Hugh Grover: estate agent

2 Apr

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  Estate agent Hugh Grover has spent 50 years this April (2014) in Islington. Here he explains what he loves about the area – and it’s not just house prices or Arsenal.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Hugh Grover

Hugh Grover: “Everybody living locally always wants to know what the market is doing…”*

Hugh Grover was born in Islington in 1964. His dad was a City surveyor whose ability to see the potential of the area when it was very run-down has given Hugh a special Islington connection. He’s also the man many remember as helping them get their first property – indeed he’s sold around 5,000 homes over the years. He still lives in the borough, near Canonbury station, while his sister is up the hill at Highbury. Hugh’s childhood memories start in N1 with Nanny R and her dog, Shaggy. From his window looking over the Arlingtons, an area of Georgian and early Victorian houses, he had fabulous spying opportunities. “I remember quite vividly every Thursday morning an old guy pushing a cart collecting rag and bones,” says Hugh at the glass conference table of his Upper Street agency, which he opened in May 1993. “When I was about six there was a massive fire at the paint factory. It was amazing. There were tonnes of fire engines. I thought we’d be asked to get out of the house…”

Close to the City
“Dad worked in the City in Paternoster Square,” says Hugh explaining his long Islington connection. “He leased a five storey house in St John Street from the council, converted it into flats, which he rented to his friends, and had a party room in the basement. When Finsbury Library was built the council CPOd (compulsory purchased) his house. With the money he then went and bought a bombsite on Coleman Fields.”

When Islington was dodgy
The Grover family lived in 9a Coleman Fields, but 9b had to be sold to finance the project. “Dad sold the flat to the Governor of the Bank of England who said ‘I’ll only buy it off you if you’ll buy it back for the same price.” I have to admit this story threw me – it seemed like generosity from a rich man, but Hugh puts me straight. “No, the Governor of the Bank of England was worried he’d lose money. Islington was regarded as the East End then…”

Hugh’s lived through Islington’s reputation change. He remembers window cleansers with flat hats, lots of antique traders in the shops on the high pavements and an operatic singing waiter at Porto Fino (one of a trio of amazing restaurants around Camden Passage in the1980s which included Aqualino, and the old favourite, Fredericks, which is still open). Holiday home For years the family has also had a rural bolt hole in Suffolk. “My mother was from Hadleigh Wood, north London, and was used to the countryside,” explains Hugh. “So my Dad decided when I was born to get a weekend cottage to cater for her needs.” Unfortunately as time passed things went wrong. “My parents split up when I was about 15. My mother and sister went to Highgate. I went to live in Barbican with my Dad,” he says. Hugh had been at boarding school in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire but was keen to start work. He spent a year at Hatton Garden “working for some very orthodox Jews in the diamond trade.” He travelled too, and came home thinking, “what am I going to do?”  The City seemed an obvious answer. It was the 1980s after all.

“I had three big interviews with some money traders. The last interview was to test how much you could drink. I remember thinking how much I didn’t want to do a job that meant drinking at lunchtime,” says Hugh pointing out he’s happy to have a glass of wine or a beer, but not when it’s competitive.

“I came back so saddened from that interview. I didn’t want to work with them.  And I didn’t want to be a surveyor like my Dad. Something in me said go up to Upper Street and take your c/v. It was an area I knew and liked. I walked into four or five estate agents. I was 24 years old and lucky: I walked into Laurie Norman on the right day, at the right time. Laurie said have a chat with Philip Helman – who now works here at Hugh Grover. I just felt it was right.”

Hugh clearly enjoyed his six months working with Lawrie Norman. He was then head-hunted by Diana Matthews from Holden Matthews. “We had a fantastic team, I worked with Tim Carlton, we really expanded from 1987 -1991.” Hugh then joined Thomson Currie, a less happy experience, but on 5 May 1993 he set up his own company, the one with the familiar pink signs (and umbrellas).

