Meet the Property Porn Stars shaking up British estate agents

28/02/2022

Tyron Ash remembers that first salvo of abuse, the insults that confirmed his business was heading in the right direction. The first Twitter DM (direct message) he received said, “You’re shits.” The second said, “Flash f***er.” Other comments from fake accounts added racial slurs.

“Those first messages were from senior directors of big estate agents. But you know what, I didn’t blame them. People lash out when they’re scared and, trust me, we were eating these people alive.”

In his big coat and Gucci slippers, 33-year-old Ash might look like a financier straight out of a Succession storyline. In fact, he’s an estate agent working in what he calls the “luxury super-prime” market. Early in 2020, his new business only a few months old, his rivals rounded on him. They were upset at how he was disrupting the game. “They were angry because we knocked on their clients’ doors whenever we saw a ‘for sale’ sign and told the owners, ‘Your current agent is lazy. We’ll sell this property for you. Guaranteed.’ ”

Ash doesn’t run an expensive office or print glossy brochures. Instead he simply “cold-calls” at his rivals’ listings. If they agree to give him a chance he makes a cinematic sales video, posts it on social media and then arranges highly competitive open-house viewings where on-the-spot deals are encouraged.

Within 18 months he claims to have wrenched £300 million worth of sales from established players such as Knight Frank, Savills and Hamptons.

Tyron and Reis Ash arriving for a valuation

His team may rock the bespoke suits, frocks, nails, hair and teeth of the super-wealthy but they are working class, with none of the entitlement of their Californian cousins. “There’s an authenticity to what we do,” says Ash. “For old money, we can be too much. But we work with new money – a younger generation who respect how real we are.”

In the opening credits, see Ash raise two middle fingers and a triumphant “f*** you” to the world as £75,000 in commission rolls in. Marvel as former gang-member Quas Miah cold-calls a man on the doorstep of his north London mansion.

“Mate, are you selling your ass?” he calls out. Of course he means “house”, but Miah wears his East End roots proudly.

More than anything, Property Porn Stars shows us just how much money Tyron Ash’s crack team of “super-prime” are managing to rake in. Take the example of Alex Moisii, 33, a Romanian/Italian firebrand and the company’s top “closer”. Two years ago he was a chef at a takeaway in Northamptonshire. Last year he earned more than £200,000 in commission.

Then there’s 20-year-old Chloe Cable, who used to work in a nail bar on the south coast but is now a partner in the firm. The video walk-throughs she posts on social media (in black thigh boots and miniskirt, she executes a slow-mo catwalk strut through her clients’ living rooms to a hip-hop soundtrack) helped her earn more than £100,000 in the past year.

And then there’s Sophie Leigh, 27, a sport nut and former personal trainer who became an estate agent after suffering an injury playing American football. “I am not cut out for 9-5. I came to work for Tyron to make money and have an adventure,” she says.

I meet them at a £3 million penthouse in Chelsea Harbour, west London, one of the company’s listings. This two-bedroom home boasts 360-degree living-room views and benefits from marble floors and a spacious outside deck with hot tub.

Ash, Cable, Leigh and Moisii

So much for standard estate agent blather. To get the full effect you have to watch Sophie Leigh’s social media film. As she stalks through the penthouse to Kanye West’s Praise God, the property ad becomes a hip-hop video. In other promo clips, Leigh dives into her clients’ swimming pools or does back-flips on their garden trampoline. “We are performers to an extent,” she says. “Younger buyers particularly love seeing us pull up in a supercar, dive in the pool or lie on the bed.”

Leigh’s American football knee injury was so bad she says she needed a “skinny BBL” to cheer herself up. I thought it was a drink from Starbucks. It isn’t. A BBL is a “Brazilian bum lift”, a surgical procedure enhancing the volume and projection of the buttocks. “My knee injury compromised my ability to shape my glutes. The BBL gave me confidence, which you need in this business,” she says.

