Page last updated at 23:51 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Addicted to estate agency

By Dave Harvey
Business Correspondent, BBC West

Debbie Fortune
Debbie Fortune is ready to risk it

Is Debbie Fortune the bravest woman in Somerset?

She is not tracking Exmoor's mythical Big Cat. She is not trying to tame the cider makers of Huish Episcopi.

No, Debbie Fortune is opening an estate agency.

"I think she's brave, bordering on mad", smiles Martin Haigh.

And Mr Haigh speaks for most agents round these parts.

Last year, he lost 80% of his business. His strategy for 2009 is simply to keep the lights on.

"If we can hang on in there, and survive this year, then when the good times come back we'll be in a good position to capitalise," he explains.

Experienced agent

The South West saw much of the house price inflation of the 1990s, and nowhere more so than beautiful Somerset villages like Wrington.

Debbie Fortune
I have 30 years experience, and I know this area backwards
Debbie Fortune

Ms Fortune saw it all.

As an agent with Humbert's, a big chain, she traded chocolate box cottages and beautiful stone mansions in the Yeo Valley, the Chew Valley and the Mendips.

When the crunch came, Humbert's went to the wall.

Late in 2008 Ms Fortune lost her job, along with 70 other staff.

But unlike any of them, she has come back for more.

"I have been called mad, yes," she laughs.

"But no, I've thought about it long and hard. I have 30 years experience, and I know this area backwards. Besides, I can't do anything else."


Shrewd investors often remark that you should be greedy when the world is panicking.

But opening a business like this in the steepest housing crash in history?

"Last year was a stinker, no doubt about it," confirms Paddy Sykes.

A residential property expert at Bristol firm King Sturge, Mr Sykes watches the West Country market like a hawk.

"There is a market view here that we may be reaching the bottom," he says.

"Nothing much will happen in 2009, for sure, but people with cash are starting to buy."

Mr Sykes points out that rural North Somerset is better placed than most to bounce back.

There are few first time buyers here, relying on cheap mortgages with small deposits.

Buyers mostly have plenty of cash to put in, so will benefit from the low rates.

And with Bristol just half an hour away from Wrington's idyllic village centre, this is a property hotspot.

"But don't get carried away," cautions Mr Sykes.

"She'll have plenty of people through the doors this year. Everyone loves talking about houses.

"But 2009 will be quiet. There'll be no serious trade until next year. Green shoots? Not yet, no."

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