Up at 5am to catch a train from home in Bath and I’m at my desk in Mayfair before 8am. I get myself organised before a new negotiator starts — we are building our London-based country house team.
She arrives and by the afternoon has already got viewings on several of our properties. Superb. I know she will be outstanding.
In the afternoon I rush off to St Albans to see a £10 million Georgian country house. The designer treehouse on the island in the moat is bigger than my home. Back in the office by 7.30pm to organise tomorrow’s meeting.
I’m up early and run to the office. I stay near Barons Court during the week and the run takes me into Hyde Park. The sun is shining, the Household Cavalry are training for Her Majesty’s Jubilee celebrations and people are swimming in the Serpentine. It is a wonderful start to the day.
I have just joined to take over the team and feel slightly nervous in the meeting, especially as the 40-minute run has made me look like a beetroot. The Farms and Estates team take the heat off me with news of another successful exchange — anything big with land still seems to sell well.
Then it’s off to a celebrity’s house near Newbury. We have been asked to dress down, “in disguise”, so as not to alert loyal staff. I hope my shirtsleeves rolled up and no tie will do the job.
Today I visit a number of the Strutt & Parker offices. I am keen to meet everyone as soon as I can. So far I have been to 26 offices in three weeks, and what a fantastic bunch the staff are.
On walking into the Sevenoaks office I spot possibly the largest fish tank I have ever seen. I am told that it came as part-payment from a client who was struggling to pay the sale fee.
The next office tells me the story of the negotiator who rescued a sale when the owner of a smallholding refused to sell two pigs with his property. Our man saved the day by taking the buyers to market and purchasing two pigs. The sale went ahead, the vendor was grateful and the buyers named the pigs Strutt & Parker.
Back to London for drinks at a newly opened Strutt & Parker office in Notting Hill. Expansion in London is still a must as the market continues to thrive in the capital.
I run to the office again. It felt harder today but I was just happy not to be one of those poor people being beasted by a fitness instructor in Hyde Park. Quick shower and then open my emails. The first is from my son with a photo of him bungee-jumping Victoria Falls. He is obviously enjoying his gap year.
I jump in the car and drive to an address in Surrey to compete for the sale of a property. As I enter the gates, the opposition are coming the other way. The window slowly comes down, the hand lifts and a rude signal is sent my way — only in jest, I hope. Halfway down the drive I realise I am in a scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral. It is beautiful.
Pitch done, it’s off to the next house, which belongs to a famous musician. What a wonderful man — so busy and yet gives me so much time and courtesy. The house was built with no expense spared — lodges, gardeners’ cottages, housekeeper’s flat, three staff annexes and views for miles. It is so big, and the owner such lovely company, that I’m late for a charity auction at the Hurlingham Club sponsored by Strutt & Parker. Touched by people’s generosity, I catch the 11pm train to Bath and am home by 12.45am.
Off to see a house north of Cheltenham. Again, my instructions are to dress down. I wear jeans and a shirt, but still wonder who we are trying to kid — I still look like a square estate agent. I meet a lovely couple who have lived in the house for 45 years. They are selling in order to free up money for their children’s and grandchildren’s school fees. It is great to see that families can still be so kind to one another.
Back in Cirencester, I hear another thoughtful story from the boss of the office. He has recently exchanged on the sale of a house where the owners had to place the property on the market in a rush. At the time, the largest picture on the wall in the hallway had been taken away to be mended, leaving a huge, ugly space on the wall.
The head of office promptly went back to his own home, picked up the largest painting he could find, drove it to his clients’ property in a horsebox and placed it on their wall. The house sold soon after. That’s what I call thinking outside the (horse) box.
James Mackenzie is a partner and head of country houses at Strutt & Parker (020 7318 5190)