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By Nat Daniels

CEO, Angels Media


OTHER FEATURES

Property Natter - will UK agents ever be seen as true professionals?

There are some parts of the world, including in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, where estate agent isn’t seen as a dirty word or a job to be ashamed of.

But the UK isn’t one of them. We all know the negative perception most people have of agents – greedy, lazy, amoral, in it for themselves – backed up by portrayals in the media and popular culture.

As I mentioned in this piece I wrote last year, all the surveys about the least trusted or least well-respected professions typically have estate agents in them alongside politicians, journalists and traffic wardens.

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This comes despite most people being happy with the service they receive from their agents, and the fact that rogue operators – while definitely a significant and ongoing problem – are very much in the minority.

Why, then, do agents here not enjoy the same respect that property professionals in Canada or Australia or the Middle East enjoy? In some parts of the world, agents – or real estate professionals, as they're often known – are seen as on a par with teachers, lawyers and doctors, the archetypal professional class.

Incidents such as the one involving an agent harassing Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty in a London park or the Savills employee allegedly sending racist posts after the Euro 2020 final don’t help the reputation of agents one bit, even if they are relatively isolated incidents.

Inevitably, given the shocking nature of these incidents and who was involved in them, they received significant national press, whereas the more uplifting story of an agent saving a woman from drowning around the same time was only really picked up in the trades.

We all know negative press will receive far more attention than the many examples of agents doing good work, and incidents like the two we saw earlier this year set back the perception of estate agents once more, which had been enhanced somewhat during the pandemic when a spirit of collaboration and togetherness shone through in agency as much as anywhere. Those involved in these incidents entirely lived up to the stereotype most people have of agents.

A lack of proper training and qualifications doesn’t help, either. While this is getting better, it’s certainly the case that a teacher, lawyer, engineer or doctor will need a far higher level of training and qualifications than an agent.

There are moves to remedy this with the ROPA proposals that should come into force at some point in the next few years and the sterling work of various property training companies and property trainers.

People fear a more regulated market because of the extra red tape and admin this can include, but a more regulated market reduces the chances of rogue agents operating under the radar and improves perception in the eyes of the public.

Agents are always going to have to fight harder to prove themselves and their competence than, say, a doctor or lawyer – who enjoy that in-built respect and inherent trust.

In somewhere like Canada and Australia, agents are heavily regulated and licensed but also more respected and able to charge much higher fees.

Maybe that should be the ultimate goal for UK agency. Or, there is an alternative argument here, that whatever agents do, that negative perception is too ingrained and too reinforced by society in various ways – and therefore agents here will never enjoy the respect that their counterparts in other parts of the world do. But if the majority still do an excellent job, does it really matter if perception doesn’t match up with reality?

We have to hope ROPA will be a step-change in perception and that no more incidents of the like witnessed earlier this year will occur to allow the reputation of the industry to grow once more.   

A busy few months ahead

Agents, along with conveyancers, surveyors, lenders, removal companies and others, will need all the stamina, know-how, nous and expertise they can muster over the coming months, which are expected to be busy as the end of the stamp duty holiday hits – coinciding with the end of furlough.

Exact numbers are hard to come by, but there will be agents and property professionals who are still currently furloughed and may face an uncertain future when the scheme ends. That said, the property market is currently booming – even if there’s been a slight drop-off since the end of the first stage of the stamp duty holiday and a half-version of the normal summer holidays lull. This should help to ensure that lots of jobs remain viable even after government support is taken away completely.

On a more positive note, the return of live events – not least the ESTAS in October – will give the great and good of the industry a chance to meet, network, collaborate, celebrate and come together after so many months apart.

There should be some interesting property announcements in the remaining months of the year, too, with the newly revived but much less bitter portal wars seeing Rightmove, Zoopla, OnTheMarket and Boomin battling to outdo each other, while the fallout from Purplebricks’ shift to a fully employed model should continue to generate good copy. We also have possible rental reform to look forward to, more news on ROPA, and the potential for changes to capital gains tax to help recoup some of the huge sums of money spent during the coronavirus pandemic.

We can all be cautiously optimistic – although the threat of Covid is still ever-present and lingering in the background. Life does feel more normal again, but there will no doubt be challenges ahead and it remains to be seen if a dip in the market after the stamp duty holiday becomes something more long-term, after a very sustained and unusual boom.

Throughout it all, we’ll be here to bring you all the latest news, so keep your eyes on EAT, LAT and the other sites for all your updates as September roars into life.

Until next time…

*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.

  • Chris Arnold

    By association, most estate agents will be tarred with the same brush because they fail to distance themselves from the very worst members of their trade. Happy to be part of a commodity service industry, they rely on competence as their certification for doing what they do.

    That's not enough. There are plenty of competent agents and plenty of charlatans that claim competence - because they can. Five star reviews aren't worth the paper they're written on and qualifications, as they are at school, simply mean that an agent can remember facts and figures enough to answer the questions.
    The training on offer from most "respected" trainers is third-rate and, in many cases, does more damage to the reputation of the industry than good. Why? Because like all coaches, they are judged on results, what works and not on "soft skills" that more impact reputation. As long as competition is encouraged by those that lead this industry, there will be agents that will do whatever it takes to win.
    Stop competing, rely on character over competence and there might be a future for this industry.

  • Richard Rawlings

    Very well said Chris (and indeed Nat!)

    Character and personality over "process" any day. Hence being a little miffed by your comment about "respected" trainers! Anyone who has attended any of my courses will tell you that there is an overriding focus on harnessing the character of the individual agent.

    Whilst of course there will always be specific "techniques" to train (eg how to persuade a seller on price or fee), none of these work unless delivered by a trustworthy, likeable, articulate, and enjoyable individual of character.

    As I have always said, YOU are more important than your brand! Have a great day.

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