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Meet Clive Emson, auctioneer extraordinaire

PUBLISHED: 12:17 27 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:17 27 September 2014

Clive Emson

Clive Emson

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Celebrating 25 years heading up the business that bears his name, the Homes Under The Hammer, car-mad family man looks back over the past quarter of a century at the top of his game

He’s the larger than life character with the gift of the gab who can electrify an auction room and effortlessly extract money from guests at charity fundraisers like no one else you’ve ever met.

And this month Clive Emson, FRICS FNAEA (Honoured) FNAVA Chairman, Auctioneer and President of the East Kent Branch of NAEA Member of the College 
of Fellows of the NAEA and National Auctioneering Committee for the NAEA and the RICS, celebrate 25 years at the helm of his land and property auction business.

But not many of us could dream of celebrating such a milestone with a lunch for 500 friends, colleagues and business associates in a building that bears our name. Clive can – the lunch takes place in the Clive Emson Conference Centre at the Kent County Showground on 1 October, the anniversary of the day back in 1989 when together with partners John Stockey and Hilary Harwin, he formed the company.

Today, they are supported by more estate agency offices than any other auctioneer’s practice and as well as offices in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, expansion in 2010 in Cornwall has taken in the West Country.

It seemed timely to visit Clive at home and to look back over those memorable years – and at what lies ahead. For Clive 
is never going to be a mere background player, despite telling me that his role 
now is “mainly dealing with things that are time consuming but non-fee paying, like complaints; fortunately we don’t have many. But if there are any comments I will reply personally, and people love it, can’t believe it’s the owner contacting them.”

We are chatting in the kitchen of his comfortable, rambling home tucked down a lane in Monks Horton, wife Sue at one end of the table, grandson Tom turning up later for an afternoon of shed clearing with grandpa - and the banter is flowing.

The master of the one liner is as witty as any comedian you’ll pay fancy money to see in the West End – which doesn’t half come in handy as an auctioneer.

So how did it all begin? After all Clive, who left Rochester School at 16 after battling with dyslexia, fell into estate agency “because you were out and about and driving cars. I’ve always been a petrol head.”

He still is: in the garages is a superb collection of classic cars that include a racing green Bentley Le Mans, a 1990 Rolls Royce Corniche convertible, a 1998 Bentley Olympian limousine in blue and a dark blue Rolls Royce Silver Spur Saloon.

He drives them all too, they pop up frequently in films (Mapp and Lucia the latest, on BBC One this month) and brides can ride to the church in style in an Emson special – just check out the brilliantly named website, Car Men Rollers.

Fortunately young Clive enjoyed agency work as well as the driving around bit and was originally articled to Geering & Colyer “back in the old days when you used to pay to get a job,” earning a princely £3 a week.

He then joined his older brother at Walter & Randall (which Clive Emson Land and Property Auctioneers took over 10 years ago and dropped the name) and embraced every opportunity to improve on that £3.

One big leap to £10 a week took Clive to Tonbridge and the offices of Ibbett Moseley in the High Street (now the site of Howard Cundey), working with what turned out to be his future brother-in-law.

“One night I was let down by a girlfriend – I know, it’s hard to believe – and Charles said ‘my sister’s down this weekend, she’s not fussy, she’ll probably go out with you.’

“Well, Sue and I went out and got together, but it meant that I was then working for my girlfriend’s brother and there wasn’t a long way to go in that firm because Charles was there when I was there and he only left a year ago – he’d 
been at the same desk for 50 years.”

Clive adds: “The whole of my life has just happened by coincidence – nothing is planned. When people knock at the door some open it, others leave it closed. I tend to open the door.” A great lesson for life.

Young and ambitious, Clive has never been one for waiting and when another door opened to become an ambassador for an agency in Folkestone (at a princely £20 a week), Clive not only jumped at the chance but was soon married to Sue and they were starting a family together in Sellindge.

By then he’d had a go at quite a few furniture auctions in Hythe and discovered he was rather good at it. Sue chips in: “We used to get people coming along just to watch him – he was totally non-PC and he does like a bit of heckling.”

Clive adds: “When you’re on the rostrum you’ve got to make the people on the other side feel relaxed, because people spend more money when they’re happy and when they’re laughing they’re more relaxed – but you’ve got to be in control.

“I’m dyslexic, which was why I found it hard to learn stuff and wasn’t very good at school, so I am always better with my own words than somebody else’s,” Clive adds.

Having the patter, business experience, a growing list of contacts and the confidence of a young upstart, Clive managed to get an unsecured loan for £2,500 from NatWest – “which was a lot of money back in 1973” – and opened up in Hythe under his own name, Clive Emson Estate Agents.

More offices opened on the east Kent coast and an empire was born, but Clive says it couldn’t happened without sheer hard work and the support of his family.

Clive adds: “In the early days I was the first one to open on a Saturday afternoon in Hythe and then I used to do the rents on Sunday morning and go to the new house site sales in the afternoon.

“I didn’t see much of the kids (James and Becky) and Sue was very understanding – I was working seven days a week. But it’s 
all part of being a team; if Sue hadn’t been how Sue is I couldn’t have done what I did.”

Fortunately, kids grow up fast and it was clear from a young age that James had inherited his father’s love of property.

“James was 15 when we first set up and he and I would set out at dawn on a Sunday morning with a horsebox on the back full of boards, We’d start at Thanet and work back down to Brighton until 10pm sometimes.”

James then went to Harper Adams to learn about property, joining the family firm in 1992/3. He’s been there more than 20 years now but, as his dad says, he has a totally different style on the rostrum.

“James is very straight. I sent him up to London to see how other auctioneers did 
it, but you have to do what works for your personality. It was James who set up the Brighton and Hampshire offices for me.”

Another side to Clive that has literally brought him into the nation’s homes is his regular appearances on BBC One’s Homes under the Hammer over the last 12 years.

And in Kent, you can’t miss Clive Emson Auctioneers – not only does the boss have a building at the County Show site named after him but he also owns a hot air balloon (well, the envelope bit) which bears his name and a ride in it is always one of the prizes when Clive does charity auctions.

Which he does a lot – and if you’ve never been to a function where Clive is driving guests to empty their wallets, make sure you remedy that immediately. I once saw him do a joint auction with Jeffrey Archer and it remains one of the most hilarious live performances I’ve ever seen.

On a serious note, Clive’s philanthropic heart is huge. The founding Chairman of the Young Lives Foundation, he has been 
a YLF Independent Visitor for young 
people in care since 2001 and involved with many children’s charities in Kent either as President or Chairman for 20 years.

No wonder he is happy to let his close-knit team of just 50 manage the offices. He’s helped enormously by their 
IT director Steve Ashman, who just happens to be Clive’s son-in-law, creating 
a bespoke computer programme that has transformed the business and is now used by 12 other auctioneers around the UK, as there literally isn’t one like it off the shelf.

“It’s a young man’s business and it’s time for me to stand back a bit – there is so much new legislation coming in,” says Clive.

“I’m going in a different direction now, doing all the things that don’t make profit.
I go to the lunches, do the charity auctions and I represent the firm all round the county and make presentations.

“I tend to get the business in but then someone else deals with it. I’m just not 
a box ticking sort of person.” n

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