Even as a young man, Simon Blyth gave the impression that he had been around forever. The deep reassuring voice, the confident no-nonsense approach and an age that was hard to guess.
He played to those strengths when he launched his own business 25 years ago. When he set up his first office in Honley at the age of 27, he decided against the latest fashion for brash signage and modern interiors. Instead he made his new place look as “old” as possible.
“I worked for Wilby’s, which had been around a long time and their look was traditional. Then William H Brown took over and changed the name and gave the whole place a new look in bright blue. That was a mistake and instructions fell.
“So when I set up on my own I made the logo and office look traditional like it was a long-established business. I didn’t want to look like the new kid on the block and that worked, especially with people new to the area. Even now people think I am the founder’s son,” says Simon, who is, in fact, a farmer’s son whose gift for selling became apparent when he was a youth. He sold everything from scrap metal to manure to top up his pocket money.
His business still looks and feels traditional but it has always been up-to-the-minute with technology. He was one of the first estate agents to launch a website and to put floorplans online. This blend of old and new has served him well as he now has seven offices, including Holmfirth, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Barnsley, Penistone, Kirkburton and Halifax, and all are within easy access of the M62/M1 and A1.
His latest expansion is into commercial property and that is thanks to his daughter, Gina Korszanski. She spent 12 years working for a commercial property firm in Leeds as an associate director before she was persuaded to join the family firm at the end of last year.
“We have already done some deals and have a number of instructions. Plus we have made acquisitions for clients, and not just in Yorkshire,” says Gina, who is also helping to oversee the Blyth offices.
This helping hand on the management side of the business leave Simon free to do what he does best “I enjoy valuing houses and dealing with people,” he says. As well as selling houses, he is often relied on to settle domestic disputes. “I’m like the James Herriot of estate agency,” he says. One divorcing couple called for his help when she wanted to stay in the family home and he wanted to sell it and halve the proceeds.
“I came up with the idea of splitting the matrimonial home and making it into two properties, so that’s what they did. She had one half and he had the other and sold it. Another couple called me in to divvy everything up for them, instead of employing solicitors and I felt very honoured that they asked me. Of course, it can get heated, so if ever a divorcing couple accuse me of bias, I simply tell them that I am acting for the house.”
There have been many memorable moments throughout the years. One that stands out was a grand gentleman’s residence. The wealthy owner left it to one of his workers in the 1940s. Rather than move in and live like a lord, the new owner stayed in his cottage and turned the big house into a giant turkey coop.
The turkeys lived there happily until three years ago, oblivious to the period feature they were destroying with their acidic urine and droppings.
“They lived on every floor from the bottom to the top of the house and the floors and doors were rotten. The staircase survived because, apparently, turkeys don’t poo while they are on the move,” says Simon, whose HQ is in Holmfirth.
It is popular with buyers, though other areas on his patch are, he thinks, underrated, by those who have never visited them. “Huddersfield, Wakefield and Barnsley all have great access to motorway and rail links and are surrounded by superb countryside. Some people still associate the area with heavy industry and mining but, of course, the pits have gone. Grimethorpe is a good example of how these places have changed. It is now a very attractive rural village.”