Tyron Ash agrees. “To sell a pad for a million you have to look a million,” he says, fiddling with his tie clip. Do you have to be beautiful to sell super-prime? “Unconventional looks can sometimes work,” he says with a shrug. “As long as you can sell.”

All his agents are gym-toned, good-looking and smell nice. Ash and Moisii are in Gucci slippers, bespoke suits and, quite daring for grimy London, white overcoats. Cable and Leigh look as if they’re waiting to board a superyacht. “The secretary look is not good enough for luxury sales,” says Cable. “And buyers get a bit anxious if you turn up with a carrier bag. You have to make them feel this is a world you’re comfortable in.”

While Ash tells me he took 30 calls from TV production companies wanting to make a programme about his firm, Cable handles a call from a stressed seller. Her husband is worried about complications with “the chain”. “You have to be available 24 hours a day and you become their therapist,” she says when the call ends. “The men often get more stressed about a sale than the women, but they make her call.”

It seems the deal will be OK. But it leads to some interesting small talk. While Cable has to offer counselling, Alex Moisii doesn’t. His sales technique is more uncompromising. “People try to screw you over all the time when a deal is closing. You have to be ready to have a serious conversation,” he says.

Everybody has had an adverse estate-agent experience at some point in their lives. The agent who rhapsodises over the master bedroom while stumbling into a broom cupboard. The agent who fakes a rival bid to hike up the price. My worst experience was a guy who rented me a flat in Brixton, south London, in the Nineties. He said the landlord was looking for someone responsible and flexible. On my first day home from work in the new flat I found a man drinking a cup of tea and using the washing machine in the kitchen. He was the landlord. He said his new place didn’t have a machine and this was what he meant about being flexible.

No wonder there have been attempts to “disrupt” the property-buying process. In the past decade the company Purple Bricks has pioneered a hybrid model where you sell via its online portal for a flat fee. More recently the US company Zillow pioneered “iBuying”. Using a sophisticated algorithm, the company offered homeowners an estimate (known as a “zestimate”) of their home’s value. The company itself then bought the home for cash and, after doing an upgrade, tried to sell it on for a profit. It didn’t work. Zillow stopped buying houses in November 2021 and laid off 2,000 staff after losing a lot of money.

So, no one has so far managed to change the game. Even Tyron Ash’s model is quite old-fashioned. There’s no innovative use of data; just creative social media backed by hungry agents who work commission-only. However, that commission is 2.5 per cent. On a £4 million property, that is £100,000. Tyron Ash keeps half of that, with the agent taking 25 per cent for listing the property and the other 25 per cent going to whoever sells it.

“You eat what you kill,” says Ash. “We are working-class outsiders in this game and what you get is that hunger and energy. We are busy closing [the deal] while everyone else is sitting in an office on their arse.”

David Mamet’s classic play Glengarry Glen Ross portrays extraordinary venality and rivalry in the world of Chicago property sales. The agents plot and fight over the best “leads”. It’s no different at Tyron Ash. In one episode Leigh and Moisii have a blazing row over a prospective sale in Cornwall. Moisii says he found the client. Leigh claims she closed the deal. “I tried to help you,” he cries. “Why are you such a prick?” she demands.

The anger is born of ambition, maybe even a sense of desperation. All the Tyron Ash agents I speak to see this as their big break. They performed badly at school. They’ve done a lot of crap jobs. This is their chance. Chloe Cable grew up in Warsash, a village between Portsmouth and Southampton. Aged 13 she got work in a nail bar and, after that, a tanning salon. When she was 15 she bought herself a Gucci belt. Her dad went mad.

“I hammer my guys to perform because when they sell, I get an extra 10 per cent,” she says. “My plan is to pay off my dad’s mortgage for him.”

Tyron Ash expects each agent to knock on 150 doors each month. What’s it like for the girls, I wonder, dressed to the nines, cold-calling at multimillion-pound properties? “Mostly people are respectful,” says Cable. “You have less than two minutes to add value to that initial conversation. But people want to sell their houses and so they welcome a deal.”

