Before I explain why I am an impassioned founder member at CIELA, I feel I should first explain my agent journey to this point as it places my passion in context.
I became an estate agent in 2002, by chance. Having spent three years training as a professional actor, I graduated and (unlike so many of my peers) was fortunate enough to work consistently over the next two years – but there was a problem: I hated it!
Inspired by a local recruitment company I decided to try a letting neg position with a young company in Islington, loved it – and I was good at it too!
I later moved to an independent on the Isle of Dogs where two major things happened:
- I (unknowingly at the time) worked for a criminal enterprise that was systematically stealing deposits and rent (any Docklands agent from the early millennium will know who this was).
- I met my inspiring business partner who, like me, felt that lettings could and should be so much better, for landlords and tenants alike. Not just legit (that was a no-brainer) but deliver a genuine, quality service.
So in 2004, with about 18 months’ industry experience and aged 24, I launched Base Property Specialists with An Deckers, who brought seven years’ experience to the table.
We also started lean. We launched the company with £20,000, putting in £10,000 each, largely because that was all I could borrow.
So that was it, the two of us, in the offices we still operate from now, with some Ikea furniture, a couple of laptops and a mission to be the best letting agent in London. Not the biggest, not the richest, but the best from a service perspective!
Little did I know how long this journey would be. To become what we genuinely aspired to be would take us ten years – and that journey would never end.
Ten years of graft, making money and instantly ploughing it back into the business to become better and more efficient. But that’s what we did.
We never reported a loss, never went into the red, never borrowed another penny, but we lived on a crappy salary for a long time. At times it was hard, and at times it nearly broke us.
Our partnership, and amazing friendship, saw us through.
So, are we a massive success? Well, it depends how you class success. In our eyes we are. We still work from our same (sole) office, look after a small portfolio of clients (around 200 active lets) and have a tight team of just six people.
We have won awards, numerous glowing reviews, and we are profitable, way above the industry average. We are also innovative and early adopters of proptech if we feel it will benefit our clients.
Our journey to this point has made me incredibly passionate about our amazing industry. I know how hard (just like us) so many agents across the UK work to deliver not just great results but great service.
I also believe that smaller, independent agents are the most exciting section of our industry – with the ability to try bold new ways of doing things and to adapt, evolve and change faster than anyone else.
However, as agents, there are certain things that truly upset me (even now) and I truly believe CIELA is the best and only opportunity to try and address these:
- Public perception/education. Much of the vitriol we get as agents stems from a lack of public understanding of our role. We need a voice to address this and correct messages that often come from both media and government incorrectly blaming us for others’ failings.
- The flaunting of regulation only damages our industry. Under-funded councils are unable to address this and current organisations are also unwilling/unable to. We need an entity that holds any agent in breach to account.
- Big advertising. False statements by organisations with deep pockets cannot be permitted. The unjustified and unsubstantiated vilification of an entire industry cannot be allowed to continue.
- Positive PR. It upsets me that only two things get our industry in the media: a client disaster OR ‘big business news’. I want to see stories like ‘my removal firm let me down so my agent helped me move’; or ‘my oven broke down the night before a family roast dinner – my agent had a new one installed by 10am the next day’. I want our heroics shouted from the rooftops, not just the villainy or stock market reports.
- As all too often in the mainstream media, some of the loudest voices in our industry are negative. We can compete with one another whilst also supporting each other to be better. So many other industries achieve this with ease, yet we appear to take joy in, all too often, picking each other apart. It makes us look self-interested, immature and weak. We really can work together behind the scenes whilst competing at the coalface (cue the haters, no doubt).
After 15 years in the industry I have not come across an organisation that comes close to achieving these ambitions. What is really sad also is that, if CIELA doesn’t reach the critical mass to achieve a worthwhile launch, I honestly don’t know when or if we will see another.
I know many agents have questions. I know many are unsure exactly what CIELA is or will be. I know many are (understandably) cynical.
The great thing is that CIELA can be whatever we, as an industry, want it to be. But that will only happen if as many agents as possible jump off the fence and take a punt – if you stop saying ‘it should do this, it mustn’t do that’ and join up to make those things happen.
There is no big tie-in. No big cost (membership equates to around £10 a week). It will require a tiny risk and a bit of effort, but isn’t that worth it?
For clarity I must make clear that my position as a ‘founder member’ is a title and nothing more. I hold no vested interest in CIELA – just a bristling passion for our industry to, at long last, come together and be the best it can be.
Maybe that’s naïve, but I really hope not! So, if you’re an agent reading this and if you think this might, just might, be something – then stop waiting.
Sign up now at https://ciela.co.uk/register-members/
Or, if you’ve got more questions, attend one of the “decision maker’s debates” – you can sign up to one at the CIELA website.