Thanks in part to the UK Government’s Help to Buy scheme, 2014 has so far seen significant growth in the UK’s property market, as more people consider moving home. What skills and qualities can Service-leavers bring to the estate agent profession?
By Paul F Cockburn, from Civvy Street #49 (July 2014)
Stuart Richards comes from a Military family; between them, his father, uncles and grandfather have served in all of UK’s Armed Forces and so, on leaving school, it seemed natural for Stuart to follow in their footsteps, as a fitness instructor in the RAF. However, as he came up to his eighth year in uniform, marriage helped change his priorities, and he began looking for other opportunities – ideally in the Midlands, where he hoped to settle.
Stuart is now the manager of one of the biggest branches of Newton Fallowell, one of the largest estate agents in the East Midlands. (The company also took the bronze medal for Best Estate Agency Franchise at the Estate Agency of the Year Awards 2013.) Ultimately, he aims to become one of the company’s own franchisees but, for the moment at least, both he and Franchise Director, David Spackman are happy for him to get even more practical experience under his belt within the company.
In some respects it is pure chance that Stuart has ended up where he is now; his first Civilian Work Attachment, during his resettlement, just happened to be in the office of an estate agent, where he offered to work weekends to help build up his knowledge of the profession. (His second, and final CWA, was with another agency.) On the other hand, it also seems inevitable; Stuart has long enjoyed watching property programmes on television, and has a genuine enthusiasm for the whole property sector.
FIXTURES AND FITTINGS
Stuart also accepts he has at least other interests which fit in well with his civilian career; a desire to reap the rewards of his own hard work. While he insists that he enjoyed his time in uniform, it did slightly niggle that, regardless of whether or not he worked harder than the next guy, they would both receive the same pay packet at the end of the month. Now, the harder he works, the more he earns – altogether a much more palatable kind of commission!
David Spackman is happy too, believing that Stuart embodies the range of ‘can do’ attributes and transferable skills that all too many Service-leavers don’t even realise they have, yet which civilian employers place so much value on: from reliability in time-keeping and neatness of appearance to possessing excellent negotiation skills and a willingness to get the job done, no matter what’s happened to change the landscape.
Stuart insists that Service-leavers with the right interest and enthusiasm for property can do well in the estate agency profession, either as employees of established firms or following the business models provided by successful franchisors. It is, after all, a profession where personality, people skills and experience are as valued as academic training – in fact, probably more so.
Personal qualities that are much sought after in estate agents include: skills in negotiation and persuasion; a confident and outgoing manner; excellent communication skills; commercial awareness; a focus on customer service; traits such as determination, perseverance and patience; an understanding of marketing techniques; and IT skills.
A degree is not an essential entry requirement, although increased competition in the job market (even now, when the sector is showing signs of growth) means that having a degree, foundation degree or HND in an appropriate subject could be advantageous. (Subjects: surveying; property development/management; estate management; urban and land studies; civil and structural engineering; or business-related studies.) Even some experience of sales or administration could prove attractive to the many independent, private practices across the UK.
Stuart Richards is proof that it’s possible to enter the profession at an administrator level and then build up experience to become a sales or letting agent, and then rise up the ranks to become a branch manager. Indeed, invariably, most training will be done on the job and in-house; and you can have the opportunity to progress to become a senior sales or lettings negotiator, through which you can build on your experience of selling, or letting, different types of properties.
Whether you first start work in a secretarial or administrative post, or start straight away as a trainee or assistant sales or lettings negotiator, there’s a good chance that you’ll be encouraged by your employer to study for additional professional qualifications, such as the Level 3 Technical Award in Sale of Residential Property, or the Level 4 Certificate in Sales of Residential Property. These are both awarded by the National Federation of Property Professionals (NFoPP). Numerous training options are also available through UK professional body, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA). Some jobs in commercial property will require qualification and membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Promotion to more senior levels, however, is likely to require you moving between branches, and even companies; so don’t think of this as a civilian job for life in one settled location. A notable level within most agencies is the position of branch manager; in such a role you are likely to act as a senior sales negotiator, a mentor to junior sales negotiators (and, as in Stuart’s case, potential franchisees), and – as the rank suggests – managing staff in the branch.
However, according to prospects.ac.uk, there is often a bottleneck in promotion opportunities above the level of branch manager, which is why some people in that position will eventually opt for self-employment, setting themselves up as either partners or sole principals in their own firms. There is also the franchising option, although not all franchisors will offer both sales and lettings as part of their franchise package. The franchise option will, however, provide you with established sales and/or lettings models, along with specialist support (both administrative and professional).
National Association of Estate Agents:
0845 250 6001 || www.naea.co.uk
National Federation of Property Professionals:
0845 250 6008 || www.nfopp-awardingbody.co.uk
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors:
024 7686 8555 || www.rics.org/uk