I think it's probably fair to guess that many didn’t originally set out to be estate agents - I know I certainly didn’t but I fell in love with the profession. It is a career that is often fallen into by chance rather than design.
I have often heard worse things said about property management personnel; they didn’t make the grade for being an estate agent so property management was the fall back.
Sharp, I know, but often somewhat true. These roles are fundamentally changing beyond recognition, partly because of simplicity. The simplicity and repetitive, cyclical nature of most of the tasks that are undertaken each day means that most will soon be done by alternative means.
It is this term ‘task’ that is important. Don’t ever think about your job in any other way than a collection of tasks you are charged with on a daily basis. Most will be replaced by more automation or other technological means.
I urge you to disagree with me, by the way. Tell me I am wrong. Even though I’m not.
The legal industry has also been panicking for sometime now as it realises the same thing. Many of the lawyer's tasks are being automated, slowly but surely replaced.
Some say this is a wonderful thing. Some say they are wanting this to happen ASAP so they can focus on more important jobs that lawyers do. No more of the donkey work.
I could quote endlessly from this article in the New York Times but, in the interests of being short and snappy, I will just link to it and state that experts predict artificial intelligence alone will take care of between 13-25% of a lawyer’s job moving forward.
I have lost count the number of ‘client’ events I have been to on behalf of lawyers in the last 12 months. These ‘client’ events generally turn into events that their own lawyers turn up to, desperate to try and understand their future.
Lawyers are looking to understand two key things: First, as their roles evolve from transactional business (billable hours and the positives and negatives there of, being a huge topic of discussion) to service business, how do they cope?
Second, and perhaps most laughably, are the quiet corner chats with senior partners asking me what other law firms are doing and developing. It is almost embarrassing.
The entire real estate industry is going to be in the same boat as the legal sector. The huge disparity of roles will be impacted differently and over a fluid time period but the quicker you realise it, the better it will be for you personally.
Indeed, I have also had a number of universities calling me, realising that their current undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications are completely irrelevant now.
A notable mention has to go to one professor who looked at me and said, “I have been teaching a valuation module for as long as I have been lecturing. No-one wants to do it anymore as they realise it is a skill they no longer need.”
So, what should you do?
1. Consider if you really really want to be an estate agent.
Tech will get rid of a lot of the donkey work. People will still need estate agents in the short and mid-term and they will need to be seriously good ones - those who understand empathy, those who know what to say at the right moment in order to give reassurance. Those who know the art of negotiating both sides of the deal.
Eventually, we will see the role of ‘negotiator’ disappear, so it's important to understand what will replace it.
2. Consider getting experience in the PropTech sector sooner rather than later, so you can become a more rounded, tech-enabled industry employee.
I was contacted just this morning by a past colleague of mine and the following message demonstrates this sort of attitude:
“After 20 years as a ‘traditional’ agent (most recently as a partner at ‘agency X’ for a near decade), I have embraced the non traditional and joined a firm called ‘firm X. My co-sales director is ‘director X’, another familiar name to you, perhaps? Whereas we think of ourselves as a lettings agent doing things differently, we would be labelled as ‘PropTech’”.
3. Reflect on your current employer and take a view on their strategy.
Does it involve technology at all? Have they got anybody in the team that understands how technology will impact the business?
Is senior management engaged in the technology debate or have they put the blinkers on? Have they factored in any ‘Plan B’ for this technological revolution?
If the answer to any of this is no, I would seriously consider my position at the company and look elsewhere for other firms that do consider these matters important.
4. Upskill now.
OK, the option to leave and join a startup might be a bit extreme for some. Therefore, the alternative is to upskill. Read, read and read some more.
Go and speak to startups, go and attend some meet-up groups. Network with the people who will teach you about the future market you are in. Watch some TED talks, listen to some podcasts. Anything that will help you understand more of the future.
Therefore, my conclusion is pretty simple. While your bosses should be thinking about their succession and exit plans, you, the humble estate agent, need to skill up or get out into something that will do that by other means.
There will not be a moment wasted for your own personal career if you do just that.
Your managers won’t understand it, they won’t like it and they will try to convince you to stay. It is part of their strategy to have the best agents, but the best agents need to seriously consider where they will be in 2030.
Opening doors won’t be one of those roles I can assure you.
*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform Unissu. You can follow James on Twitter here.