Many estate agents starting their career today can expect a basic salary that is no more than today’s minimum wage


Many estate agents starting their career today can expect a basic salary that is no more than today’s minimum wage, say Deverell-Smith and Sheppard

Our home is generally considered the largest financial commitment we will make in our personal lives. Yet for our most valuable asset there is a race to the bottom when negotiating the fees of those who help us to sell it and unsurprisingly service is following suit.

As a seller you are paying for an estate agent to find you the best buyer available in the market. The one who will pay the most, the one who can complete the fastest or perhaps the one most willing to wait for you to find your dream property.

While the earning potential of a successful agent remains appealing — at about £40,000-£50,000 after only a few years in post — the reality though is that many, particularly outside London, don’t earn as much. An agent starting their career today can expect a basic salary that is no more than today’s minimum wage, despite long hours, enormous pressure to deliver on sales and the often intrusive weekend and late-night working expectations. Historically, this wasn’t the case.

Low basic wages combined with a lack of regulation leaves the industry open to those after a fast buck where good customer service will definitely play second fiddle. Mandating a baseline qualification or training programme would attract those willing to learn and deter rogue agents.

There are undoubtedly an increasing number of poor quality agents on the market. However, low salaries and the traditional career structure precludes others such as working parents from seeing it as a viable option, as well as more senior people, whose real world experience and knowledge of the property market would be an asset to the sector. So with two large talent pools given little enticement to enter the sector and other industries (notably tech) consistently offering greater financial incentives and security to young people, the typical estate agency has to work extremely hard to recruit and retain the best people.

In contrast to the UK, the US market operates a licensing system with fees pushing towards 5 per cent and perhaps significantly the role of a realtor holds a solid, respected position in society. As long as the UK (wrongly) views estate agency as an easy career option without regulation or qualification, we will continue to buy on price not service.

For the sector to change, we need regulation and legislation to raise the barriers to entry to give would-be sellers some comfort on what to expect and a uniform complaints process if an agreed code of conduct is not met.

Qualifications or accreditations would also positively impact performance expectations and agent accountability — raising the public perception of estate agents. Formally professionalising this vocation would undoubtedly improve the appetite to pursue it as a longstanding career, which would raise the calibre of candidates.

There is more we as consumers can do too. We should only engage with competent businesses and individuals. Crucially, we should establish how many properties the particular agent has sold, where and how often they reached or exceeded the asking price. The same questions then apply to the firm they represent. This investment of time would ensure that it is harder for someone to set up a new business and “buy” market share by offering nothing more than a low-cost administration service.

Finally, think long and hard about the fee you agree to pay. Paying a fair rate and demanding fair service will be the first step to ensuring a positive experience all round.

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