A former Local Property Expert and territory owner with Purplebricks says that his two and a half years with the company were the most stressful of his working life.
He has now given up estate agency altogether after 23 years in the industry.
Based in the west country, he says that while he had the name “Local” in his job title, in fact his area was up to 57 miles away from where he lived. “I had no experience of that area and had not even been there until I had to do valuations.”
He covered the whole of one city and says he was given additional postcodes to extend his territory, although he says he had not asked for them.
He said: “One day, I drove 320 miles doing viewings and valuations.
“I was bombarded with emails from head office from 7.30am onwards – often about that day’s viewing appointments.
“When my wife went into hospital to have a baby, I was logged to the hospital’s wifi, trying to write up a brochure, and once when I was reading my four-year-old a bedtime story, he said: ‘Daddy, please get off your mobile phone’ because I was constantly checking for emails.
“Over one six month period, I worked 90-hour weeks. I have never been so stressed – there was simply no work life balance.”
The agent, who has asked not to be named, had one freelancer working for him who carried out viewings at £10 a time, but because this dug into his own earnings, he often carried them out himself.
He says that on paper the earnings looked good but the reality was different: “I earned £36,000 one year, but after all the costs was left with about £22,000.
“I previously worked for a chain, and earned about £40,000 a year, but I had holidays and a company car, so it worked out far better.
“Being self-employed, I had a lot of expenses – for example, paying for membership of TPO and Anti Money Laundering registration, plus corporation tax. I also paid for Land Registry searches.
“As a LPE, I was paid £150 for a listing, and as a territory owner, £200. But if mistakes were made and there were complaints, the policy was to offer refunds, and this money came out of our own pockets.”
His wife was so concerned at his working hours that she wrote without her husband knowing to Purplebricks sales director Kenny Bruce.
She told him that her husband was working up to 19-hour days, sometimes finishing at 1am and then up at 6am, and never taking a holiday.
She told Bruce: “He joined your company in the hope that he’d further his career as an estate agent and start making a decent wage for him to not only survive and live from, but to also enjoy with myself and our three sons.
“He’s worked, mostly thanklessly, for corporate and independent estate agents over 20 years and found that he wasn’t getting anywhere.
“He wanted to take a risk with Purplebricks in the hope that this would change his fortunes; that he could work the way he wanted without the ridiculous office politics and have some flexibility for his family and home life.”
She said she wanted reassurance that her husband’s risk in going to Purplebricks, and all his hard work, would pay off.
She received an email back, saying that the future would be bright, because her husband would be awarded share options “which if you are patient should be worth as much as £70,000 within a few years . . . These are designed to be a pension for your family to pay off the mortgage when the time is right but it’s about all of us continuing to pull together and remain on the fantastic journey.
“This wouldn’t happen in a normal job and hence why the commitment is more than a normal job with good flexibility and reward whilst the share options mature.”
In fact, says the former Purplebricks agent, he was issued share options eight months after he should have been, and as soon as he left, they were revoked.
The share price also dropped to well under the price when the options were issued – “so pretty useless really”.
The former agent – who now works as a gardener and also does a night shift in a factory –says he was initially attracted to Purplebricks because the concept sounded exciting and he was ready for a change.
“At first, it worked out well and I enjoyed the freedom. The training they gave us was intensive but very good.
“However, as a way of earning a living, it was simply unsustainable. One year, faced with a bill for corporation tax plus an accountant’s bill, I had to take out an overdraft to pay them.
“We were also under pressure to get reviews on to Trustpilot, but there was no financial incentive to do so. Despite that, we were targeted to get about ten a month.
“We were also under pressure to belong to the NAEA, and again, that was a cost I personally had to stand.
“I suspect that it is a lifestyle and a way of working that could suit someone who is single, but not someone like me with family responsibilities.
“It was a torrid experience.”