However, she admits that one time a boxer lost interest describing his bathroom and asked her to be the bikini-clad “ring girl” at his next fight. Another man texted her after a viewing and invited her to accompany him on an all-expenses trip to Los Angeles. “It doesn’t matter if you have a £10 million property to sell, you have to be professional. It’s disgusting.”

Sophie Leigh has had bad experiences too.

“You chat and it seems OK, but then very occasionally you get a message asking for extras.” She sighs. “I do think it’s easier for men in this game. They don’t get that hassle.”

I sit down with Alex Moisii in the penthouse office. He swivels in a high-backed chair while I flip through my pad and try to ask questions. It’s like doing a property deal. “I can’t give you everything about my life because I’m saving my story for a book,” he says. Moisii oozes confidence and machismo. He reminds me of Al Pacino playing Richard Roma in the 1992 film version of Glengarry Glen Ross. Wily, fast-talking, looking for the angle no one else can see.

In 2018 Moisii had a great business idea. He developed “edible gold”, a health supplement that contained gold nanoparticles, which he sold for £39.99 a pop in Northampton. After that he became a chef at the Food Plug, a local takeaway.

He still remembers the night he became an estate agent. He was cooking a steak at the Food Plug. The customers were annoying him. “I am a great chef, let me tell you,” he asserts. “But I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t be myself. And people see a guy trying his best but they keep making extra demands.”

Moisii is good-looking and charismatic. I can’t help wondering what these extra demands were. “Salt, man. The customers wanted extra salt or more sauce, but it was too fast-paced an environment for these extra demands. Eat what I give you.”

Bursteads Barn, Hertfordshire, £4 million

Moisii grew up in Palermo, Italy, and came to the UK as a boy. He was expelled from college for fighting and thrown out of the family home when he was 16. “My dad said, you wanna be a gangster, then go do that on the street, but not here.”

He has made some bad decisions and been in trouble. He won’t tell me exactly what. “I’m quite an edgy guy, you know,” he says, flexing his neck. Moisii is an unlikely luxury estate agent. He wears rings on all his knuckles and crucifix earrings in his left ear. When the company first launched, Tyron Ash was nervous that Moisii’s look might put off clients. In one episode, a vendor looking to sell a substantial property in Thrapston, Northamptonshire, admits that when he saw Moisii coming up the gravel to cold-call he thought he was the “parcel guy”.

But Moisii says his look, his demeanour, is part of the authenticity that a young generation of property-buyers like. “I don’t change nothing about myself,” he says. “And when people see that I am real and consistent and deliver on a promise, they get it.”

I love watching Moisii sell property. In one episode a man arrives to view a £7 million apartment with private river access in London Bridge. This is a man of substance. Nevertheless Moisii treats him like a guy bending the magazines in a newsagents.

“I recommend you to love it or it’s gone,” he says.

“Yeah, he does like an ultimatum, does Alex,” chuckles Tyron Ash.

Moisii believes the ability to purchase luxury goods says something about one’s manhood. He tells me you are not a man until you own a Rolex (he is wearing one). And in one of his online property ads he stands outside a country house, staring moodily into the distance in sunglasses next to a vintage Jag. The ad doesn’t even say anything about how many bathrooms or bedrooms the property has, just Moisii’s thoughts: “Too many guys in the world. Be a man.”

What does that mean exactly?

“It means you have to have balls to buy a luxury property. And to sell it. On the streets, when you get in a fight, you know who you’re fighting. In property, it’s more vicious.”

Tyron Ash’s gang is full of hungry hustlers. He was one himself once. We meet in a coffee shop near his Chelsea Harbour apartment. He is a big guy with meticulous facial hair, trimmed as close as the felt on a card table. On his left lapel is a diamond badge in the shape of a crown. Why?

