About thirty years ago I remember my stepfather, a well-known man of considerable standing, surprising me by telling me I was in a ‘gentleman’s profession’. OK, he was quite old, but amongst the next generation up from me, i.e. the majority of the property transacting public, there was still a whiff of tweed and the fact that being an estate agent involved more of the estate than the agent. Those I met from country agencies could comfortably have been bit part actors in a period drama, and many still could be. Indeed estate managers were viewed, and looked up to, in much in the same way local vets and doctors were.
My first London agency job was with a very old partnership, I mean it had been around a very long time, although all the partners from my day have since died. Three piece suits abounded, Maggie was about to take power and it felt that not only the training, but the actual job itself was honed by literally centuries of tradition. Friends going into the City enjoyed a similar feeling that anything was possible and we were all expected to qualify via day release, or night classes, in whatever discipline we were working in. Indeed I think most members of the public assumed that you were qualified and you couldn’t be a partner without some kind of RICS, or affiliate, letters after your name.
London was a labyrinthine market requiring a textbook knowledge of a pretty limited area, effectively the Royal Boroughs of K&C and Westminster. People like my parents, and certainly my stepfather, wouldn’t have considered much beyond an old school Cadogan Square back then, and Fulham and Battersea were a foreign country. Remember, many were still used to taking unfurnished lets back then and cheap shorter leases were commonplace. Freeholders held all the aces, and power.
Central London agents existed in a bubble and were almost exclusively public school, and operating anywhere else was considered a bit grubby and a bit close to the bone. Many a cheap portfolio was built by those running agencies in these sub Hoogstraten areas and the rule of law was a different one from central London.
Career paths were mapped out, but depended on your ability to knuckle down and qualify if you wanted to go all the way. Being the late 70s there were some groovy independent companies starting up and there were several global events happening around us that would alter the face of the market, and the path of your humble correspondent. In no particular order Maggie Thatcher, the rise of Middle Eastern money and the Shah of Iran’s expulsion are three obvious ones.