RAISES A GLASS TO 25 YEARS
Interviewed by Jo Reynolds
How long have you been in London and Askew Road in particular?
Over 30 years in London and we opened the Askew Road office in 2013, but we'd been thinking about it for a while.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
In Chorleywood, Hertfordshire. I went to school in Petworth, West Sussex.
I like being successful
Were you a boarder?
From the age of 12. I loved it.
Were you the Head Girl or the rebel?
I was far too rebellious to be head girl.
What was the worst thing you did?
Absolutely no comment.
Why did you choose property for a career?
It was an accident. I didn't go to university. I went travelling after school. It was meant to be for one year but became two when I went to Australia and New Zealand. When I got back I got a job as a secretary, first in advertising, then in property and after a while my boss suggested I try selling.
Finlay Brewer has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. When you launched in 1992, why didn't you insist on ladies first, Brewer Finlay?
Because it doesn't flow. It should have been Gresswell (co-founder Simon's surname), but no one can pronounce it so we went with his middle name (Finlay). I met Simon when he was selling a house he'd done up. He was a developer. I'd been thinking about setting up an agency for a while. We got chatting and he said, if you're in, I'm in, so I said, let's go for it. Paul (Cosgrove) joined us in 1998 and became a partner in 2003.
The property business is cyclical. Where was it in when you started?
1992 was awful but we figured, if we can survive now we can survive anytime. When we started we never thought about 25 years down the line.
What's your role in the trio?
Paul and I manage sales. He's brilliant. And Simon oversees lettings and property management as well as looking after the day-to-day management of the company. We have a great team. It really is like a family. Simon's like everyone’s dad. Everyone goes to him to have a moan or if they need help with something. They never come to me... which is perfect.
Any embarrassing moments when showing a house?
I've walked in on people on the loo or in bed but it's more embarrassing for them than me. I remember once this girl came into the office. She was an interior designer and wanted a flat to do up. I told her we had one but warned her it was pretty manky and that the guy who owned it never opened the windows. He turned out to be her fiancé.
Property is a competitive business. Have you always been competitive?
Very! Ask the office.
I have. Didn't you nearly ski for your country?
When I was much younger I was a pretty good skier, but that was a long time ago.
You also climbed Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. How do you stay fit now?
I love the gym and enjoy lots of different classes as well as just working out.
Every day when I’m in London. When I'm by the sea I like to go paddle boarding. And I like kayaking with my husband, Bill.
Where do you get your self-discipline?
I've been going to the gym since my twenties. I love it. It annoys everyone at the office. It charges me up for the day.
What's the most expensive property you've ever sold?
In our first year we sold a commercial building for £9 million. That's £9 million 25 years ago. The acquisition fee set us up pretty well.
Any rocky times?
I remember once, in the late 90s, we were down to one property. It freaked me out, but thankfully things picked up.
Are you a worrier?
Of course. If you have nothing to sell...
Are you still a worrier?
I like being successful. I hate letting people down.
Where did you get your drive?
My dad. He was a real entrepreneur. His business was advertising, Polycell and then his own DIY companies. I was brought up to work hard and make it happen.
Did your mother work?
Yes. Dad had a bad accident and she went in to help out and stayed. They had a close relationship and worked hard bringing three of us up as well as growing their business.
What's the biggest change to estate agency since 1992?
The internet. When we first opened everything was very hands-on. We used index cards and posted photos first class. Today, everything is online. Everything is cloud-based and automatic. A small agency can now advertise worldwide, once only available to large corporates with huge advertising budgets. The heart of a good agency, though, has not changed. It’s people selling to people, speaking to people and looking people in the eye. That can't be replaced by a robot.
To be an estate agent do you have to be a bit nosey?
No, observant. I always remember the whole layout and the décor, the colour of every room. I love interiors.
You're doing your own Grand Design, building a holiday home in West Sussex. Do you prefer modern or traditional architecture?
I like both but our new house is exceptionally modern, concrete, timber and glass with a wavy roof.
Are you a difficult client?
Yes, but I can compromise. My husband's in charge. Bill's very good at the detail. He shows me his ideas and I say if I like them or not. It works because we have the same taste. The other day we went to a gallery and I said, I only like one of these paintings. And he said, me too. Luckily, it was the same one.
If offered a job presenting a TV property show, would you take it?
No, I'd never do public speaking.
But you come across as so confident.
I love speaking with people one-to-one, especially about property but I’m uncomfortable presenting to a group.
Your travels have taken you all over the world. If you didn't live here, where would you choose?
New Zealand. It is a gorgeous country and the people are lovely. I go every couple of years to visit my aunt who's 92, an inspiring woman.
If you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?
I'd love to be more creative. My job is creative – I love advising people on what they can do with a space – but I also like to make things. When we first started Finlay Brewer I made all the Christmas cards. I'd like to make jewellery. And do millinery. And paint more.
How and with whom do you relax?
With Bill. We like to go on long walks. He's as keen as I am.
Four hours. Six. Longer if there’s a good pub on the way. I don't like lolling around. I like to be doing.
Do you ever allow yourself a treat?
Gin and tonic with lots of ice. It's supposed to be a weekend treat, but if I've had a tough day at the office... Bill makes the best gin and tonic.
Cheers, Teresa. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.
Interviewed May 2017