Georgette McCready talks to Philip Cobb managing director of independent estate agents Cobb Farr, which has branches in Bath and Bradford on Avon
I first met Philip Cobb in 1989 when he and his then business partner Tony Farr opened their new estate agency in Brock Street, between the Circus and the Royal Crescent. Since then Cobb Farr has established itself as one of the cornerstone independent agents in Bath, extending its local expertise to Bradford on Avon, where there is a second branch.
Philip is now sole managing director, with a team of ten in Bath and seven in Bradford on Avon, most of who have been with the business for at least a decade, while a couple have worked for Cobb Farr for more than 20 years. I asked Philip a few questions about his time on the local property scene. . .
How, and when, did you get into the property business?
This might sound odd, but I always knew I wanted to be an estate agent. I went to work for a container company in London, and while I loved London, the job was boring. So I went to work for Pearsons estate agents in Frome, following a degree in estates management at Bristol Poly. After five years Tony Farr offered me a job in Bath with Lalonde Brothers and Parham. I was living in a flat in St James’ Square, when many of Bath’s buildings were still black and dirty, a lot of them looked pretty grotty.
Then after five years we were bought up by the Prudential, which was a shame. Tony and I said: ‘Shall we open our own business?’ and Julian Beresford was selling his office in Brock Street, so we bought that.
What’s the proudest moment of your career?
It must have been when we opened this office in Brock Street. We worked hard to get it ready, and it was great to see our names up there on the front. It was a perfect position so near the Royal Crescent, where we used to attract quite a few overseas buyers. But when we first opened in 1989 – in the biggest recession anyone could remember – most of our business was local people moving.
I’m also really proud of 28 years of service Cobb Farr has given our vendors and buyers. In a fast-paced world I think we, as a team, are aware of what an emotional business selling a home can be and we like to show empathy, allowing people time during what can be a very stressful experience, particularly following a divorce or bereavement.
How has your job changed?
The biggest change to the property market, as in so many other businesses, has been the rise of the internet. The upside of this is that we can use Zoopla, Prime Location (which is owned by Zoopla) or Rightmove and a property can go straight out for the world to see. Last year around 30 per cent of our buyers were from London, who’d done a lot of their property hunting online.
We are still seeing a lot of families from London moving to Bath because we have such good schools. It used to be for our secondary schools but now that it has got nigh on impossible for parents to get the primary school of their choice in London, it makes sense to move here for our primary schools. If you sell a quite ordinary house in London you can get a really nice townhouse down here and families do enjoy the lifestyle that this area has to offer.
The downside of the internet is that everyone wants an immediate response to their email. But I don’t miss having to physically stick photographs of properties on to sales brochures. Having digital cameras has made a difference, it means you can be sure you’ve got some good site shots – not like when you had to wait for the film to be developed.
What changes in Bath have you welcomed, or regretted, seeing over the years?
As I mentioned, in the late 80s there were many buildings that looked pretty rundown. I think we should be grateful to all the home owners and developers who have taken such care to restore these historic properties, which makes Bath look so beautiful today.
There are developers like Ashford Homes, one of our biggest clients, who build two to 15 homes at a time, producing wonderful, exclusive developments in the area.
Of course we’ve also seen these big developments taking place on the old Ministry of Defence sites. But it does concern me that the city is not doing enough in terms of infrastructure – particularly roads – to cope with this expansion.
I think the proposed park and ride scheme to the east of the city is a waste of money. I use the A36 daily and can bear witness that we’ve seen an enormous rise in the numbers of lorries using the road. They’re not coming to Bath, they’re on their way to Southampton. They’re bringing unecessary traffic through Bath and Bradford on Avon. The answer must be to build a link road. I know that will be expensive, but it’s needed.
Bath’s traffic has got much worse. One solution to us all sitting in traffic jams, trying to get from one side of the city to the other, would be to grant residents permits to cross Pulteney Bridge by car. It’s been argued that the car ban is for weight restrictions, but they’re permitting buses and taxis to cross so that argument doesn’t stand up.
What do you think is going to happen in the property market in the next
London has already seen a bit of stickiness in terms of movement over the past year, partly due to foreign investors holding back. So, following a three year period in Bath when it’s been very consistent, we are already beginning to feel the ripples of that London wobble. If someone has a house to sell in London and it takes a while that slows everything down in the chain.
We’ve also seen a bit of a dearth of property going on the market in Bath and Bradford on Avon and that looks to continue and be self-perpetuating. If you can’t see something you want to buy you’re not going to put your property on the market.
I suspect we will also continue to see a rise in the numbers of local people who can’t afford to buy in Bath or Bradford on Avon and are buying in Frome and Trowbridge. Frome is pretty fashionable already and I can see that parts of Trowbridge are also coming up as people move out, while still commuting in to work in Bath.
Do you have a favourite street in Bath?
My wife Rachel and I live out on a farm near Frome, so I drive in to Bath every day. And as I come down Widcombe Hill, at that bit where you pass Macaulay Buildings and you get that incredible view over the meadows and right over the city in the bowl, I never fail to get that feeling of amazement. It makes me happy to be working in this wonderful city.
What – if anything – moves you to move house?
I love where we live and couldn’t imagine moving, unless perhaps it was to France. I enjoy walking our spaniel and simply all the aspects of life in the country. What do you do when you’re not working? I love my sport. I’m a regular at Bath Rugby. I used to watch my sons play, although our eldest is now working in London and our younger one is at university. I’m also proud that we sponsor school sports. I enjoy playing golf and tennis too.
Is there anything you look back at that makes you laugh?
Years ago Tony and I went out to a house in Twerton to do a valuation. The lady owner had all these tiny jumps set up in the sitting room and wanted to show us all her pet guinea pigs and rabbits going through their paces. We sat there watching these little animals going over the jumps, trying not to catch each others’ eye and fighting to hold the