At the tender age of 17 Richard Dickson was offered two jobs in the same week. He was invited to become a projectionist at the Rex Cinema in Ventnor, and was also asked to help out at estate agents Albert Bull and Porter just down the road.
He chose the latter, and even though his salary was barely half what he would have earned constantly looking at the silver screen his choice did have a silver lining. Richard has recently completed an amazing 50 years as an estate agent, and marked the occasion with a celebration lunch for friends and family at the Royal Hotel.
Born in Marylebone Hospital, London, Richard went to school in the capital and in Sandbach, Cheshire, before moving to the Island as a 14-year-old, and attending Sandown Grammar School. After always attending all-boys’ schools, he admits he found it a bit of a culture shock, especially as they didn’t even play Rugby at Sandown! He met wife Avril at school. They married in 1966, and have three children – Mark, Jamie and Jonathan – and five grandchildren.
After leaving school at 17, he slipped into the estate agency business, working in a small office opposite St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor. He recalls: “Things were very different in those days. All details were prepared with carbon paper, six at a time, on a ‘steam driven’ typewriter. Photographs of houses for sale in the window were unheard of, and the display consisted of a few hand-written notes pinned onto a peg board.
“We had just two enamel ‘for sale’ boards that I was sent to change round every couple of weeks, and there was only one telephone in the building, which we used to pass between offices through a small hatch cut in the wall.”
He reckons the worst thing that has happened to his profession in his 50 years is the bureaucracy that has taken over – estate agents acts, money laundering, health and safety and misrepresentation to name just a few. “That is the one thing that has become more imposing in the way you do business,” he explained. “For example, when I do an auction, I have to show everyone in the building where the fire exits are. I suppose it’s not a bad thing, but it is a bit like the nanny state.
“The other thing is that when I did a deal in the early 1960s, and invariably it was cash because mortgages were difficult to obtain, you shook a hand and knew you had pretty much done the deal. Very seldom did you shake hands and then it went wrong. But these days the national average is about 30 per cent, because mortgages are still not easy to get. Sometimes when I shake hands on a deal these days I check to see if I still have all my fingers!”
He added: “This has been the worst recession for the business by a long way. Throughout the whole of last year only 1,775 properties on the Island changed hands. The year before the figure was 2,200, and in a reasonable year it is 4,500.
“The best year I remember was in the late 1980s when double relief income tax came off mortgages. My Ryde office sold 50 properties, and 8,000 properties changed hands on the Island that year. That proves it is more of a struggle these days.”
Alfred Bull and Porter merged with Watson Bros in January 1972 to form Watson Bull and Porter. They sold out to Nationwide in 1987, and at the time they had 11 offices and 120 staff.
Richard left in 1992 to join Jeff Hose and Mark Rhodes to form Hose Rhodes Dickson, and since the start of the partnership the company has grown to a point where they have six offices as well as the fine art auction room in Brading.
The firm has five partners, two associate partners and 66 staff. Richard added: “Estate agency for me has in many ways been a way of life rather than a nine-to-five job. The Island is a truly lovely place to live, work and bring up a family – it has done me well.”