propertygarden.com proves creditable David to industry Goliaths
When Colette Brown launched propertygarden.com in January 2005 she didn’t expect to be welcomed by her fellow estate agents with open arms. However, what she also didn’t anticipate was just how underhand some of her professional counterparts could be.
The propertygarden.com concept was conceived from the 42 year old mother of two’s desire to strike a balance between her role as a mother and her need to work. After 25 years as a Chiswick resident and many successful property developments, estate agency proved the obvious choice. However, whilst her no nonsense, low cost approach proved a breath of fresh air for buyers and sellers, it made the company a target of a dirty tricks campaign.
Colette Browne claims that other estate agents, incensed by being under cut on commission, were determined to force her and her colleagues out of business. She said propertygarden.com's sale boards were continually being stolen. Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, she put up 18 and said all had gone by the following Tuesday. "It's either rival agents or someone with a board fetish, which seems rather unlikely." The thefts were reported to the police and a £500 reward has been offered for anyone who photographs a board being stolen. Browne was told by a member of the public that they had seen a van driver taking down a board but had been unable to photograph the vehicle's registration number.
The sanctions continued when Mrs Browne sought to advertise her company's rates in Move to London. However, the weekly paper refused to carry the advert and said "We discourage all percentage fees in our entire 12 Move To titles. We feel that the publication becomes a prices war and cheapens the product. We have good relationships with our clients and are respected for having this stand."
Mrs Browne also has evidence that rival firm Haart wrote to one of her customers to secure a viewing for a supposed buyer on its books. She complained to Haart about the letter, which was supposedly from Deborah Lewis, the manager of the Chiswick office, and received an e-mail in response from a male member of staff who admitted writing it out of eagerness and said he was ashamed of his actions.
Deborah Lewis, of Haart, a member of the National Association of Estate Agents, admitted that one of her staff had written the letter under her name and had posed as a potential viewer. She said he was right to apologise. "We have 28 estate agents in the Chiswick area and it's very competitive but I believe in friendly, fair rivalry," she said.
Have all these shenanigans left Colette Browne defeated? Not for a minute. “The property owners of Chiswick and the surrounding borders have really welcomed us with open arms and we believe our success is proven when we are recommended by others.” She says “Our recent survey of landlords and vendors showed that 35% came to us as a direct result of recommendation by friends who had used us and been happy. We are a small and new company and we must be doing something right!”
August 3, 2005