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Looking back to the 1960s

John Dennis, of John Dennis & Son, celebrating 50 years in estate agency in Hedon, Hull, looks back to the 1960s when it all started.

John Dennis

Hull historic housing imageJune 1964, this lean, young, decidedly nervous young man walks into the dimly lit Old Town office of FA Larard & Sons, for an interview with Mr Jack Larard.

John Dennis imageI was confronted by a grey haired old bloke with a phone at each ear, a Capstan Full Strength dangling from his bottom lip. He wore a light-coloured suit of obvious quality with a big white handkerchief stuffed expertly into his top pocket.

He was probably talking to a builder on one phone and the manager of the Midland Bank on the other, sorting out a land deal. My interview took five minutes and I was delighted to be offered the job on the spot with a starting salary of £8 per week. I wasn’t about to quibble – a job’s a job and I “wanted to be in property.”

What swayed it for me was knowing the answer to, “how much is five per cent of a pound?” Easy, it’s a shilling. I was to be involved in sales, trained to value, survey and sell houses, which is what appealed to me. However, in the short-term, “because we are short-staffed”, he said, I’d be going out with a book and a cash bag collecting rents.

I had the use of a car for rent collections and, if I played my cards right, I’d get to use the boss’s big flash 3-litre Rover… a real treat for a 19 year-old!

The firm had the biggest letting and management department in the county; 9,000 houses with rents collected by an army of collectors, each doing several ‘rounds’ a week.

They ranged from smart, sizeable suburban homes in Hessle and Anlaby, some on vast 1930s privately built estates, down to the thousands of terraces of two-up, two-down back-to-backs in long-gone slums in locations such as Campbell Street. Many were truly awful, some rents were ‘protected’ and could be as little as a shilling a week (that’s five per cent of a pound, by the way).

I unsuccessfully tried to convince the manager to let me have one of the ‘posh’ collections, but, as a sales trainee, I had the use of a car for the collections – and if I played my cards right, I’d get the boss’s big, flash three-litre Rover. A real treat for a 19-year-old lad.

At the posher houses, there might be tea and biscuits. Not so in the poorer areas, but in the fishing community along Hessle Road there were plenty of characters; not much money around; but invariably generous people. My mum was always delighted if I came home with a ‘fry’ (a big bag of fresh fish) given to me by a trawlerman’s wife.

Two years later, I plucked up the courage to remind the boss that me doing rent collecting was ‘temporary.’ He grumbled a lot, but he took me off collections to learn the sales process.

MEMORIES

There were many memories – an empty three-storey house off Beverley Road where my leg went through the worm-eaten floorboards in the attic. When there’s no one there to hear, it’s a bit worrying; then the rented house in Cottingham visited after neighbours’ complaint, with every room stuffed full of boxes of apples, several years’ harvest from the tenant’s orchard. What a stench.

Modernisation

Many homes for sale were slums, empty (maybe someone had died, or the tenant had secured a nice modern house on the council estates) – no electricity, outside tap, no inside toilet. Some shared toilets in a brick privy down the alley. Unimaginable now. Unmortgageable, they’d go on the market at £500, buyers would pay a deposit of £50, paying the balance at £1 per week.

We also sold new properties for the big builders and expensive homes in the upmarket Haltemprice villages, I recall going with the boss to one to do an appraisal and, thankfully, came back with the instruction. I was really proud to secure the listing of the most expensive house on the books, priced at £8,000.

All properties got typed on a list with basic details, churned out on a Gestetner printing machine (where you turned a handle!), a text-only advert in the Hull Daily Mail and a ‘for sale’ board, made of wood, shaped like a house, weighing a ton.

That was about as much marketing as we did. No photographs, although Polaroid cameras came in then, producing instant snaps!

During my five years at the firm, I, and other trainees enrolled with the College of Estate Management at Reading University on correspondence courses comprising law subjects, property construction and land economics. Four years later, we came out the other end as chartered surveyors.

It was however obvious that even with qualifications, with three sons in the firm, there was little chance of advancement.

As trainees, we all dreamt of being offered partnerships, but it wasn’t likely to happen, so, in 1969, I decided to look for opportunities elsewhere and the next chapter began…

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