A career at theheart of the Westcountry
One of the Westcountry's best-known estate agents is Stags partner Simon Cooper. Based in the Stags Exeter office, 2013 sees Simon, one of Stags nine partners, celebrating 25 years with the company. We catch up with him for some anecdotes of property sales and his view of the property market today.
Congratulations on your silver jubilee with Stags. How did you get into estate agency?
I grew up near Wimborne, Dorset. Back then I was recruited straight from school by Savills, as a trainee land agent. It all started from there.
Was it a good job?
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
It was a great job and so varied, even though my annual salary was £1,200, of which I was expected to spend £300 myself to take my chartered surveyor exams.
What was life like as a young surveyor?
I certainly dropped a few clangers initially. I used to drive an old motorbike and turning up with motorbike leathers over my tweed jacket raised a few eyebrows
Not the right image, then?
Not at all. I got into trouble again when I progressed to an elderly Mini 850. I drove up the drive to the front door of a very grand Dorset stately home instead of going to the estate office. Even worse, when I knocked on the door, the owner said: "Since you are here, you may as well drive me round there with you," and hopped into the passenger seat of my Mini.
You must have seen some amazing properties over the years...
Absolutely. One of my favourites belonged to a gentleman in Dorset. When he was asked to assess his house for the census, he had to ring me up to ask how many bedrooms his house had. He wasn't sure whether to include the former servants' quarters as well as the 20 or so main bedrooms.
Seriously wealthy people, then...
Yes, but occasionally eccentric, too. I was involved in the sale of a country estate for a peer of the realm who moved all the furniture himself, using a horse box. He unscrewed every light bulb and took it with him.
And you spent a lot of time dealing with the agricultural side of the business...
It's a great love of mine. I vividly remember the days of visits to lots of family-run dairy farms. The farmer's wife would have a big pan of clotted cream on the Aga. There would be a serious breakfast and a proper roast dinner at lunchtime. They would be offended and surprised if you didn't eat with them.
Valuations must have taken some time, then...
It would take at least half a day to value a farm. There were no quad bikes. You'd certainly upset the farmer if you didn't walk every field with him.
It all sounds very traditional...
It really was. Arable farms often used to change hands on Lady Day (March 25) and livestock farms at Michaelmas (September 29).
You were based in the Stags office in Tiverton and then in Stags, Wellington...
In Tiverton I worked with the senior property partner Frank Webb, who many people will remember well, and John Stagg, son of Leslie Stagg who started the business. Back then we only had six offices. Today we have expanded to 19 offices and into Cornwall and Dorset. It's been very satisfying to see the business grow over the years. Becoming a partner in Stags in 2003 was something I'm extremely proud of, too. This year, I'm also chairman of the Western Counties Agricultural Valuers Association, which is a huge honour.
What was your most hair-raising adventure in all that time?
Probably getting myself locked in to a boarded up agricultural bungalow in Yarcombe. The door slammed behind me and didn't have a handle on the inside. I was completely in the middle of nowhere, well before the invention of mobile phones.
So what did you do?
A farmer was mowing the adjoining field but couldn't hear me as his tractor was too noisy. Good fortune smiled on me and his mower jammed right outside the bungalow. He was most perplexed to hear a voice coming from the letterbox but he managed to attack the door handle with a screwdriver and get me out.
You must have seen some extraordinary things in the property market over the years...
At the peak of the market in 1987, a London financier made an offer for a property on the spot on Christmas Eve. It was a house on Exmoor he wanted for a second home. I was late for the Stags Christmas dinner as I was so busy tying up the sale.
And then came a deep property recession in the early 1990s...
It was a very tough time, much worse than this recent property downturn as the interest rates were so high. I was seeing people who literally couldn't afford another month's mortgage saying, "Just get me out of here". It was very sad and there was a lot of repossessions.
Properties are so much more expensive now than they were back then though...
Absolutely. When I bought my first house, a three-bedroom cottage in Bampton in Devon for £36,000, it was within my reach on my salary as a young surveyor. Those days are long gone. But then the mortgage rates shot up to 15% and I had to look for a lodger. The local paper refused my ad: "Young professional seeks lodger to help pay his mortgage, Norman Lamont to blame."
You must have worked with many other estate agents over the years...
There was always a bit of fun to be had. I'd be driving back from valuing a property through country lanes and spot my opposite number from another agency coming the other way. We'd wave, and know exactly what was going on.
Was there much rivalry?
Mostly it is very good-natured, though I did once hear of an agent from one firm (not Stags, I hasten to add) rush across Honiton High Street and thump an agent in the office opposite.
You must have seen some remarkable rural properties...
Every time I see a completely undeveloped country farm or house, without electricity, I think to myself, "That's got to be the last one," but it never is.
You've had a real insight into how people live in the depths of the South West countryside...
Often, despite living in a property you would think was completely uninhabitable, they have been living there happily for their entire lives. There's a lesson there for all of us!
What would you say has made Stags such a success over the decades?
It has to be the combination of quality staff, allied to the marketing we do. Add in the fact that we are trusted and have a wealth of local knowledge and experience.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It's very satisfying to see our staff develop over the careers, usually with Stags but sometimes after moving on to other agencies. The other great satisfaction comes from seeing families again and again over the years as they move house, catching up with them and all their news of children and grandchildren.
Finally, the million-dollar question. Where have you chosen to live – and why?
My wife Kathy is a clinical psychologist and we have been together for 22 years. We are very happy living in the beautiful Blackdown Hills, near Kentisbeare. I love the rolling Devon landscape there. Our children Jim, 19, Sally, 18, and Ollie, 13, have had wonderful country childhoods, which is what living in the Westcountry is all about.
Contact Simon Cooper, at Stags in Exeter on 01392 255202