It is important to enjoy what you are doing. It is equally important to enjoy meeting people and to be honest from the very start. Try to work with clients who really understand you and appreciate the value you can provide.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Johnson & Gillian Shubotham, Irish husband and wife duo and co-founders of independent residential property consultants, INHOUS. Johnson and Shubotham are leading the way in challenging the perceptions of buying, selling and letting real estate. With a strong presence in the luxury, prime central London market, INHOUS’ bespoke, end-to-end project service sets them apart from other property professionals. Situated in Chelsea, Johnson and Shubotham have over 20 years’ experience in the business. With clients all across the globe, INHOUS works with high-net-worth individuals and high profile figures from the sport, media and entertainment industry, providing them with expert guidance in the management of property. They guarantee complete discretion and confidentiality along with a refreshing stance on a property market that is more often than not considered adverse and untrustworthy.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
David Johnson: When we moved from Dublin to London, both Gillian and I were set on working in the real estate industry and we started as estate agents in Central London. Here we learnt a huge amount about the UK property market, with Gillian working in a Kensington office and myself in a Little Venice branch.
Whilst we were in these roles, we began to notice obvious flaws in the estate agency industry which is extremely unregulated. Essentially, anyone is able to set up their own estate agents and as a result there is a serious lack of professionalism and an unreliable service provided by a number agents. Furthermore, we noticed that a negotiator’s salary is largely commission based and this consequentially leads to internal competing amongst negotiators, which does not set an ideal environment for the client actually parting with large fees.
As such, we decided to merge forces and create INHOUS which challenges this typical estate agent model. INHOUS offers authentic, industry expertise in every aspect of real estate and is ‘cost neutral’. We source vendors with the best agents in the area for each given project which gives us a completely unbiased stance when it comes to advising the client on the sale of their property and accurate valuations
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Gillian Shubotham: David and I got married just before we set up INHOUS, and we decided to use the money we kindly received as wedding gifts to fund our business which meant we had enough to see us through the initial period.
It is extremely difficult setting up any business and you need to try to make the funding last as long as you can. Making your first call or sending the first email under your new company name is daunting. We set up INHOUS with very few resources and without any IT support. The first year is filled with sleepless nights and stress, trying to get that first client is not easy.
However, we were lucky enough to have a good friend come to us looking to sell their property. We therefore provided this client with our impressive sales service and this was a great opportunity for us to actually project manage a sale from start to finish. This gave us confidence, as well as a very good case study example to use moving forwards.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
David Johnson: I truly believed that anyone selling a property in London would benefit from our unique and authentic sales service. I experienced first-hand how many vendors were being misled by valuers over-promising on properties. As a result, I regularly witnessed vendors going through extremely stressful periods when selling their homes. This was all due to the fact that estate agents are not professional enough to accurately value their properties and manage a vendor’s expectations from the very start of the sell.
Even when we were starting out and things were tough, I was confident in our offering. I knew that we could manage expectations from the very beginning and provide a level of service that our clientele deserves. This immediately made our clients feel more at ease and gained their trust.
Once we began to build a pipeline of projects and formulate case studies with client testimonials, we could meet with prospective clients in the true confidence that we could be of a real benefit to them.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Gillian Shubotham: We are well aware that running a business is always going to be difficult. We are now turning our attention on trying to grow and that comes with another level of grit, drive and resilience. However, it’s a good position to be in and it is exciting to see individuals wanting to work with us and believing in the core values of our company.
We are delighted to say that in the very poor property market which we are currently experiencing, we have just celebrated our best year to date, seven years since launching out business. In these uncertain times, vendors need the right advice now more so than ever before. We are noticing that estate agents are currently under severe pressure with so few properties coming onto the market. As such, these agents are overvaluing by up to 25% in order to secure these properties and then letting down vendors’ expectations over time. The very reason we exist is to ensure our clients do not fall for these false pretenses.
Some of our clients have been so impressed with our sales service that they now insist we project manage the sale of their properties on a global scale. For example, we recently successfully sold a property in Geneva for a client, and we also have properties in the US, Ireland and other areas of Europe that we are overseeing for clients.
We are conscious not to get ahead of ourselves. All we can try to do is provide the best possible service for our current clients and if we achieve that we are delighted. Word of mouth is a very big thing for us, so if our clients are satisfied, we often find that we receive calls from their close friends or families looking for our assistance.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
David Johnson: I suppose in the very early days, I would occasionally answer the phone stating my previous employers’ company as I was so used to answering the phone that way. Mistakes are a big part of setting up a business and they are also huge and very beneficial learning curves. I really think it is important to realise that from the very beginning and accept that is going to happen.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Gillian Shubotham: It is important to enjoy what you are doing. It is equally important to enjoy meeting people and to be honest from the very start. Try to work with clients who really understand you and appreciate the value you can provide.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
David Johnson: I must say our family have been so supportive and constantly will us on. My father passed away a short while ago but he had a big part to play in giving me the confidence to back myself. Similarly, my father in-law who is hugely successful in the business world has been a great mentor for me, and gives me the reassurance when I need it.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We challenge that typical estate agent model which means we are always on the side of the vendor. As such, we help people shift property at realistic prices in a market which is so often deemed intimidating and untrustworthy.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Please follow us on Facebook or Twitter at @INHOUSlondon, follow us on LinkedIn at @INHOUS or follow us on Instagram at @inhous_luxuryhomes.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!