Boring would be the word I’d use.
Things are still happening, people want to sell, people want to buy.
Estate agents aren’t yet sitting at their desks, gazing out of the window (or worse, at their phones), wondering where everyone has gone. But the excitement of a busy market has gone, it's now just the humdrum business of matching fewer, hesitant buyers to properties where owners think they’re selling far too cheaply.
Boring, but if it’s the lowest point, well I think we’d all take that.
It’s also a market where bank rates have risen, prices have been falling for months on end, and where buyers are scarcer and stock levels are low. Yet prices rose according to Halifax. People have less money in their pockets yet rents are up by double-digit percentages. It's all quite strange.
But something else is happening too.
Earlier this week an estate agency friend of mine said to me over a coffee “you’d think they would be biting my hand off”.
He was describing his woes about the process of currently trying to recruit two new colleagues. One is to replace a leaver and the other is to take on some of the additional work that a challenging market causes – more viewings for fewer sales, slower and more problematic chain progression – you know the kind of thing.
And yet, just at the time when he thought he’d be inundated with CV’s, nothing. He’s tried social media, job sites, even a poster in the office window.
It got me thinking.
There’s been a slow but steady change to estate agency over the last ten years or so, and when you think about it, to society too.
In the past, agencies were full of office juniors, a role now that doesn’t really exist anymore. They did jobs nobody else wanted to do and frankly which don’t exist anymore either. They did the photocopying, sent the faxes, hand-delivered letters, filled the envelopes and stuck the stamps on the mail outs.
School leavers who took the job now go on to further education so we have a skills shortage because people aren’t working their way up in the property business in the same way.
The sluggish market is also stopping mobility. Much like tenants, agents are fearful of moving from what they know - their security - in pursuit of career advancement or even a good old-fashioned pay hike. Many think it’s better to sit things out where they are and await better times.
There’s also a shortage of labour in the UK generally. There are still a million unfilled vacancies, jobs people either don’t want or haven’t got the skills for. The housing crisis must bear responsibility too, because many jobs are in locations where people just can’t afford to live.
So what’s the answer to the recruiting impasse, other than simply paying more?
Well, if paying more is an option, you should.
But look at other things that cost less too.
Offer a proper, structured career path, training and mentoring. Sign up for an employer benefits program that offers free (to the employee) things like wellness programs, a free weekly coffee, money off shopping and a lot more. Look at flexible working – could the role be done well by two people sharing the job which opens it out to stay at home parents who could work around school hours?
Finally, for non-specialist roles, don’t insist on property experience.
You can teach everything about agency to a willing person but you can’t teach enthusiasm and the pleasure to be had from helping people go through the tricky sales process efficiently and as painlessly as possible. Get the right mind-set first and the rest should fall into place.
Having the right number of dynamic staff is more important than ever, especially as we reach the quieter winter months. Recruiting is a hassle, but its one of your most important tasks too.