If you prick them, estate agents bleed

It may be hard to believe, but the people who sell houses really are people. Just like you and me.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
ESTATE AGENT, negotiator, bespoke property consultant. Call him what you will, but who is the man with the shiny car and sometimes-shiny suit? Two London agents let us glimpse the personalities behind the pitch.


Richard Lee's day starts at around 8.30am, when he drives from his home in Beckenham to Acorn's Peckham branch. Eschewing ostentation, Lee steps modestly from his Ford Escort on to his patch, which he describes as "colourful and holding many challenges". After coffee, completions immediately take priority: "We always make sure the keys are here, you don't want the big day going wrong." What follows is less predictable: "Every day is different and when it's busy you go with it."

Who are Lee's clients? "It's hard to stereotype. You've got people who have lived here all their lives and who love it, people who can't wait to leave and get to the coast, and young people coming here because of the prices."

With three bedroom Victorian terraces costing around pounds 100,000, and the centre of town a bus ride away, Peckham must be London's bargain basement, although Lee says: "Affordability is on the way out - the area can't stay cheap forever."

His hours are long and Lee admits: "You couldn't do this job just for the money, you've got to enjoy it." His rewards may not be financial, but, "There's a certain satisfaction from selling properties which have lain in the drawer for three months."

Clients often form fond attachments with agents, but relationships inevitably sour as frustrations arise. "You're dealing with someone's most valuable asset, so they are bound to get upset. You must like people and not be brash or horrible. They want you to be honest."

Has he missed his vocation as a priest or a psychotherapist? "It sounds sad, but I've always wanted to be an estate agent." He sees no difference in working in more expensive areas, and is as satisfied selling a pounds 50,000 flat as a pounds 1m property which, although rare indeed in Peckham, doesn't lure him to more salubrious surroundings.


On the other side of town, where price tags are closer to pounds 500,000 than pounds 50,000, works David Jackson. He occasionally strays into Richard's territory, but is more familiar with the cutting edge of property development in Soho, Clerkenwell or Kings Cross, sourcing buildings for his company, Pilcher Hershman.

Pilcher Hershman markets itself as a "bespoke property consultancy" rather than estate agency. Jackson, a partner in the firm, is not ashamed of the latter: "I didn't have the ability to be an architect but then I had no aspirations to be an estate agent either." He began as an office junior 10 years ago, and credits the "amazing chemistry" between himself and partner David Rosen for his personal and company success.

Jackson's day is as varied as Richard's. Leaving the sanctity of his lily-white office, he trawls grey streets searching out "untouched pockets where most people don't go". What drives him? "It's all about creativity. You must have ability to spot potential in a tired old building."

The daily grind is a chore for most, but Jackson's love of architecture has him seizing the day: "I jump out of bed every morning with a desire to get going, and I never feel like I'm really working."

Accolades don't stop the partners from being "hands-on", and who wouldn't with a client list like M&C Saatchi, Paul Smith and Diesel on the commercial side, and Clive Sinclair and David Bailey on the residential? "They come through word of mouth and expect us to be involved. We don't delegate or use computer printouts of buildings' square footage," adds Jackson.

Life at the top has advantages, but while Jackson drives a Mercedes he hates to brag: "You see programmes about flash estate agents, but that's not me at all; I go about work in a quiet way." But he will admit to long Clerkenwell lunches in the company of the capital's hottest architects.

A passionate man, Jackson has many "finest career moments", but points out that he prefers "contributing in some cultural way" rather than collecting hefty fees. Finding premises for the Soho Theatre Company was perhaps his highest point, although it was a tortuous and uncertain process.

Jackson found the site, an ex- synagogue in Dean Street, but the building was sold before Lottery funding was agreed. Eighteen months of lengthy negotiation finally saw Pilcher Hershman succeed in buying the synagogue and transforming it, with architects Paxton Locher, into a theatre and residential units, including a pounds 1.2m penthouse: "We didn't give up - I'm really proud it happened."

Evening could find Jackson socialising with clients, and he'll attend any Soho Theatre opening. Afterwards his Mercedes whisks him to his family home in Hertfordshire. Ever the salesman, he comments: "It's not a loft, but that doesn't mean they're unsuitable for children."

Back in Peckham, Richard Lee's Ford Escort heads home.