Estate agency Howards' managing director Chris Mitchell retires following acquisition
PUBLISHED: 10:08 04 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:42 04 July 2018
Howards' managing director for 24 years, Chris Mitchell, is retiring following the acquisition of the local estate agency by the Spicerhaart organisation. Property editor Caroline Culot spoke to him about his career.
The Howards name is to stay but the well respected man behind the local independent estate agency will change.
As news emerged that Howards estate agency, with seven branches in Norfolk and Suffolk, has been acquired by the Spicerhaart organisation, it was confirmed that its long serving managing director, Chris Mitchell, is retiring.
Mr Mitchell, 63, has worked as Howards’ managing director for 24 years and overall, has had a career spanning 40 years.
He said: “Everything has come at the right time. I think it is very good that Howards will be part of a larger organisation, it’s good for the staff and the company to have a larger industry player behind them which wants to invest in the business and in the people as it is a tough market.
“I personally have worked for 40 years, I think that’s enough and I’m really looking forward to doing some travelling with my wife, it’s an exciting time.
“We have always been a company that prides ourselves on providing straightforward, down-to-earth, advice and guidance to our customers, supported by excellent communications and innovative marketing activities. Spicerhaart shares exactly the same approach.”
Mr Mitchell came to Norfolk in 1985 to work for a firm called English Estates running the office developing factories and workshops to provide employment opportunities in rural areas on behalf of the then Rural Development Commission.
He then went to work for the well known local entrepreneur Joe Larters to develop leisure attractions in East Anglia. Mr Mitchell said: “We built the two Sea Life Centres in Great Yarmouth and Hunstanton and a version of Pleasurewood Hills in Cleethorpes.”
In 1991 he went on to form a surveying business Miller Mitchell to undertake project management for development projects, his first real dabbling in the property world and three years later, that business acquired Howards Estate Agents.
Mr Mitchell was responsible for negotiating and sealing the deal. He remembered: “After nail biting negotiations and a 150 mile drive through the night leaving my family in the Cotswolds, I tied up the deal. I was appointed managing director (without any estate agency experience,) a position I maintained through thick and thin for 24 years until now.
“The early years after the purchase of Howards were quite challenging with difficult market conditions persisting for a number of years. We certainly wondered if we had done the right thing! As the market improved, however, we ran Howards alongside Miller Mitchell as part of the Howards Group which grew year on year, employing 200 people before the property crash in 2008. We had grown Howards year on year for almost 14 years, with 15 offices across East Anglia at its peak.”
Established in 1926, Howards now has branches in Great Yarmouth, Gorleston, Lowestoft, Norwich, Beccles, Long Stratton and Poringland. Following the acquisition by Spicerhaart, it will continue with the Howards branding and all these offices are to stay open, it was confirmed.
Mr Mitchell recalled several funny moments over his career. “Having acquired an office for English Estates shortly after arriving in Norfolk we found a lot of dry rot as the investigation continued. The look on the face of the regional manager when he turned up unannounced and unaware of the problem to find he could stand on the top floor and look down through a gaping hole to the basement had to be seen to be believed!
“Then there was Howard Brown, the singing bank clerk who was the face of the Halifax Building Society who we had close ties with for many years – he opened our expanded Halifax operation in Gorleston and then served the customers behind the counter.”
And achievements for Mr Mitchell included many negotiations. Following a tender to dispose of the public sector housing stock in Scotland, he won and then ran this contract for Scottish Homes, the Scottish National Housing Agency, selling 50,000 properties over 10 years to sitting tenants. He then ran another major contract for many years for the English House Condition Survey carrying out 8000 surveys a year on behalf of the government.
Locally, Mr Mitchell was also responsible for major schemes such as Project 2000, a major rejuvenation of the College of West Anglia and in the capital, the ground breaking Ideas Stores for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to replace their libraries with modern facilities. Over the years, he has seen many changes too, particularly in house prices.
“When we bought Howards, house prices were in a very different sphere. Our property guide in 1995, for example, lists a three bedroom chalet bungalow in Cringleford for £105,000, a newly completed three bedroom detached house in Bradwell for £65,950 and new three bedroom detached bungalow in Beccles for £67,450!”
In 2016, Mr Mitchell found new skills when he signed up to be one of the estate agents featured in the then Archant owned Mustard TV’s Home to Home programme, presented by property editor Caroline Culot and lawyer Kristian Jones.
Spicerhaart was founded in 1989 by Paul Smith and his father Alick and has become one of the largest independent estate agencies in the UK with 200 branches and 2,000 staff nationwide. Its brands locally include haart and Chewton Rose with 45 branches across Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex.
Spicerhaart’s chief executive Paul Smith said: “Howards is a well-known and highly respected agency in East Anglia and complements our existing branch network in the region.
“The team will continue to provide the excellent service that people have come to expect and we will be expanding that service by providing additional out-of-hours telephone contact, from 8am until 10pm, and sharing best practice across both organisations.
“We will also be introducing our unique and exclusive social media technology FLINK. Since starting with FLINK last year we have found 1,731 passive buyers in East Anglia that would otherwise have been missed out on; it gives homes marketed with us a real competitive edge.”