Duncan Young, Managing Director of Sanderson Young

One of the region's most influential independent estate agents is celebrating 15 years in business. Francesca Craggs talks to Duncan Young, managing director of Sanderson Young, about breaking with tradition and the changing face of the North East property market

Duncan Young of Sanderson Young
Duncan Young of Sanderson Young

Duncan Young is somewhat a maverick of the North East property market.

Fifteen years ago he had a bold new vision to “create an estate agency that was ready for the Millennium”. In a staid market, dominated by large corporates, his vision was undoubtedly a brave one. Yet one that paid off.

The launch of Sanderson Young in 1999 was not only met with unprecedented success, its fresh approach proved instrumental in changing the face of selling homes as we knew it.

Now in its 15th year, Sanderson Young has become a recognisable ‘brand’ throughout the region. And Duncan is tremendously proud that his business has not only “weathered the storm”, but lived to be one of the region’s most successful and influential independent estate agencies. His attention to detail and thirst to stand out from the crowd have contributed to the firm’s success.

I first interviewed Duncan 15 years ago when he had high hopes for his brand new venture. He told me: “Quite simply, Sanderson Young intend to offer a forward-thinking professionalism with an established reputation to create an estate agency ready for the Millennium.”

Specialising in middle and upper market sales and lettings, as well as new homes and developments, Sanderson Young has four North East branches and even a bistro to boot.

Duncan, 49, who lives in Gosforth, said: “I feel tremendous pride in the company and tremendous pride in my team. In some cases we’ve worked together for 30 years which is very comforting. It’s a family affair and I’m proud we’ve weathered the storm and are here in 2014 after a very turbulent few years.”

There’s not much Duncan doesn’t know about the North East property market. He started at the bottom of the ladder and recalls the days of bashing out property details on an old Olivetti typewriter with much affection. And not surprisingly he’s witnessed some dramatic changes in the sector.

He said: “I think of my estate agency career in three stages. My student life in the early eighties, joining as a trainee surveyor and sticking photographs on sales particulars. That was the beginning of it.

“When I started Sanderson Young I’d been trained by a corporate for 15 years. However I was always a bit of a maverick and ready to set out on my own journey.

“I’d had a marketing idea that I’d presented to my national team at GA. It was a graphic background and very upmarket look for the sale of houses. They hated it. So I thought one day I’ll use that.”

For Duncan, who was area director of General Accident property services, the timing was perfect. He launched the business with fellow GA director Brendan Hackett, who left Sanderson Young a number of years ago. Following the acquisition of Sanderson Townend & Gilbert’s estate agency Sandersons, the name Sanderson Young was borne.

“My career with GA was superb grounding. They developed me into quite an individual character. We’d built a reputation for dealing in high valued property, however they were looking to alter their image and go for greater volumes at lower values. This wasn’t my brand. Going it alone was partly a prompt and partly forced on me.

“Although I was offered other job roles, I felt that the best I knew was to keep my feet on the ground and satisfy my thirst for running my own company. A corporate couldn’t quite control my ambitions.”

The launch of Sanderson Young wasn’t a quiet one. The bold new upmarket image was met with approval from fellow property experts throughout the region.

Duncan said: “We launched in January 1999 with branding featuring a black granite background and great big images of houses. Many estate agents in the North East hadn’t realised how staid the market had become. It was met with universal understanding. Everybody understood what I was trying to create.”

Sanderson Young went from strength to strength quickly. Within three years turnover had grown from £110,000 with six staff, to £2.5m and around 80 staff.

“It was a considerable growth period. We were looking at new homes, we were developing apartments, we had Quayside premises with show flats upstairs. From 1999 to 2005 were buoyant times. There was lots of activity, lots of new homes, people queueing to buy flats.”

Duncan was born in 1964 in the Northumberland coastal village of Amble.

His father Hylton was a local lawyer in North Northumberland, while his mother Anne was a prison education officer. His older brother Andrew is also a lawyer and currently lives in Dubai. Duncan attended the Dukes Grammar School in Alnwick, before studying estate management at Northumbria University. His aspirations as a youngster however, were very different.

“I was always due to go in the navy. My grandfather was a merchant navy sea officer who worked out in India in the days of the Raj and had a fascinating career. His love of travel is something that I’ve also endeared.

“However the trouble with the navy was that I couldn’t have spent long periods of time away on cargo ships with small numbers of people. I was too gregarious for that. I went back to school to become an estate agent,” said Duncan.

Combining his love of people and passion for buildings, estate agency proved to be his perfect career.

“The estate agency and sales is what I enjoyed and what I was good at,” he said. “My first job was a part-time position in 1982 with a firm called Scott & Muirhead. In 1984 I got a job with Glover Humble & Partners, who were bought by Dudley Charlton, and in turn both were eventually bought by GA property services. I worked for the same firm continuously from 1984 until 1999. I’m very loyal.”

Like most other industries, new technology has had a huge impact on the property market. And Duncan has embraced the changes.

