Property: I've met a pleasant estate agent. No, I'm not stoned

Personal service is more likely to generate success than a flashy business card

I BRING good news and bad news from the Californian property market. The bad news for those awaiting further information on the house I uncovered for sale which had a river running through its grounds, is that I could not find it. Whether this was a function of a poor sense of direction or the flash floods which swept the area on Tuesday is a matter of conjecture. The good news is that I met an estate agent who was both professional and pleasant. Add to this rare combination an undoubted honesty and senses of both style and humour and you are faced with a quite delightful human being.

Before I am accused of spending too much time at the junction of Haight and Ashbury, please step forward, Russ Baruh. I know many of you will find this hard to believe, but Russ is a pleasure to do business with. What makes it such a pleasure is that Russ does not necessarily want to do business with you.

Let me explain. For reasons out of my control, I became embroiled in a delicate property transaction in the delightful Lake Tahoe area of California. The man chosen to broker the deal was the said Russ Baruh. I had three options:

1) to sell a property;

2) to sell one and buy another;

3) to do nothing.

Under options 1 and 2, the realtor stood to earn a commission. Under option 2 he stood to earn quite a large commission. And yet his best advice was to pursue option 3. That is not because he could not deliver options 1 or 2. Indeed Russ demonstrated impeccable credentials on both the buying and selling side of the transaction. No, his advice was based on what he thought was the best option for the client.

This may sound a somewhat alien concept to those used to the smash and grab approach so often adopted in the UK. Russ Baruh takes a more subtle and human attitude to his work.

It no doubt helps that Russ is a personable, professional and successful realtor. What must also be borne in mind is the rather different approach that underscores the realty business in the US in general. The name of the game is not just to act as an estate agent but to act as a friend. In a highly competitive market, it is recognised that personal service is more likely to generate success than a flashy business card.

I would commend any British estate agent who wants to set themselves apart from and ahead of the pack to pay a visit to Lake Tahoe and spend some time with Russ Baruh. He has a lot to teach the British property market and is the kind of man who will be only too happy to share. I personally look forward to my next visit to the Lake in the Sky (elevation 6,230ft) and in particular the opportunity to meet again with Russ. His advice has not fallen on stony ground. And if the transaction does not progress, then there will be a little rental question to be discussed with him and his colleagues.

Smart, huh?