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Strettons' Staff - Philip Tobin, Consultant


Stretton's longest employee of 52 years shares how he started his career at Strettons and how after all these years, the values of the company remain the same.

England was swinging when I joined Strettons’ Hackney office in the summer of 1964, for work experience. Back then we were in one of London’s most unfashionable areas. The dated, smoke-filled offices with a single outside toilet and nowhere to make tea (coffee not an option) were hardly incentives for a 16-year-old but there were compensations; not least daily driving lessons on rent-collection rounds in Charlie Dyson’s 3-wheeled Reliant Rebel, which enabled me to pass my driving test at 17.

I was office dogsbody:  rent clerk, messenger, post-boy, measuring tape end holder. I became indispensable when Strettons acquired its first Agfa photocopier because no one else could work the thing, with its negatives and positives, messy developing liquid and specially coated paper.

On deciding to become a surveyor, I applied for jobs at West End firms, only to find that the best salary on offer for trainees was £4.10 shillings (£4.50) per week (the profession had only recently moved on from articled clerks). I could not afford the fares, let alone lunches and living expenses, so I decided to continue working in Dad’s office, complete with my wide-lapelled jackets, flares and kipper ties.

Fast-forward 5 decades and it’s a cliché to say that the years have flashed by, but they have, perhaps because I’ve so enjoyed my varied career with Strettons. Back to the sixties, Strettons' two offices in Hackney and Walthamstow employed about a dozen people. After a few years of hands-on learning and college day release, I qualified as a Chartered Auctioneer & Estate Agent in 1970 and as a Chartered Surveyor in 1971. At that time, Strettons could do just about anything connected with urban property. In the days of mass slum clearance and public housing construction, compensation claims comprised much of my workload.  However, I also carried out valuations of residential and commercial buildings, tackled dilapidations, sales, lettings, leasehold enfranchisement, town-planning advice, rating-appeals, auction sales, building surveys and estate management.

The firm still does all of this. The difference is that, in the early seventies, any surveyor was expected to handle any of those disparate jobs. A surveyor knew a little about every aspect of the job. Today, we have specialists in each field; all with deep knowledge of a narrow field. It is the same for all professions. Am I being nostalgic, or were old fashioned general practitioners better than specialists in many ways?

When I moved from Hackney to Spitalfields in 1987, Strettons had one of the earliest fully computerised offices. I specialised in medical property work and expert witness reports for use in litigation. I held LPA Receivership appointments during the early nineties' recession. As an arbitrator, I determined hundreds of commercial and residential property disputes. I sat on the Tribunal in the landmark Sportelli case in Belgravia, known only to leasehold enfranchisement surveyors, housing lawyers and, erm, anoraks. I have advised on NHS hospitals, clinics and surgeries; humble dwellings and prime central London homes (telling people I visited Cher’s bedroom is useful at parties, even if it was only for a valuation survey), pretty well everything from underground public toilets to world-renowned national sports venues.

We moved from Spitalfields into our present offices, by Finsbury Square, in 2013. Today, Strettons has more than 100 staff working here in London, from our City & City Fringe office near Finsbury Square, our West End branch in Cavendish Square, and our expanding head-offices in Walthamstow.

Not fully retired but no longer at my desk by 7:30 am every weekday. I can spend more time with my grandchildren, as well as my grand dog. I'm also enjoying spending time on DIY, travel, literature and the arts. Strettons has an admirable record for keeping in touch with former employees, many of whom moved on decades ago and I join these alumni.