The grass-roots touch: 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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ROY CHAPMAN has gone back to his commercial roots. He has exchanged a plush office at the heart of the Hambro Countrywide empire for a village shop in West Bergholt, Essex. 'I was convinced of a need for a small local service, dealing personally with people looking for homes in the commuter towns in this area,' he says.

Mr Chapman built up the Abbotts estate agency chain from three to more than 30 offices, before it was bought by Mann & Co in 1986, which a year later was swallowed by Hambro. 'I was given the task of trying to integrate all the offices - sticking Sellotape over the cracks,' Mr Chapman says. 'But within a couple of years, I worked myself out of a job.

'I never thought of retiring, although I only got back to the sharp end because this village shop came on the market. It seemed perfect for doing what I think buyers want: providing a highly personal service over a small area.'

Like a country doctor, he is available all hours. 'People can phone me at home any time between 7am and 10pm. That is what this business is really about.'

Now his son has joined him from the mighty ranks of the international agent Jones Lang Wootton. Perhaps small family outfits are back to stay.

(Photograph omitted)