Hugh Grover: "I go to Don Matteo for a sandwich and coffee. If ever I see my sister on a Sunday morning we buy coffee and croissants from Cinnamon Village on Blackstock Road."

Hugh Grover: “I go to Don Matteo for a sandwich and coffee. If ever I see my sister on a Sunday morning we buy coffee and croissants from Cinnamon Village on Blackstock Road.”

Hugh Grover on Islington

Islington has everything – Sadler’s Wells and the Almeida. I go to Vue Angel regularly with my daughter, Anna (who is six). As a child I used to go to Holloway Odeon, we called it the Flea Pit! I really enjoy the mixed community in Islington. It’s a shame it’s going. Highbury is still villagey, but Upper Street is becoming like every high street.

On cooking: I buy meat from Chris Godfrey – Sunday roast is my favourite. I also do a sea bass (bought from Steve Hatt) with sea salt all over it. See interviews with Chris Godfrey and Steve Hatt already published on islingtonfacesblog.com

It’s up for grabs now: I have lots of friends in Highbury. We meet in the Arsenal. My first ever game was at Highbury as a child. I loved the old ground – people had sat there for 60 years, they’d bring flasks. And I was in the second row at Anfield next to Niall Quinn when Michael Thomas scored the goal that won us the League (in 1988-89).

Selling houses
“Tony Blair put Islington on the map when he sold Richmond Crescent. People thought if the Prime Minister was living there… Now the quality of the applicant means most people are professionals – barristers, lawyers, bankers – who you can email and ask very direct questions. We can even ask for a bank statement to prove they have got the cash. With the market being so competitive it’s very easy to pick the right buyer.” It’s long been a cliché that house prices are always on the menu at Islington dinner parties – perhaps making Hugh the perfect guest. Clearly he doesn’t mind taking some work home with him, agreeing that, “everybody living locally always wants to know what the market is doing.” I wonder how many of his friends resist asking for a quickie valuation?

Selling may be serious, but Hugh enjoys a joke – his 2012 @inhughwetrust twitter identity saw him pretending to have beaten local boy Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. Hugh’s Youtube video even went viral – getting more than 7,500 views. Enjoy it here. http://youtu.be/U0ePbuMieZE

Hugh Grover branded umbrellas - just in case it rains when you are house hunting.

Hugh Grover branded umbrellas – just in case it rains when you are house hunting.

Passing it on
“One of the things I like to do is have teenagers, who’ve grown up locally, work on Saturdays with us. A Saturday job builds the boys’ confidence, something I feel I learnt at boarding school. We have had more than 10 young employees over the years. Some have been very shy, but we help them make a success, and they always keep in touch.”

Hugh has also found other ways to help teens. He is on the board of the King’s Corner Project  (a youth project for 13-21 year olds near Old Street) and his company sponsors the City & Islington College FdA, also using the students photography on its website, see here.

Hugh Grover is a lucky man: someone who loves selling houses and is a huge fan of his home borough’s club. How good is it then to be born in Islington at the right time to enjoy its massive surge in popularity? Or to live so close to the Emirates Stadium? Admittedly the Arsenal trophy cupboard has been a bit bare for the past few years, but the memories of that Michael Thomas goal at Anfield and the most recent Double* (2001-02) remain strong.

Words*

House prices in Islington (2013) – taken from Right Move websiteLast year most property sales in Islington involved flats which sold for on average £460,523. Terraced properties sold for an average price of £1,131,161, while semi-detached properties fetched £1,269,058.

Islington, with an overall average price of £574,494, was similar in terms of sold prices to nearby Highbury (£585,652), but was cheaper than Canonbury (£738,190) and Barnsbury (£719,545).

During the last year, sold prices in Islington were 12% up on the previous year and 17% up on 2011 when the average house price was £491,885.

Arsenal won the Double – when you win the Premier League and the FA cup – for Gunners fans these golden moments were 1997-98 and 2001-02.

Over to you
Would you like to nominate someone to be interviewed? Or would you like to write a guest post for this blog? if the answer is yes for either please email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or the A-Z of jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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