It’s not often you get to meet an industry legend. And in the estate agency business there aren’t that many people that you could truly say would fit the label in any case.

But yesterday, I met with a man that is inarguably a property ‘face’. A blast from the past but who began in estate agency in the 1950’s when it was a whole different business altogether. And his name is still on most High Streets today.

That man is one Mr John Bairstow, founder of Bairstow Eves.

I had the pleasure of coffee with him on Wednesday morning to talk about some local issues that he and I are invloved in that have little to do with estate agency but have seen us thrown together out of a mutual interest in our home town, Brentwood, Essex.

But I couldn’t resist asking John about his halcyon days at the helm of what is part of the UK’s largest property firm chain and that now includes Abbotts, Taylor & Co, John D Wood, Dixons, Gascoigne Pees, Countrywide Lettings, Countrywide Property Lawyers (CPL) and Mann Countrywide. 1200 branch offices in total.

Now I could use this blog article to rip into the high fees that the Countrywide chain charge due to those 1200 offices and their inevitable overheads etc etc. I just have I suppose, but that’s not the point of this text.

This is a ‘hat tip’ to a man now in his 80’s who is one of Britain’s best known High Street names and who was an innovator of his time. That, I’d like to think, is the parallel here. Emoov are pioneers in changing the way that people sell property. Charging a low fee in getting the job done, much cheaper than traditionally has been the norm. Until now.

John Bairstow opened his first estate agency office in Kings Road, Brentwood in 1954. Shenfield, Billericay etc soon followed. John describes the business back then as like ‘falling off a log’. ‘It was easy’, he says. Just three or four competitors in each town, FIVE PERCENT fees and a culture between rivals, building societies and lawyers where everything was somewhat more laid back, friendly and an age where business was done in the pub rather more than in stark High Street offices.

Property particulars lacked photos and were documents full of bland blurb. Estate agents’ windows were devoid of any property displays. Estate agency boards required planning permission for each and every one displayed.

But John, in the original style that he became well known for, put such conventions to one side and began to form the approach to property selling that we know today.

Ultimately, Bairstow Eves went public, floating on the London Stock Exchange and then, having merged with Mann and Co, was then acquired by way of majority shareholding by Hambros PLC in 1986 to then be known as Hambro Countrywide. In 2007, Countrywide Assured PLC, as it became known after Hambros’ demise, was purchased by Apollo Management, a private equity group for $1.05 billion.

Not bad from the beginnings of one office in Brentwood.

John Bairstow’s life is profiled in a book by Brian Lynch called Corporate Hijack. It was a pleasure to meet him and to hear just a snippet of his impressive story. Especially as his pioneering ways left their mark on the estate agency industry and changed it for good.

Online estate agents might just be doing something rather similar right at this moment.

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