Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2019

FSS Marks 25 Years: An Interview with Charles Smailes

Charles Smailes already had more than 30 years’ local property experience behind him when he co-founded Feather Smailes Scales in 1994 with Jim Feather and Peter Scales. He was just 22 when he became a partner at W H Mawer estate agents on Albert Street and went on to become regional Managing Director for General Accident, which bought Mawer’s in March 1988. Career highlights include being president of the National Association of Estate Agents in 2005 and the first chairman of the board of the National Federation of Property Professionals. We caught up with Charles to find out about his career highlights and how he shaped FSS into Harrogate’s only property business to cover residential sales, lettings, commercial property, auctions and surveys.

How did your property career begin in Harrogate?

My first job was with Renton and Renton and I put the job offer down to the fact that my father Frank Smailes was a well known Yorkshire and England cricketer. Having a famous father certainly opened doors, particularly in those days. Harry Mawer offered me a job with his estate agency a couple of years later and a few years after that I was made partner of Mawer’s.

Have you always been based in Yorkshire?

Yes, although I did spend some time in real estate in the States in the 1980s.  As a member of the National Association of Estate Agents, I had the opportunity to study estate agency in the US and went over there in 1984. With a British accent – which I brushed up to be more Queen’s English than born and bred Yorkshireman - I was told I couldn’t fail and there was certainly money to be made over there at the time. I loved it and travelled to Washington, Florida and Dallas, where I even got to sit in JR’s office.

What inspired you to launch your own company?

After Mawer’s was bought by General Accident I continued to work for the business until 1992 before taking a very short-lived early retirement.  A couple of years later I met Jim Feather and Peter Scales over a few beers in Darley and Feather Smailes and Scales was born. Peter and Jim had both been at Dacre Son and Hartley which had been bought by Abbey National and we could all see the value in establishing a local independent property firm. We bought a former solicitor’s office on Raglan Street and asked Margaret Hammond from my Mawer’s days and Vanda Bate, who had worked with Peter at Dacres, to be our morning and afternoon receptionists.

What do you believe has contributed most to the success and longevity of FSS?

Having a business that has expertise and qualified professionals in all areas of property has always been my guiding light. We were never just about selling houses and that was vital to our success, giving us a market from lettings and management, residential and commercial, as well as sales, surveys and auctions. I have seen too many times situations where agencies put a tenant’s leaking toilet on the back burner because they’re focused on a sales enquiry so I have recruited experts to lead teams in each area of property. 

Can you remember your first transaction at FSS?

The first property we auctioned in 1995, in the back room at 8 Raglan Street, was a bungalow in Almsford Drive. After that we moved our Harrogate sales to the Cairn Hotel and had sales in Bradford and Manchester too. In the early days, with the effects of the downturn of the early 1990s still being felt and building societies keen to clear their books of repossessed properties, the focus was very much on auctions.

What are you most proud of?

One of the things I am very pleased to have been able to do is volunteer my auctioneering skills at charity events. Between us Richard and I must have raised millions for local charities over the years and I’m delighted that he is continuing to give his time and talent to good causes.

I also value the strong and trusted relationships I have developed over the years which have led to ongoing instructions and referrals. It’s a great job if, like me, you like meeting and helping people. Repeat business is the best reward for good work – a lot of customers will look for the cheapest option but many more will come back because they were well looked after and felt satisfied with the quality of the work and value for money they received.

How has the business changed over 25 years? 

FSS has a fantastic team of highly experienced and qualified property professionals in each area of the business who have been with the firm for many years, as well as some very talented young people who have chosen to start their career with FSS. I am delighted that the firm is in such excellent hands and can look forward to a very bright future.




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