Thomas and Ashley met in 2011 while working in the same estate agency: within 5 years they’d opened Ralph James and become business partners. During lockdown Ashley turned 30 and Thomas turned 40, so what better excuse for a quiz.
Why are you in business together?
T: We got on instantly (Ashley says I was like his big brother: he was always borrowing my golf clubs, or sunglasses, or outdoor furniture!) He was the best agent I'd ever worked with and the timing was just very lucky: we could both see the potential of where we were.
A: We’re both opportunists and when Thomas started showing me his ideas it got me thinking about having my own agency: to create a totally different environment to work in and invite people to. Somewhere to make our own rules. Everyone said we’d fail.
How has estate agency changed?
T: Technology has transformed property marketing on paper and online, but the industry has become overly reliant on the Internet for enquiries. There’s still a traditional level of customer service that needs to happen, so we’re always calling people. You get a ton of answerphones, but an old boss taught me: "the more messages you leave, the more calls you'll receive".
A: When I set up a social media page at the agency we met at, nobody was doing it and I was laughed at. We also ran into issues with our boss for not wearing suits and ties. Both those things are now normal. But like Thomas said, when the phone doesn’t ring, you still have to make things happen. You can’t say to an owner: "we've had no enquiries" and leave it at that.
What do you enjoy most?
A: Being out on valuations, sitting in someone’s house and hearing their story and plans. When I went on corporate agency training courses it was all about techniques and comebacks, but there was nothing about simply being with people and listening to them.
T: My mind is always on the future and what to do next. I like thinking about growth plans and new ideas: looking for new locations we could expand to; wondering if we could open a new department; or finding ways to develop or improve our services.
What are you best at?
A: We’re both good negotiators. That sometimes means pushing people up, and sometimes giving people a nudge to accept an offer, by having the right conversation and helping them see past today. We’re not just order takers.
T: We’re both comfortable being very straightforward. Agents don’t want difficult conversations, but a situation doesn’t go away if you don’t deal with it. There are times we need to be matter of fact and upfront, which is sometimes hard, but it’s honest advice.
Has estate agency developed you as people?
T: Yes, because you need to be confident and have a personality that will win. Then you need to deliver on that. But I think Ralph James has also developed because of our personalities: there's an identity that really reflects who we are.
A: Absolutely.I meet people I don’t know every day and, particularly with living and working here, bump into customers at the gym, or discover we’re connected. It’s made me a better communicator, very open and more social.
Has turning 30/40 had any effect on your outlook?
T: It was definitely very strange turning 40 during lockdown, but I realised I’d like to spend more time with my family. I don't feel any different, but you do find you start evaluating life.
A: I’m an adult now! I’ve just got a dog; I got engaged at the beginning of the year; and I've just moved into my dream house. I guess next will be a baby.
Ralph James is five years old this year, adding another anniversary to Thomas and Ashley's milestone birthdays. With Reigate and Redhill now being joined by Ralph James Dorking, the future only looks bigger and brighter.
If you'd like to talk to us about selling, letting or managing your property, we'd love to welcome you at our offices. There's always tea and coffee on offer, as well as plenty of smiling faces. See you soon.