Wednesday, 22 September 2021

The secret diary of a Henley estate agent

The secret diary of a Henley estate agent

A new Homes Weekly series sees estate agents from the Henley area write about their day to day reality. This week JAMES DONIGAN, director at Penny & Sinclair in Hart Street, opens his diary...


Morning meeting starts at 8.15am and there’s plenty to discuss after a busy week and a full day of viewings on Saturday. We review the previous week’s appointments, identify leads and prioritise follow-up calls.

Very excited to have an offer on a lettings property that has not yet been advertised — and a good example of how quickly the lettings market can move, in this instance agreed for £2,800 per month for two years. It’s a great result for our clients and lovely tenants, who we will be looking after for the duration.

I follow up on my valuations and the morning is looking rosy. Yes, the clients would like to place their property on the market with us — great news all round.

Professional photography is duly booked, with no charge to the clients, and I start to think about potential buyers for the property.

I take a call from a lady purchaser who has had an offer accepted for one of our properties subject to her own sale. There is a problem. She is selling in London and has had to cut her price drastically. Can our client reduce their price to help bridge the gap? There are three properties in the chain. My vendors’ interests are always at the forefront of my mind, so I start thinking about whether can we work out a discount further up the chain to protect my clients from any loss.

This is becoming a familiar situation. Reports from the London market paint a difficult picture, though the effect locally has been an increased demand from buyers who are looking to escape the capital.

I have two valuations to prepare for this afternoon. Myself and the team research past sales, local comparables, house price index, potential buyers and suitable properties for the clients to move to (we should have a good idea of the value before we arrive…).

In fact, I once worked with a chap in Oxford who arrived at a property, had a lovely natter with the owner to find out more about their requirements, went through their market research, and then delivered a proposed price and fees for selling — to which the seller’s reaction was, “Wouldn’t you like to look around the house first?”

Cue red-faced embarrassment and much shuffling of papers.


Morning meetings are absolutely crucial for the smooth running of the office.

With staff members coming and going, telephones constantly ringing and emails to respond to, it is the one time of day where we can communicate directly with each other and ensure the day runs to plan.

This morning we review our current available stock for sales and lettings — this includes stats available from Rightmove and Zoopla to show how effective the online marketing is.

We also review feedback from viewers (and those who have declined to view) to see if what steps we need to take to keep momentum or encourage offers from those who need time to consider.

Generally, the market is very price-sensitive and we provide a body of evidence to prospective purchasers to back up the prices we have set for our properties — in my experience buyers are prepared to pay the asking price or close to it if they can be reassured this has not been inflated.

Ultimately, nobody wants to feel they have made the wrong decision, so we offer all the evidence we used to set the price initially.

Since opening, we have achieved over 97 per cent of asking price for our clients, and a third of sales have been agreed at the asking price or more — a record I feel proud of.

Our short lets service has been very well received, we have written to most of the town introducing the service and have been busy handling enquiries from interested potential landlords.

We are seeing two short let properties this afternoon, with a further six valuations booked over the coming week… just awaiting the call from Airbnb to buy our business for a vast sum!


An early start. As a member of the Business Networking International group, I meet every Wednesday morning at Phyllis Court with
20-plus other business owners.

We present our own businesses and pass qualified referrals between the group. The meeting starts at 6.45am, so I am up at 5am preparing this week’s four-minute presentation. At least there will be plenty of coffee on offer.

The presentation is well received. This week I am seeking introductions from the group to anyone looking to downsize in the area, along with professional introductions to conveyancing solicitors.

Arrive back to the office at 8.45am with a busy day ahead of me. Two viewings at a beautiful property tucked behind Fawley Court go very well, and I leave one viewer chatting to the owner over a coffee — always a good sign!

Now for a meeting with a developer client. We have two units to sell and the feedback has consistently mentioned the upstairs layout of one of the units. The client has spoken with his architect and is going to rejig the layout.

