The woman who broke the glass ceiling of Guernsey’s property market

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Not all company owners take the time to champion the staff around them, but at Swoffers this is part of our culture, helped by the fact that all of the directors work in the business. Mentorship allows others to advance and we have created a diverse team with an inclusive ethos.

As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’ve turned back the clock to the 20th Century when Swoffers got its first female director.

It was early in 1987 that Maggie Meller joined Swoffers after being headhunted by Pat Swoffer. Prior to that, Maggie was co-director and owner of Neale & Partners in Mill Street, so she had already earned her property stripes and was well-known.

‘One of the things about being a woman in that particularly male-dominated profession was that I was unusual,’ she said.

‘I think that because I felt so strongly about the product I was selling, it came across as being genuine.

‘Eventually Swoffers became very female dominated.

‘In the mid 90s a very good girlfriend of mine, Penny Neale came along and was one of my negotiators, and then became my co-director and partner.

‘And I think between us we became a formidable team.

‘During those times it was routine for us to get between 85 and 90% of the open market sales in value terms, that was a huge achievement for the team.’

Maggie was a director at Swoffers for 15 years, retiring in 2002.  She won’t like us saying this because she’s very unassuming, but she was a trailblazer who shattered the glass ceiling for the others coming up behind her.

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ goes the saying, and Maggie’s visibility helped normalise seeing women at the top. In a competitive industry she didn’t reach her position by being sharp-shouldered, but instead she was incredibly knowledgeable, smart, empathetic, and generous with her time.

‘We had really good years and we had some desperate years when it was hard to get some sales, particularly with the open market.

‘But what we did in those days was we would think of somebody that we’d sold a house to maybe it was too big or maybe they needed a change. And we would sometimes agree swaps.

‘There was always an advantage on legal fees if you did an exchange rather than a straight sale.

‘So there were quite a lot of newcomers to the island who found themselves moving more frequently perhaps than they had anticipated.’

‘It was all about networking, but not in the true professional sense.

‘It was things that occurred, things that came up, things that you couldn’t foresee.

‘I think it was Pat Swoffer, who said to me, the three main reasons for people selling or moving is death, divorce or debt. And I think that’s carried through to this day.’

Fifteen years working as an estate agent will naturally throw up lots of funny and memorable stories, and Maggie has plenty to tell.

‘A young couple came into the office and they said they’d been recommended to me by a policeman as they walked down Candie Road. I had no idea who they were.

‘I took them out to see property and it was at the top end of the market. As we drove into the property the woman said: “Well, this is it, John. This is the house we’re going to buy.”

‘I thought this is strange, it was a very expensive property.

‘Subsequently, he made me an offer and went ahead and bought it.

‘About three weeks after they got in, I went to see them just to find out if they were okay and I said: “something’s puzzling me, why did you know immediately when we drove in?

‘She said “well, actually, I’ve got a great friend who reads tea leaves and she told me before we came to the island that I was going to buy something with pillars, and something that looked out to sea.”

‘And they are still there to this day.’

Another time someone from outside the island was looking to buy a hotel, but something about him seemed a bit off. Maggie’s suspicions proved correct when the guy was later arrested leaving the island having not paid his bill at the Hotel de Havelet. It was in the days when guests didn’t have to leave a credit card impression at reception. It turned out that he had just wanted a free holiday, and the narrative about buying a hotel had been part of the ruse.

It was a great career and one she misses, but Maggie acknowledges that things have changed. In her day contracts were drawn up by the estate agents and sent in draft to the advocates with a 14-day clause to get the survey, finance and title through. Nowadays it can take longer, and she’d like to see all the professionals to get together and sort the system out.

Swoffers hitting its 50 year milestone hasn’t come as a surprise to Maggie. She puts the longevity down to the team spirit, family-like atmosphere in the office, and the directors all working in the business.

For the full interview with Maggie, go to our YouTube channel here.

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