Agents have long been the victim of a poor public reputation, from scoring highly in most disliked profession polls to being the subject of scathing comments when people move home.
The industry is not out the woods yet, but it can certainly be argued that sound progress has been made in recent years.
This is thanks to a huge effort from property professionals all over the country, combined with increased regulation.
Measures such as the ban on tenant fees, stricter rules on anti-money laundering, compulsory redress and serious action on cartel price fixing have all made agents more accountable, helping to identify the minority of rogue operators.
In the coming months and years, thanks to Lord Best's Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) report, agents will become even more formally regulated through a Code of Practice, new independent regulator and mandatory qualifications.
Whatever your thoughts on the RoPA project, there's no denying it will help to improve the public perception of agents further, while also putting our industry on an even footing with other sectors.
With transparency and professionalism seemingly at the forefront of the industry, why is the public perception of agents slowly improving and what can you do to capitalise on this progress?
Agents can still do more to promote transparency
Although agents have been obliged to publish their fees both in their offices and online for some years now, there are other non-compulsory actions they can take to promote a more positive image to consumers.
This includes more in-branch signage explaining the focus on transparency, while also incorporating messaging around having a 'cleaner' image in marketing campaigns.
Agents can make the professionalisation of the sector a bigger part of their sales pitch, making their brand stand out by not just focusing on price.
There could also be greater emphasis on transparency and rising standards in written communications such as social media posts, blogs and local press opportunities.
It's crucial that agents start to own the conversation, rather than allowing those with outdated opinions of the industry to set the agenda.
The 'new normal' provides greater responsibility
The property market was one of the first business sectors to reopen after lockdown restrictions started easing. This shows its importance on both an economic and personal level.
Moving home is a 'multiplier', meaning when someone buys or rents a property they are likely to purchase other goods and services, while the last few weeks have shown that there is a real want and need for people to move home.
The majority of agents have done brilliantly to adapt to a new world of social distancing and increased safety protocols, while at the same time managing a surge in demand post-lockdown.
It's important to communicate to customers how you are following the government guidelines and the measures you are taking to make the moving experience as safe as possible in a post-pandemic world.
Making sure staff are regularly refreshed on the viewings guidance, while also paying attention to the cross-industry guidance (which perhaps hasn't been given as much publicity as it should have), will also be beneficial in this regard.
Leading the way in helping people to move home safely has provided agents with a greater public responsibility than ever before. Getting it right now in an uncertain and jittery period can help to boost the industry's long-term reputation.
Don't push too hard on buyers and sellers
A frequent bugbear for many property buyers is being pressurised by agents to speak with their in-house mortgage broker when they are not obliged to.
Buyers are able to prove they have a mortgage in principle through their own broker, bank statements or written approval from a lender.
Many consumers - particularly those who are not familiar with the moving process - can feel under pressure from agents to use referred services as they fear their move could be at risk if they don't.
Of course, there is a need for agents to generate additional revenue, but approaching the issue with subtlety and transparency is key.
When agents are criticised by movers, 'pushy' is often one of the words used to describe them. Agents need to move away from this by being upfront, offering services at the right moment and putting buyers and sellers at ease during an expensive and sometimes stressful process.
*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch – sign-up here.