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A week in the life of an international estate agent

publication date: Sep 18, 2006
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As a kid, I once thought it would be fun to become a collector of something. I chose train numbers. Don’t ask me why – it makes me wince to this day. Off I trooped to Virginia Water station one Saturday with my notebook and pen and stood on the platform noting down the carriage numbers of trains that passed through. After two hours, I realised that train number collecting was an absurd pastime better left to much older men with thick glasses, beards and dodgy anoraks.

First day covers appealed much more, so I took that up and still collect them. Ridiculous really – they arrive through the letter box, I take a cursory glance at the new postage stamps and them chuck the envelope in the first day cover drawer. This has been going on for over 30 years. So long, that I know I won’t be able to stop.

But more recently I’ve found a new item to collect – visits to airline lounges – it’s close to collecting car number plates (or train numbers). As a frequent traveller, one has to make the travel bit as enjoyable as possible. I know most business travellers complain and whinge “god it’s so awful” – but they are missing a trick. Travelling is a privilege.

It gives you wonderful time on your own to read, write, speak to whom YOU want to speak to on the phone and best of all, relax if you fancy it.

Luckily, I have various bits of plastic in my wallet that gains me entry into the Father Christmas grottoes of airports – the lounges. And I like to visit them all – sometimes several in one airport in one visit. Airline lounges are havens of peace and quiet, but they vary enormously. It depends too if you are slumming it in first class where special dedicated lounges resemble mini five star hotels, or using the normal airport lounges which are open to a number of airlines, charge card holders and oneoff paying visitors (they drink as much booze as possible, nick all the newspapers and magazines - particularly the retired folk).

Some lounges are totally brilliant. Bahrain is modern, comfortable, has a great view over the runway, free wifi, pristine showers, delicious food selection and decent wine/champagne to while away the hours. Dubai has the best food – you can get a full-on curry if you feel the need. Then there are the disasters. Top of my list is Faro in Portugal, closely followed by Malaga. Dark dingy holes with no natural light whatsoever. Unfit for any animal except homo sapiens viator (apologies for my schoolboy Latin). Often dirty with miserable staff who refuse to call flights. The UK seems to be in between the two extremes, although Virgin’s lounge is perhaps the most fun anywhere.

I digress; this is supposed to be a diary.


So I find myself in Melilla, a Spain enclave in Morocco. NOT like Gibraltar the Spanish tell me – what a load of twaddle! The airport is miniscule, with a runway to match, where the same Fokker F50 that I arrive in, crash landed in 2003 (everyone survived). Not an airline lounge in sight here – in fact not a lot here at all. The only baggage carousel is 20 feet long, the car hire centre has no cars to hire, the one shop is shut, but the bar is open and the local taxi drivers are enjoying coffee, beer and brandies – at 10.30am…

I am here to visit the massive new development of Saïdia close to the Algerian border about an hour from where I am. My taxi driver Salah takes me in his rusting heap of a Mercedes. Various bit of it are held together by string! The border between ‘Spain’ and Morocco is like something from19th century subcontinent – a mass of screaming Moroccans on one side separated by a significant dual fence and no-mans land from the first world, relative calm of Melilla. The crossing, all of 100 metres takes an hour and a few Euros to smooth my path. Then we’re on our way, at 150kph in this wreck which was surely removed from the knacker’s yard not long ago. Terrified, but after an hour we arrive in dozy Saïdia, with me shaking the sweat off my palms.

This is a mega resort – build on virtually deserted land with miles and miles of talcum powder sand beaches to enjoy. Three 18 holes golf courses and a large town centre, as well as any number of hotels are under construction. My host Fadoua spends the whole day showing me over site – with something like 15 square kilometers to look at, it takes a while. The master developers are Spanish company Fadesa who came to an agreement with the forward looking King of Morocco, Mohammed VI. The monarch’s vision is based on foreign investment to improve unemployment - which in this area is high.

At the end of the day I stay in the nearest town at the Hotel Atlal. Pretty dreadful rooms but it has a very good restaurant, although I choose to wander down the high street to see what the local nosh is all about. Well, not a lot of choice really, but a promising cave type restaurant seems to lure me in. There’s no menu – I’m told that the menu is on display outside. It’s a goat, in bits, the head, the liver, the tongue, the heart, minced other bits and god only knows what else was on display from the same animal. I had liver and chips, salad and a beer. And do you know what, it was one of the most honest and delicious meals I’ve ever had for £3.


The day is spent getting to know the area. It will be a major draw to the French and Spanish, but the British and Irish markets will invest here for the long term. A walk along the beach brings me to the Algerian border. More barbed wire and no-mans land. The border has been closed for some years.


Time to go back home, I have the same lunatic taxi driver, who picks me up at 4am. There is no moon, no road lights and only sidelights on his car, and still he has to do 150kph. He manages to miss numerous goats, sheep herds, a couple of donkeys and a horse with Schumacher style chicane maneuvering, along with missing dozens of other cars doing less than 40kph (no headlights required at this speed I’m told!). More sweaty palms and a relief to be safely back in ‘Spain’


I’m in the office for the usual email catch up and meeting to decide which of the autumn exhibitions BW Intl will be at.

No peace for the wicked though and I have to fly out to Portugal. Back to a European destination, easy travel and westwards along the motorway in the Algarve which has improved this area for everyone so much – one end of the Algarve to Spain in a couple of hours.

I’m off to see Oceanico’s flagship new Amendoeira resort in the Western Algarve. The company is run by the super clever Brit Simon Burgess and brilliant Irishman Gerry Fagan. Rather cleverly, they have employed the super clever Nick Faldo and brilliant Irish player Christy O’Connor jnr to design their two golf courses. Clever eh? It’s an easy call for me, the location is top notch and the lie of the land will produce a couple of excellent golf courses. We’ll sell here.

Their sales guy Peter takes me off to see some of their other projects nearby, punctuated by lunch at the marina in picturesque Lagos, at a restaurant full of British estate agents all speaking rather too loudly. Chaps; that is how you lose purchasers!

Another abysmal hotel somewhere I’d rather forget about – think fish and chips, lager and a disco until 3am directly below your room.


I’m seeing clients either side of the Spanish border today. A meeting in Ayemonte is followed by a bite to eat on the pretty beach at Isla Canela and then a meeting in the little port of Tavira. A relatively quiet day. The sun is shining, and all too soon I’m back to the airport to face Faro’s revolting lounge.

More next month!

James Wyatt is a partner at Barton Wyatt International based in Wentworth, Virginia Water.

Tel: 01344 843000