“That tells you I’m the king of real estate,” he says, his tone factual rather than explanatory, like someone telling me today’s date. We are the only proper punters in the café. Everyone else is in a hard hat and wearing a tool belt – the labour workforce building more grand vistas of luxury. Ash and his French bulldog, Rocky, live here among the trucks and cement mixers. I mention I’m not sensing a lot of local community.

“I reckon you’d be more of a Victorian property guy,” he says.

Ash says he can divine a person’s property preferences in a second. There are a lot of “tells” – clues – he says. I think that means I’m too old and scruffy for “super-prime”.

“This world is about new money,” he says. “I sell to social media stars, tech entrepreneurs, Premier League football players. I sold a property to Jadon Sancho’s family recently.”

Poole, Dorset, £2.75 million

Ash likes it here. I visited his apartment earlier and saw his vast collection of shoes and trainers, his coffee-table book about collectible watches, and his diamanté skull. He has a £200,000 Lamborghini Huracán parked in the garage below. “It’s already paid for itself several times over. When I drive that to an MA [market appraisal], clients know I’m a serious player. Don’t look like you need a loan; look like you own the bank.”

It’s a long way from his roots in Milton Keynes where he grew up. His Pakistani father, Maz, was an engineer for Rolls-Royce. His Italian mother, Maria, worked for the council. By 17 he had left school and was working locally as an estate agent. He was good at it, but didn’t feel his career was progressing quickly enough. That’s when he made a big mistake.

“I couldn’t get the finance to open my own agency,” he says. “Angry and frustrated is a bad combination for a young man, and I got in with the wrong crowd.” On his right arm there’s a tattoo that says “Only God Can Judge Me”. In 2015, he found out that isn’t strictly true. A judge judged him. Ash, then known as Tyron Ashraf, received a 40-month sentence for intent to supply class-A drugs.

“It was cocaine, not a large amount but, no excuses, I did it. It’s the most stupid thing I have ever done.” He served 20 months, first at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes, then HMP Ranby in Nottinghamshire and finally in an open prison. Open prison was the worst.

“At an open prison men have freedom to socialise, but I preferred the safety of the cell because I didn’t want to mix. My stance was, ‘Why socialise? I am ashamed to be here.’ I watched my dad cry in the visiting room, and if that doesn’t wake you up nothing will.”

While in prison he trained as an electrician and, on release, he tried making a go of it but hated it. Luckily, an old friend from his estate agent days got him a job at a firm called Fine & Country. Ash began posting his properties on social media and one month he earned £28,000 in commission. “People would say, ‘Why are you acting like you’re a millionaire on Insta?’ But I could see it was the future.”

Clink Wharf, London, sold for £5.7 million

By 2019 he’d ploughed his £100,000 life savings into starting his own company. Even without renting an office he had to pay for access to property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla, a CRM (customer relationship management system), buying insurance, a website and registration with the property ombudsman.

“Six weeks in I was hungry and I had to ask my mum for £5,000 so I could eat,” he says. “There was no plan B. This had to work.”

Then, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and things looked grim. But when traditional estate agents shut their offices, their employees flocked to Ash’s online operation. He recruited 40 agents in 6 weeks and they went to work. Initially, they sold anything.

“We sold a house for 300 grand. Even a garage at one point. But then in the summer of 2020 I told them, ‘Go for luxury.’ ”

Now he has 65 agents in all, selling luxury property all over the UK. “In Wales, luxury can start at £500,000,” says Ash. “In London, it can be anything up to £10 million.”

But the world of luxury property is sometimes baffling. When one of his agents shows off a £7 million apartment owned by a billionaire in Kensington in London, the highlight is an automated wooden cabinet that rises up from a chest of drawers. It’s for displaying a collection of luxury wristwatches.

A nice view, a fancy kitchen, those I can drool over. But an automated wristwatch cabinet feels too much. Isn’t some luxury a bit pointless? “We live in a world of excess. No one needs a watch display cabinet, but then no one needs to go to Harrods or Selfridges and bang ten grand on a credit card. But it happens. Our clients like to show off. And our job is to be a part of that performance.”