The number of people working in “real estate activities” leapt 9.9% between March and June, according to the Office for National Statistics.
While how many of these are actually agents is unknown, this was the fastest percentage increase in any sector, with a rise of 77,000 people working in “real estate activities” over the last year.
The total number of people working in UK “real estate activities” is now 562,000 – exceeding the 2008 peak.
It is also the largest number since records began in 1978, according to the ONS, prompting fevered headlines in the media that all are estate agents.
Certainly, specialist recruiters are being kept busy – even if they are picking their words carefully. Josh Rayner said: “The news that nearly one in four jobs created during the past year was in the property sector will come as no surprise to estate agency bosses or recruiters.
“The housing market has seen a marked increase in activity in 2013, leading to huge demand for high-calibre people to capitalise on the opportunities.
“My own company, Rayner Personnel, is currently looking to fill more than 180 live jobs. Many good people left the industry when times were tough and this has created a shortage of experienced property professionals. Now would be a good time for them to return.”
It is also noticeable that some agents are recruiting via social media.
We spotted one ad from a well known, mid to upmarket firm offering an experienced negotiator in the south on-target earnings of £30,000. Since the advert will have cost nothing, and a good negotiator will be a superb fee earner, that looks mean.
June is the latest month for which ONS data is available and “real estate activities” could encompass a number of roles. We did ask the ONS press office for a breakdown to see whether the high figure it quotes includes surveyors, developers and others, but as yet have had no response.
That did not stop one economist, Danny Gabary of Fathom, saying: “We’re no longer a nation of shopkeepers. We’re becoming a nation of estate agents.”
This is an excellent sound-bite but it is statistically untrue: according to the latest official data, even with the latest surge, people working in “real estate activities” form 1.7% of the working population, compared with 8% in manufacture – and 15.1% in retail.
Indeed, the 1.7% proportion is one of the lowest there is.
Exactly where the 562,000 could be working is unknown, but certainly they could not all be in estate agents’ and letting agents’ offices – unless they are rammed to the gills. Even the 77,000 increase over the last year quoted by the ONS could not possibly refer just to agents, unless each branch has taken on another six people or so.
Anthony Hesse, managing director of Property Personnel, told EAT: “Whilst there is no doubt that the estate agency industry has expanded in terms of staffing numbers in the last 12 months, the figures quoted by some of the press are misleading, in my opinion.
“I would like to see an actual breakdown of the ONS figures as ‘real estate’ covers a multitude of disciplines, only a small one of which is estate agency.
“There is, however, no doubt that estate agents have recruited more staff in the last 12 months. Our own performance reflects that, and it is interesting to note that 40% of our placements in the last 12 months have been non-industry experienced people. This figure is up 25% on the previous year – another indication of an expanding industry."
He added: “With regards to social media, more and more of our clients are resorting to trying social media to find staff.
“Interestingly, many of our clients trying these methods are actually utilising our services more than they have ever done. That’s not to say it isn’t working for them, but the fact remains that many candidates don’t like approaching clients directly.”
Certainly, the 562,000 ‘real estate’ figure does not tally with what we know about office numbers.
Rightmove, in its latest results for the six months ended June 30, said it had a membership of 18,916 offices and developers – up 3.5% since the start of the year. However, the figure was not broken down, and includes both agents and developers – although most are agents’ offices.
The Property Ombudsman – by far the larger of the two ombudsman schemes – said in August that it had 12,012 sales agents and 10,028 letting agents. Again, it counts offices. However, there will be considerable cross-over between the two, and currently, letting agents do not have to belong to an ombudsman scheme.
The labour statistics are, however, interesting, and certainly show a trend. But perhaps it's time there was a proper census?