He said: “New media has altered the way people buy houses. When I first launched Sanderson Young I remember thinking for a good nine months, ‘do I need a website?’ I did eventually commission one at the end of my first year.

“Now we can sell a house 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The public’s thirst for information could be satisfied on a beach in Dubai, a safari in South Africa or sitting in their home in Gosforth.

“And if they don’t sleep in the middle of the night, they can reach for their iPad and see what’s on the market for sale.”

There is a real shortage of housing in the region, says Duncan, and the problem needs to be tackled.

He said: “There are 94,000 people waiting for housing in the North East. We as a region are massively under performing in our supply of new homes and the demand is getting stronger. There are a lot of fundamentals as to why the housing stock is massively under supplied. Housing stock is a problem and we need to boost it.” Government schemes like Help to Buy, are also a positive thing for the property market according to Duncan.

“The figures last year were 7.5% nationally, however in the North East we were just under 1%, which isn’t really a great figure to shout about. We need to stimulate that market in the North East as much as possible and the Government initiatives that are in place at the minute are working.

“We need to control house inflation. None of us want boom bust. It doesn’t work.” All the signs are very positive in terms of the 2014 property market, says Duncan.

“There are an increased number of buyers coming back onto the market. If interest rates soar then we are bust again. We can’t restrain house inflation too much however, because prices will rise when supply is low and demand is high.”

Duncan is set to reach another milestone this year, when he celebrates his 50th birthday. He is currently on a health kick and on target to lose his goal of seven stones by July. To mark the occasion he is heading to his second home in Corfu with his wife Alison, three sons, Charlie, 19, Oliver 18, and Harry 17, and around 100 friends and family.

His reflection on turning 50?

“Thank God I got there! It’s all about my family first and foremost, and my pride in my wife and my three boys. If they’re healthy and happy, then I am. Alison is the silent power behind me. She plays a very important role running the website. She’s the strength behind me, supports me and keeps me sane.”

Travelling is important to Duncan, and he is about to embark on his annual skiing trip to The Three Valleys in France.

“My ambitions at 50 are more to do different things and to go to a different phase in my life when perhaps I’m not so vigorously running around to the detriment of my health. I’d like to go on a painting holiday or something completely bizarre that I’ve never done before.”

Duncan is inspired by hard workers.

“I was inspired a lot by my mother. Who worked damn hard when she was educated. I remember her doing her masters degree when she was education officer at a young offenders prison and she was working heavily at nights. I’m inspired by people who work hard. I look at people who are successful and I’m inspired by them. I think in England we have tremendous hang ups about congratulating people who are successful.

“We need to breed more entrepreneurs and we need to create more jobs in this region by retaining the graduates and the people who live and work here.

“There’s a massive job to be done with such shortage of housing and such great opportunities. And if we can create more jobs in this region, and grow our economy, then I would welcome the challenge of meeting the housing demand that goes with that growth. Bring it on.”

The Questionnaire

What car do you drive?
A Range Rover although I like to borrow my son’s Mini One convertible for sunny days !

What’s your favourite restaurant?
All of my three sons came from the maternity ward when born and stopped off at Francesca’s in Jesmond. So I suspect this restaurant is my old-time favourite. Although with my love of good food my list could run into several pages including a beautiful taverna in Agni Bay in Corfu where we have been visiting for over 40 years.

Who or what makes you laugh?
Ant and Dec – our local modern day equivalents of Morecambe and Wise.

What’s your favourite book?
I used to read a lot of light novels by John Grisham but the last book I really enjoyed was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It’s a very clever book with some great lessons to be learned.

What was the last album you bought?
I don’t remember as I immediately think of an album as a record, in which case Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin comes to the fore. But in this digital age the last album I downloaded was Our Version of Events by Emeli Sande.

What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got?
Sommelier at Cap Horn in Courchevel or Head Concierge at the Burj al Arab. Either way you would see some life!

If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?
Have you lost weight?

What’s your greatest fear?
Failure.

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Leave something in it for somebody else.

And the worst?
Blow it , tomorrow’s another day.

What’s your poison?
My poison and my heaven has to be fine wines.

What newspapers do you read, other than The Journal?
The Times.

How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
Part-time £8 per week as a newspaper boy or just under £40 a week as a full-time trainee estate agent.

How do you keep fit?
Dominic Bowser my personal trainer has the onerous task of trying to make me fit and believes 2014 will be my year to release my keep fit video!

What’s your most irritating habit?
I’m told my whistling but that’s because people can’t hear the raw talent in my tunes.

What’s your biggest extravagance?
My friends would say “every time we go out with him” but probably holidays.

Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?
I admire our Queen for her service to the nation and for the values of tradition, and respect that she sets throughout the world.

Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
Historically they would have been Frank Sinatra, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. Currently Richard Branson, Keifer Sutherland, Robbie Williams and Louisa from Big Brother/The Apprentice just to spice it up!

How would you like to be remembered?
Well wasn’t that fun!

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