Lucky winners take all: David Lawson speaks to estate agents whose businesses were bought up by giant corporations in the boom and who have returned - happily, in the most part - to their old patches

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The Independent Online
DONALD and May Storrie are a couple with a happy ending. They have seen the local and national hot-spots of the estate agency world and have ended up with the small business and the big money.

May set up an agency more than 20 years ago in Hamilton, near Glasgow - a revolutionary move when the sale of homes in Scotland was dominated by solicitors. Donald joined the business when it could support them both, and kept it going while May took time off to have their two sons. She is such a power in the business that she will be president of the National Association of Estate Agents in a couple of years. Donald held the office in the Eighties when the big financial groups were seeking a foothold in the estate agency business. He figured that financial groups would target agents with a wide spread of business, so within three years he doubled the number of the firm's offices to 16. The offers poured in, and Nationwide won the prize with what was believed to be a pounds 15m offer.

The money made less difference to their lives than the change in working practices. 'I suppose we were paper millionaires before the takeover anyway,' says Donald. 'We had all the things we wanted.'

May ran Nationwide's Scottish chain while Donald took over the whole UK operation. Every Monday he flew to London and would not return until Friday night. But he soon grew tired of the travelling and of the company's institutionalised bureaucracy.

'These people have never run a business,' he says, 'so they cannot appreciate entrepreneurial flair. They are used to committees and drawn-out decisions. They remove agents who have grown to know their customers over the years, because they can get cheaper people.'

So the Storries resigned. 'For nine months we relaxed, played a little golf and generally got bored stiff.' Then they took advantage of what old- timers see as a big flaw in the way financial groups run new empires: traditional names are often dropped, much to the dismay of the agents who have spent decades making them familiar.

'I said that if they did not want the Donald Storrie name, could I have it back, please,' says Donald. And so, for a nominal sum, the firm started up again, in its original office. 'It is all very comfortable running a few outlets rather than a total of 500. We have got what we really want, and our two sons have joined the business to carry on when we retire.'

Then he had to rush off. To sell a house? 'No, I have discovered skiing in my old age. We are off to the slopes tomorrow.'

Eat your heart out, Nationwide.