Man who put area on the map for high-end property
Stewart Charnock-bates is a one man brand specialising in Calderdale’s top property for the last 20 years. He talks to Sharon Dale.
FOR someone who had no desire to be an estate agent Stewart Charnock-bates has made a pretty impressive job of selling houses.
A chartered surveyor, he fell into the profession after a client asked him to sell a batch of new builds in Krumlin. His eponymous Calderdale company, which specialises in middle and top end property, is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
“I was busy advising on site acquisitions and planning permission as development was my forte. I never wanted to be an estate agent but the developer said he thought I’d be good at selling his properties and I agreed to do it as a favour.
“Someone wanting to buy a new property at Krumlin had their own house to sell so I agreed to sell that and so it went on. I found I enjoyed it and the rest is history.”
The business outgrew the basement of his home and burst into a dedicated office in the centre of Halifax. Back then it was very much a local market with most buyers and sellers trading up and down within the area.
“It’s changed a lot in the last 20 years, “says Stewart. “Mainly thanks to the economic growth of Leeds and Manchester. We are 20 or 30 minutes away from two of the biggest cities in the country and now we have a direct rail link from Halifax to London that takes about two and a half hours.
“The Ryburn Valley has benefitted enormously and Ripponden is almost unrecognisable thanks to the development there. Villages like Barkisland, Soyland and Triangle have improved beyond recognition.”
His proudest achievment is promoting Halifax and the surrounding towns and villages to the outside world by advertising his properties in the Yorkshire Post, in regional magazines and through an office in Mayfair.
There is no doubt he has raised the profile of the area and he has tempted buyers away from the well-manicured Golden Triangle of North Leeds, Harrogate and York and from the flat plains of Cheshire to the wilder, windier and more rugged beauty of the moorland landscapes. The area, he say, has character and its homes can offer better value than the conventional Yorkshire hotspots.
The rising interest in Calderdale was confirmed when he sold the first house over £1 million in 2002. The first over £2 million came the following year.
“We have consistently sold houses for over £1 million ever since and a lot go to people from outside the area, though Calderdale appeals to a certain kind of person.”
He is that type, although he does escape to the sun in Tenerife when he can. He grew up in the Triangle area and steadily climbed the property ladder helped by his love of developing and converting period buildings.
The derelict Drill Hall in the centre of Halifax is now apartments after he bought it and fought for planning permission to convert it. His favourite project was the renovation of the Field House estate, which he bought from Sir Ernest Hall. He restored the grand, historic house and split it into two properties, one of which he kept for his own family.
“I lived nearby when I was a lad and I used to walk up there never dreaming that I’d end up living there,” says a dapper Stewart, who has brought image consciousness and attention grabbing techniques to his agency.
His pink sign boards caused a sensation when first launched and are still eye catching, and he recently installed a web window in his Ripponden office. The interactive touch screen gives direct access to the company’s website from the street outside. Another benefit is that the screen saver is a Charnock Bates sign.
“We wouldn’t have got permission for an illuminated sign outside the building,” says Stewart, who was the first agent in the district to launch a website.
Websites and email have reduced footfall in the offices and he fears they will eventually kill off high street estate agency.
“I think it will happen but I also think it is commercial suicide. A high street presence is necessary for marketing purposes and the fact that clients like to see you are there. Plus, its supporting the town centre and that’s important for a local business. You have to give something back, which is why we are here and why we get involved in fundraising with our annual ball and in sponsoring local sports clubs.”
Unlike many of his contemporaries who have diversified into financial services and lettings, he prefers to stick to sales
“It’s unusual but we can say we are totally independent. This can be a corrupt business but we are not compromised or tied to anyone.”
It is a strategy that has paid off. He is one of the few agents to expand in the last few difficult years, opening up an office in Ripponden and creating more space in his Halifax office.
“We’ve just expanded into the basement and my office is down there now, which is funny really because the basement is where I started all those years ago.”
JUST THE TICKET: The Old Station House was converted from the original station master’s house, ticket office and waiting room and has been sensitively restored by Margaret and Derek Newton. The couple lived in a caravan on site for several months while the buildings were being renovated.
ANNIVERSARY: Stewart Charnock-bates is marking 20 years of his property business which has raised the profile of Calderdale.