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ALAN'S ANGST: The frustration of progress

In this weekend’s Guardian magazine, the entertaining Oliver Burkeman comments on the preposterous way we spend vast amounts of money attempting to make rustic the things on which our ancestors spent vast amounts of time trying to gentrify.

This made me think about the way the agency market has evolved and not always for the better. Take, for example, the demise of the paper database, which I’ve relinquished with great sorrow and not without good reason.


I have been an estate agent for the best part of 43 years, man and boy. When I started, the job was all about a hand-turning copier of some sort, ink up to your armpits, no pictures on the details.

It seems like yesterday that my boss at the time said: “Young man, nobody wants a picture, they prefer the written word.” Thank goodness the Property Misdescriptions Act wasn’t around then. It seems strange to think that agents actually put the house number, name and telephone number of the owner on the details back then, which certainly made touting easy.

Do you remember folding details into three, stuffing the bloody things into hand-written envelopes, sifting through an applicants list of millions and licking 3d stamps that made you throw up? And all that for the joy of being told to pick up nice little lady from the bus terminal who come over from Clacton-On-Sea to buy a nice little house to be near the great, great grandchildren, and then ramming her into your tiny blue and rust mini and showing her the delights of sunny Bishops Stortford.

Then, back to the bus stop after four gruelling hours along with a funny smell never to hear from her again. She only wanted a day out, it turns out - the grand children live in Croydon.


I did, however, get caught out once by a seemingly dull spinster, who wanted to view something on the outskirts of town, “I’ll drive,” she instructed, since she’d just collected her new car, which I assumed would be an Austin A30 or something similarly hellish.

But hell no – it was none other than a brand new Austin Healey 3000 with an AH registration number to go with it. She, of course, drove like a lunatic, but it was then that I fell in love for the first time.


But I digress. My point is that after 43 years in this wonderful industry, 40-plus of these have been without a computer, and I really can’t say I was any worse off than I am now that I have one.

The frigging thing got a cold or something last week, which meant that it and I both were out of action, which left me stumped. I couldn’t access any client data, all because my business life is stored in that stupid television thing on my desk which, I understand from my computer nerd, is caused by a hacker somewhere in China trying to access all my secrets.

So this is why, as much as I support the development of the industry and raising standards, I deeply miss traditional agency, with its hot box of client cards with funny messages and rude remarks in red ink.

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