While residential estate agents have been dragged into the internet age, their commercial counterparts have – mostly – continued to resist such a move. There’s no Rightmove for office blocks, or warehouses. And it was this inherent conservatism that seemed to offer a great opportunity when three young surveyors decided to set up shop in 2010.
For the trio at Hatton Real Estate, that gamble looks to have paid off. In the last half dozen years they have established themselves as the leading innovators in their sector on the City’s northern and eastern fringes. And they have just sold out to established blue chip surveying firm Colliers.
Not that Shaun Simons, Ricky Blair and Michael Raibin are planning on changing the disruptive way they have; there will be more of the same under their new brand name. They view their job not just as being estate agents, but a creative marketing agency for their clients’ buildings.
Looking back, Simons can now laugh about Hatton’s early days. Armed with a lot of bright ideas, the three left their previous agency employers and set up shop. “It was mid credit crunch, I was getting married and I’d just bought a house I didn’t think I could afford.”
The trio borrowed £120,000 from two friends, to get their office established. Incentivised by an interest free period – after which a high interest rate had been agreed- they managed to repay the debt eight weeks later, thanks to a hefty commission from one of the first commercial portfolio sales they arranged.
“We felt that coupling our age, the Facebook generation and being in a creative part of the capital would work,” says Simons. And luck was on their side: “The formation of our business coincided with David Cameron declaring Old Street roundabout the hub of Tech City.”
“We did all the standard items, but we put other layers on top, such as using social media. It seemed a no-brainer - why would you not use them?” says Simons. YouTube videos were used to show off buildings, in a way the commercial property world had never seen before, while building particulars featured lots of images.
“I think we were the first ever agents to sell a building through Twitter,” says Simons. A tweet to a carefully researched prospect, who was actually approached with the aim of making a letting, turned into a sale three weeks later. Now rebranded under the Colliers banner, there’s a move to new offices “bang in the middle of Old Street”. Their aspirations may have grown, too. “I would like to one day have a City fringe team as big as Colliers’ West End team,” says Simons. “We want to build a proper powerhouse in the City fringe”, and that will mean growing to cover Hackney, Stratford and Midtown more effectively.
Simons is staying tight-lipped about the trio’s next innovations. “The challenge we now have, is how we stay ahead of the pack - everyone’s doing Twitter and property videos now.”