This year, a proud family-owned real estate company, one of Australia’s oldest, celebrates its 125th year in Willoughby.
If you’ve ever cruised down Penshurst Street, you’ve undoubtedly crossed paths with the long-standing Forsyth Real Estate office. Surpassing a century of service to the community, Forsyth remains in the trusted hands of Margaret Snodgrass (third-generation) and her son James Snodgrass (fourth-generation), continuing to operate from virtually the same well-recognised location.
To honour this significant milestone, we’re looking back on the rich history of the Forsyth family and their profound influence on Willoughby and its neighbouring suburbs.
The Family’s Connection to Willoughby
The Forsyth’s connection to Willoughby dates back to 1869, when James Forsyth, a tanner’s son from London, purchased 278 acres of land for just three pounds an acre. At that time, Willoughby was a remote bushland community with a population of just 553 people.
Fast forward to today, and the sought-after suburbs of Willoughby, Willoughby North, and Willoughby East are home to around 13,500 people, with the Willoughby City Council area totalling a population of around 82,000.
Six generations of the Forsyths have lived and worked in the suburb since, with their history deeply intertwined with the growth of Willoughby. The streets bear witness to their family legacy, with more than a dozen roads named after their family members or their residences, including Forsyth, Ann, Robert and Rosewall Streets, and Tyneside Avenue.
Fun fact: Three Forsyths have served as Mayor of Willoughby with each succeeding generation collaborating with local charities, hospitals and businesses to help improve the lives of our community. This includes being a founding member of the Royal North Shore Hospital, the Tresiilian Hospital of Mothers and the Real Estate Institute of NSW, along with donating land for local parks, churches and sporting clubs.
Where It All Began
The story of Forsyth Real Estate begins in 1898 with Robert Todd (RT) Forsyth, grandson of James Forsyth and a graduate of Willoughby Public School and Sydney Grammar School. At the tender age of 21, he opened the first real estate agency, RT Forsyth, in a humble timber office on the corner of Penshurst and Clanwilliam Streets. RT served as elected Mayor of Willoughby 11 times, all while his business thrived during the roaring 1920s. This prosperity enabled him to grow the business with the opening of a second office at 236 Penshurst Street in 1912.
Robert’s third child, James Forsyth, joined his father in the business in 1926, aged 18, eventually rising to the position of managing director in 1939. He dedicated 55 years of his life to the company, playing a pivotal role in transforming Willoughby from an isolated bushland community to a highly desirable residential suburb. James’ first son, Michael Forsyth, followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the third generation to enter the family business in 1953, aged 17. Following nearly 30 years of collaboration with his father, he took the reins as managing director in 1981. His sister, Margaret Snodgrass, also joined the team in 1980 and continues to serve as one of the directors. She now shares the role with her son and fourth-generation director, James Snodgrass (who is recognised as the youngest Australian Associate Director of one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world).
Over the last century, Forsyth’s have enjoyed the confidence of tens of thousands of families. Many of these loyal clients have been with them for 60 or 70 years, across multiple generations. Forsyth’s deliberate choice to remain a small to medium-sized agency has enabled the real estate agency to deliver personalised services while upholding the enduring trust of buyers, sellers, and renters through the years.
The Forsyth family’s commitment to Willoughby, their remarkable contributions to the real estate industry, and their ongoing service to the community ensure that their legacy is destined to endure for generations to come.