I first worked as an estate agent in Brighton and Hove, back in the 1980s. I was newly married, full of energy, and brimming with passion and confidence. It was fast paced and exciting. The market was booming and we were achieving about six sales a week. We kept our customer details on index cards, not computers, and I prided myself on matching up buyers and sellers with a truly personal service. I especially loved taking my clients on viewings, sometimes sealing the deal right there in the living room. It was only a year after the disappearance of the young estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, yet we had very little training in personal safety. Thankfully all my experiences were positive.
I loved my job, but it wasn’t all roses. I was shocked by some of the touting techniques I was taught, for example calling private advertisers and pretending to be a buyer. I was taught how to to segue into admitting, later in the call, that the buyer was not myself, but a client. The goal was to achieve a valuation, without ever letting the seller find out that there was no buyer lined up at all, and that the whole story was a fabrication. I found that I had quite a talent for this technique, but I’m a totally honest person, and I did everything I could to avoid making those calls. I didn’t want to work like that. My manager was frustrated by my refusal to cooperate, and started to pass me by when he was selecting staff to take out on valuations. I began to feel that I needed to work for a different agency.
It was at that point that I got pregnant. Far from being understanding, the female director gave me an ultimatum: I could work part time or leave. She must have known that I needed a full time job, and it was clear to me that I was being deliberately pushed out. Unable to find another job in estate agency quickly enough, I signed up with an employment agency and accepted a temporary contract at Citicorp, before leaving to have my baby son. Family life took over, and eventually in 1996 a friend and I started a successful publishing company. As the company grew, we began franchising our business. At its peak we had 40 franchisees working with us.
Our business was all-consuming, and I never returned to estate agency, but I retained my interest in property. I was gratified when many years later one of my sons became an estate agent. He told me, “Now I know why you loved it so much!” Although I was working as a genealogist by now, I still found ways to include property in my work. I particularly loved researching the history of houses and the people who lived in them. I even included a module on house history when I took a postgraduate diploma in Local and Family History.
But why canalside property? I have loved canals and narrowboats ever since I went on a boat trip on the Regent’s Canal when I was 11 years old. I rented a hire boat on the Oxford Canal with two girlfriends when I was 18, followed by a memorable student holiday on the Canal du Midi in the south of France. During my long love affair with the canals, I owned three narrowboats. In 2018, when we were considering selling my third narrowboat, Smok, I started to look quite seriously at the possibility of living beside a canal one day. I soon discovered that there was no easy way to find a canalside home for sale. The only specialist website, Canal Cuttings, had closed in about 2017. I spent more and more time browsing the property portals searching for my dream property, until I became quite addicted to it. Eventually I put this fascination right at the heart of my life, by starting a canalside property website to share my discoveries. I spent over two years running the website as a hobby.
All this time I was still working as a genealogist. I was also finishing off writing some local history books and helping my husband to edit and publish his canal themed murder mysteries. Stuck at home during the pandemic, I added a Facebook group and home schooling to my ever-growing list of time-consuming commitments, I felt drained and overstretched. I was forced to question why I was spending so much time working, yet for so little reward. The only answer which made any sense to me was that at 59 years old, I was quite simply past it. My confidence had plummeted to an all time low. I knew that it was time to act, before I lost the ‘real’ me forever. I had to decide whether to give up the website and get a job, or commit myself to turning my canalside property time-waster into a proper paying business.
It has been a tough decision. Now, just days before signing the contract that will change my life, it still frightens me, but I know it’s worth taking the risk. When I told my publishing friend that I was launching an estate agency, her immediate response was, “Oooo gosh, that has always been on the cards!” I’m standing on the edge of a precipice, but when I finally get started, everything should fall into place – I hope! Wish me luck?