sales process or just completed.
Who would have thought back in 2009 that we would see an even worse economic crisis in 2020 (even perfect vision would not have detected it) accompanied by a pandemic panic coupled with a market frenzy during the stamp duty holiday which ended at midnight on March 31?
But last year turned out to be a good one, even with furloughed staff for much of the time, and we have survived.
And the upshot of all this? If you are an experienced estate agent thinking of striking out on your own now may not be a bad time to do it.
Plan carefully, be ready for unforeseen difficulties, and get busy while choosing your business model carefully. It’s true that you may not need the high street premises that we have, although you’ll miss the contact with people dropping in and giving you an opportunity to sell, but you will need to work hard to establish a brand and one that’s your own, such as my Town and Country, may work just as well as a licence from an organisation like Fine and Country.
Personally, I have enjoyed the opportunities delivered by both, which is maybe not quite the sage advice that will help you decide!
*Colin Shairp is director Fine and Country Southern Hampshire and Town and Country Southern. He is also South Eastern regional representative on the Fine and Country National Advisory Council.