On home turf: An exclusive interview with JW&Co Langleys' property dream team, Tom & Jack Smith and Adam Golder
PUBLISHED: 13:29 18 March 2016 | UPDATED: 13:36 18 March 2016
Ex-sportsmen stepping into the world of real estate - it makes a lot of sense
Last Thursday I had a revelation at The Peahen, St Albans.
If you’ve had a career that sweeps you up at the drop of a hat and dots you strategically around the country, forcing you to move from one home to another to another, you’re already a property expert. This seems to be an obvious deduction, but one I had admittedly not thought much about.
My epiphany didn’t happen over a post-work Aperol Spritz wind-down; it happened over late-morning lattes as I met with Tom and Jack Smith, two of St Albans’ enterprising property consultants, and Adam Golder, the MD of their business. There have been media rumblings of the brothers Smith turning their hands to property, and their feet away from football.
Both have carved successful careers as sportsmen. Their pathways on the pitch have taken them from the likes of Watford to Wimbledon to Wealdstone, with a sprinkling of Cardiff and QPR in between and some Brentford tossed in for added snap. So between them, these guys have lived all over the UK.
“Every time you move clubs, you’ve got to find somewhere new to live. You end up viewing five, six, seven properties each time,” Jack explains.
“This is a hands-on insight into the property world. It makes you really understand purchasing and renting,” adds Tom.
Jack and Tom are now at that ‘golden’ age at which footballers think about retiring (32 and 35-years-old respectively). Rather than release an underwear line with H&M, the Smiths have chosen to rather poetically come full circle and return to their roots.
“Dad is a chartered surveyor,” Tom tells me. “I did work experience at his company when I was 15. So we grew up around this industry. He was always our property adviser when we switched clubs.”
‘Dad’ is David Smith, who raised his boys in Hemel Hempstead and has been a key figure in St Albans property for the past 30 years. He planned to pass the business torch to his sons, but never stood in the way of their interest in sport. “There’s was known as the only house in which you were allowed to play football inside,” Adam says.
Adam and the Smiths amalgamated as a business dream team when the local estate agency of JW&Co put the sales arm of their firm on the market in 2014, catching the eye of the Smiths.
“We researched it and bought the office in Bushey Heath,” Tom recounts. “We opened another branch in Garston. We then approached the guys at Langleys 18 months later, so we bought that and combined the two brands. This way we were retaining Langleys’ 40 years of local experience as well.”
This way of thinking runs coherently through everything these guys say; despite their father’s expertise, the brothers don’t ever have seemed to presume they know it all from the off.
“We were both still full-time players when we bought the agency,” Jack says.
“It was a big job, we needed to structure things,” continues Adam, who comes from a fast-paced business background in the City, now serving as JW&Co Langleys’ managing director.
“We retained the names of the company, but created a separate identity. It was about balance,” Tom adds. “We kept both sets of staff and combined them – they are all excellent. Why would we want to lose them?”
This sense of family is lucid as we chat; what’s also evident is that they’re not all about the “Smith” lineage – the merger of organisations has simply added to their corporate kin. Even John Whiteman – the ‘JW’ in ‘JW&Co’ – is a family friend who runs his own business as a commercial chartered surveyor.
Suburban convert Adam provides me with the vantage point of someone who is solely part of the business bloodline, rather than the ancestral one.
“I’ve been so impressed,” he comments. “The business offers opportunity to the younger members of the team, but at the same time we still have guys like Barrie Lloyd, who has been in the industry since 1976. He sold more property in St Albans in the 80s than many other agents.”
“Mention him and someone will say ‘he sold my house for me 25 years ago’. We look to him for guidance,” adds Tom.
Sinkholes & Mineshafts
The Smiths realise that, when investment is concerned, property is where it’s at. “All of these scams that are aimed at footballers have taught me a lot. The pyramid schemes that will crash. I would always invest in property,” Jack says.
“Rather than some of the more esoteric investments such as wine or vintage cars, it’s all about property,” affirms Adam.
This aside, it’s apparent that the ‘fun’ side of the real estate game is a draw. “I love seeing our clients’ homes, seeing what people have done,” Jack enthuses. “In Park Street, there are all these bungalows that people have knocked down and created new, amazing places. Other clients have property that needs doing up. But that’s the challenge.”
“People will say to us ‘I want to knock this down, build on this plot of land, renovate that house’. It’s an interesting side to the industry,” adds Tom.
On top of the codifying disciplines that sport has taught them, the guys’ experience as consumers has been equally important. Last year’s sinkhole, for example, didn’t panic Tom. When he transferred to Sunderland in 2003, he viewed a brand new property. It was very well priced - the back garden had collapsed shortly after the then-owners had moved in, as the land was formally a mineshaft. It had since been capped and re-turfed and deemed safe; but Tom barely lived in it a week when he was offered a longer-term contract with Derby, which he took. 18 months later, he finally sold the house. “It was a big learning curve for me,” he recalls.
No Man Is An Island
Tom maintains that the professional sporting chapter of his life has fully closed. Such is the case that when I enquire as to whether he ever goes by his adoptive football moniker (Tommy) he is quick to deport it. It’s very clear that he means business – literally. “This is what I do now,” he says. “We’re not playing around with this.”
Although Jack still has his toe palpating the waters of football, his full-time dedication lies in the business. “This will support us as we grow old.”
But old they are not. This is only Phase Two of their careers. And the future looks healthy. The sudden sprouting of their five offices took them all a little by surprise. “Growth and consolidation was fast,” says Adam. “We focus on Herts but that doesn’t mean we won’t cast wider nets.”
And what of that ‘wider net’? It would seem that, in the case of the Smiths, you can go home again; not that they’d want to go anywhere else.
“We never thought we wouldn’t relocate back to this area,” Tom concludes. “I bought my first place for £100k in Berkhamsted. I’ve been a landlord in this area as well. I have seen the process in this region. Dad always drove that into us – land is of a premium. We live on an island after all.”
The Smith boys are extremely family-focused now. They’ve done the football thing – and as they leave it behind they embrace everything that it wasn’t.
“Football is a bubble. I love that this is the opposite,” ends Tom. “I love the social element of growing a business. In 10 years time we want to foremost be known as a friendly, honest service.”