Choosing a career over just a job led this Hampstead agent to abandon drama school for property
- Credit: Archant
After 25 years in the job Vivenne Harris, sole owner and managing director of Heathgate, won’t let herself be fazed by vibrating beds and mirrored ceilings in sales properties.
What’s special/different about your agency?
When I set Heathgate up in 1990, it was to fill a gap in the market. As the sole female owner and managing director, I hold a unique position in my area and I take this responsibility seriously. This carries through to the way in which I run the company and the way in which Heathgate deals with its clients. When asked what they can expect from Heathgate, my reply is “old fashioned service using hi-tech tools”. It is not by chance that we’ll celebrate our 25th year anniversary September, but because we really care about our clients.
My ethos when I started trading, which remains the same today, is to provide an outstanding service in a friendly, efficient, and professional manner. I want to make moving painless and easy where possible, and to ensure that my clientele has a pleasurable experience whether selling or buying, letting or renting. My team are proactive in their work and provide honest, personal and proficient service.
Where do you live and with whom?
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I live alone in Hampstead Garden Suburb, although I used to live in the centre of Hampstead Village which I very much enjoyed.
Why did you buy your current property? What’s your favourite thing about it?
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I saw the house advertised in the Ham & High by another agent and loved the exterior and the road. I had recently accepted an offer on my Hampstead Village house and needed to move. Although I wasn’t sure that I could afford the new house I thought I might be able to stretch to it, and the moment I walked through the front door I fell in love with it. I have so many favourite things about my house, including its delightful frontage, its seclusion from the road, the beautiful and well-screened rear garden and the symmetrical layout.
If you weren’t a buying agent what would you be?
I would be an actress. I used to act at school and wanted to go to acting school. But unfortunately it was not meant to be, and in my quest for a career rather than just a job I decided that residential estate agency would suit me well. I have not been disappointed and still love what I do.
When did you buy your first property and what was it like?
I bought my first house in 1981. It was a small three-bedroom cottage on the north side of Hampstead Garden Suburb, which needed complete modernisation. It had a fabulous bay window in the reception room, lovely views from the bedrooms and it backed onto allotments. I was really happy there and stayed for eight years.
What’s your dream house?
I have varied tastes so that’s quite a difficult question but if I had to choose, I would really like to build my own house. It would be contemporary and eco-friendly with a green roof and all the new environmental inventions such as heat distribution systems. I would like it to have lots of glass and skylights with wood, natural products and finishes.
What’s the most shocking/surprising thing you’ve seen on the job?
I once went to a very large house to take on an instruction in the 1980s. The owner was a charming African man, who proudly showed me around the property. Upon reaching the first floor he opened the door of the first bedroom. The entire area was painted green and there was a huge square, matching green suede bed. The second bedroom offered a similar delight with red décor, and the third was equally stylish with black décor.
Upon reaching the master suite my interest was piqued, and I was in for further enchantment. The suite was enormous and decorated in midnight-blue suede padded panels, with a mirrored ceiling. The bed, which I can only describe as a dark navy igloo, took up the entire floor space to the point that I had to stand in the corner of the room.
Little did I know there was one last treat in store – he pressed a button and the wobbly mattress began to vibrate. How I managed to contain the laughter is a mystery to me even today, but I did, and I sold the house 2 weeks later.
In what ways has the north London property market changed since you started out?
I began my career before mobile phones and even fax machines, so the industry has changed beyond recognition. I used to work from hand written applicant cards and a paper file with all the owner’s telephone numbers, all of whom I was required to call on a regular basis. I had to rely on the post or on couriers to deliver documents and now it’s all e-mails. No more having to describe what a road looks like or how to find it, as people can investigate for themselves. The global nature of the internet the moment a property hits the relevant portals is great, but in other ways it’s harsher as the competition is more fierce with buyers registering with all the agents at the touch of a button. Heathgate has flourished by taking the view that there is no better way to provide a good job for our clients than to deal with them personally.
What are your top tips for things to do in north London?
A walk in Kenwood and Hampstead Heath, possibly stopping off at the art gallery in the house, or having a snack and a cup of tea is always lovely. I enjoy a jog around Hampstead Heath Extension especially on a sunny day. Another of my favourite places is Camden Market, which should be visited for its eclectic stalls, eateries and shops. There is so much choice it’s hardly surprising that people flock to live here.
I personally love the movies and see most films when they hit the big screen so I am spoiled with the Everyman group of cinemas locally, the O2 Centre on Finchley Road and the Hollywood Bowl in Finchley. I often visit The Tricycle and Kings Head theatres as well as Hampstead Theatre and their performances regularly move into the West End.