This has been a strange and unpredictable year – and one that a number of people will look back on almost with disbelief.
None more so than Kathryn Hunter.
Starting a business can be stressful at the best of times. But when your office burns down three weeks after you move in it can seriously test your resolve – as Hunter discovered when she launched Hawkmoth Property Consultants in April.
A former compliance case handler for an estate agency chain, she had set up her Milton Keynes office and was looking forward to her new career as an independent estate agent.
Then came the call about the fire.
“I drove straight over and couldn’t believe it,” she recalled.
“My office had gone up in flames. All I had left was my laptop and a company pen.”
The fire, which happened over a Bank Holiday weekend, was caused by an electrical fault in the building next door and thankfully nobody was hurt.
Unfortunately, however, Hunter wasn’t insured. “I consider myself a shrewd business woman, but I made a mistake.
“I’d got the insurance paperwork but had decided to wait until after the long weekend to finalise it.”
There was, she says, never any question of giving up.
“What happened was devastating but the office was just bricks and mortar. It was a horrible start but I knew that I was the business, not the building.
“I hadn’t worked so hard to give up at the first hurdle.’
She phoned round all her friends and contacts appealing for help and within 48 hours had secured a new – bigger and better – office.
She also appeared on that evening’s local television news, gaining some unexpected but extremely useful publicity for her newly-launched business.
The name of the company, said Hunter, comes from her childhood.
“My grandfather was fascinated by hawk moths and when I visited him I used to see this caterpillar. One day it looked like it was dead but when I went back again it had turned into the most beautiful, colourful moth. I thought that was amazing.
“To me, that moth signified transformation and a new beginning – and that’s how I felt about starting my new business.”
She was also – and remains – on a mission.
Having worked for large estate agency chains as a sales negotiator and latterly compliance controller, she said customers were often receiving a poor service from corporates.
Issues that repeatedly came up were lack of communication, failure to turn up for viewings and the misdescribing of properties, she claimed.
“I was frustrated by the impersonal approach of these estate agents,” said Hunter.
“Many of them just didn’t seem to care about their customers. I wanted to set up an estate agency that had a personal and caring approach.”
She also wants to help others effect change in the industry as a whole. “I’d like to be seen as a trailblazer, someone who works really hard to give estate agency a better name.
“It’s about really listening to what customers want, being available whenever they need me and keeping them in the loop.
“Buying or selling a property can be incredibly stressful and I want to do whatever I can to ease their journey through the process. One customer told me that even the cat liked me coming round because it got extra cuddles!”
Hunter’s commitment to go that extra mile was rewarded earlier this year when she was announced as a finalist in the Best Customer Service category for the Women Leaders MK Awards.
She is also dedicated to raising money for charity and in September received a ‘Best Individual Fundraiser’ award at the annual Agents Giving charity ball in London.
As well as supporting local charities, she had also braved a sky dive and the Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for MIND, a charity particularly close to her heart since her brother’s suicide ten years ago.
“I’ve really thrown myself into some scary fund-raising challenges but it’s absolutely been worth it.
“Knowing that the money you’ve raised can help change someone’s life is what spurs me on.”
EYE wishes to express our congratulations and good luck to her.
If readers know any truly remarkable individuals in the industry who would make equally interesting interviews, please let the editor know.