It’s a joy to work with clients who take on board feedback and respond, so I can now go back to previous viewers to discuss the changes and look for an offer subject to…

Two valuations this afternoon. One of these is in Berrick Salome — a lovely thatched cottage, perfect for me if I had another £1,000,000 in my account! The other valuation is in central Henley and is perfect for a downsizer.

I’m back to the office at 5pm, and then my working day begins… two sets of property details to write, 25-plus emails to respond to (though I am ably assisted by the wonderful Libby Oxberry). All the while, the telephone is constantly ringing.

You have to be a master of time-management in this job. It is so easy to start one thing and quickly become distracted. Like most jobs the task list just grows throughout the day.

At 7pm, it’s time to go and start my other job, bathing and putting to bed my one-year-old and four-year-old.


Morning meeting focus — sales progressions. This morning we are working through our agreed sales, calling solicitors up and down the chain and ensuring all is on track.

Any issues need to be identified early and dealt with, and some solicitors are more forthcoming than others with information.

I have one ongoing case that has been causing sleepless nights — the sale two below ours in the chain is moving desperately slowly and I am not clear on exactly what the hold-up is.

After a discussion with my client to outline my concerns, I speak to a solicitor friend who is able to reassure me that although the solicitor at the bottom of the chain could be seen to be overly cautious, the sale is not in jeopardy — after another call to the client we agree to follow up again on Monday and review our position then.

We are listing a really lovely conversion of the former Bear Inn on Bell Street — so named as it used to host bear-fighting, I am told. With such history, and having been so carefully restored, I speak with the Henley Standard’s very own Lucy Boon, who is happy to meet with the vendor and agrees some editorial coverage. Thanks Lucy!

Thursday afternoons are always busy on the telephones, with buyers and tenants arranging viewings for the weekend — diary management is key.

I drive to Oxford as one of our North Oxford office’s tenants are looking to move to the Chilterns, with a very specific brief. A face-to-face meeting is in order.

The gauntlet is laid down: I need to find a small cottage or ramshackle building with four-plus acres, a rural feel but close to road links, and scope to build a yoga studio, a VIPP Shelter-style pod house, and space to develop a market garden business. Well, I like a challenge! The budget is between £1,000,000 and £1,500,000. Any takers?

I return home after fighting through Oxford’s worst traffic — I worked in Oxford for over seven years and as lovely as it is a sense of calm descends as I reach Gangsdown Hill and Nuffield and enter the Chilterns!


This morning landlords are updated on the week’s activity, viewings are booked for the weekend, and online performance of the property is looked at.

As the gardens are beginning to look more cheerful we keep a careful eye on the weather forecast to plan when to update external shots.

We have a new instruction being photographed and measured up this morning. I’m very excited as it’s on a very well thought-of road and has scope for improvement — and I think I know just the person who would like to buy it!

The vendor is lovely and has lived there for more than 30 years, so extra attention and care are needed.

It’s such a wrench to move after that amount of time, but we are handling her onward purchase also, so we can ensure she receives as much help as is needed.

In the afternoon we call through all our Saturday appointments to reconfirm times. If the first appointment of the day runs late, it can throw the whole day out, and tomorrow I leave the office at 9.30am and am on one continuous run of appointments until 4pm.

Five o’clock on Friday is wine time! We sit down as a team and enjoy a nice glass and review the week: two sales instructions, six lettings instructions (fantastic!), two sales agreed, two new lets agreed, and a full day of Saturday viewings.

Onwards and upwards!

n James Donigan is the director at the Henley branch of Penny & Sinclair.


Looking for a job?


Location Pangbourne

• Full-time • Administrator Geoffrey Cole & Co, Chartered Accountants are looking for a full-time administrator for ...


Administrator / Office Manager

Location Oxford

Common Ground are recruiting a full-time receptionist / office administrator. Full job description, hours, salary and ...




Join us at the new home of British Watchmaking. WE ARE RECRUITING AT BREMONT. We currently have opportunities in: Sales,...