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By Colin Shairp

Director, Fine & Country Southern Hampshire

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A 9 to 5 estate agent…dream on!

There’s lots of talk of people moving over within estate agency to be self-employed so they can chase the dream of a higher income while working fewer hours.

With the New Year coming, it might be tempting to think of such a work model as the way forward. But in an industry normally staffed (and I mean staffed, not self-employed) by hard-nosed people, it strikes me as slightly unhinged to imagine that somehow by abandoning everything you can win even more.

I’ve been in estate agency since 1985, much of the time as a director or owner of the business I work for. That’s effectively self-employed by anyone’s book. I set my hours, adjust my workload, and love every minute of it.

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Does that mean relaxing on a nine to five regime, taking an hour for lunch, and making sure the kids’ sports days, nativity plays, and other events were never missed? Of course not.

So how are people in this industry persuaded that going self-employed will bring them new freedoms? The exact opposite will be true, as you should ask anyone who has ever worked this system. And before you abandon all that you have now in terms of employment, go to the HMRC website and conduct the test to see if you really will be self-employed or remain an employee in their eyes. Believe me, it’s what they think that counts rather than what you might imagine. Click this link and assess your chances.

It’s actually more difficult than you imagine gaining self-employed status and it involves an element of financial risk to achieve. So why bother?

There’s more to HMRC granting IR35 status than merely setting your own hours. You have to be responsible for costs before your client pays them, you don’t get holiday pay, and sick pay is a figment of the imagination.

You can also be dropped more easily than someone on the payroll. Inevitably you will need to have more than one employer and that might not sit well in an industry like ours. How, for instance, would you react if each of your estate agency clients sent along the same person to view the sameproperty? Worse still, how would you manage showing the same person different properties, one for each employer, and then selling them one in particular above the others? You won’t last long with the losing firms.

Naturally, you can get over that by working only for one client but that almost certainly makes you an employee. It seems to me to be hardly worth the effort and in these times of property supply shortage setting up yet another agency ready to race to the bottom by slashing commission rates at the very time your overheads are at their highest seems like sheer madness to me.

At present, I’d suggest that you stick with what you have and wait to launch your agency when times are better. Then you can truly work for yourself.

That said, as the recently-nominated top estate agent in Portsmouth, if you are working for a rival of mine then go ahead, leave, and be self-employed. It probably won’t last long and will thin the competition even more. If it does work, but you’re finding it a strain after a few months, give me a call and we’ll see if you can join us. It means working 9-6 at least, and two Saturdays in four. But it’s probably more time off than you’ll get out there on your own!

*Colin Shairp is director of Fine and Country Southern Hampshire and Town and Country Southern. He is also the south eastern regional representative on the Fine and Country National Advisory Council.

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