At a glance
- Generally a sellers' market, although downturns can create a buyers' market
- No need for specific qualification - although this may change
- Experience in estate agency is not vital, although background in management, sales skills, and knowledge of property markets and law invariably are
- Successful existing businesses can cost as much as £1m, but will be income-producing from the start
If you've been considering going into estate agency, or property more generally, you may have been put off by problems in the world economy, which seem likely to put the brakes on previously rampant property prices.
The vicissitudes of the economy are never easy to anticipate, but it's a reasonable assertion that, yes, there will be blips, but in the long term prices will keep on rising. Economic turbulence will periodically have a depressive effect on prices, but that is likely to be compensated for by continuing lack of supply.
That prices will rise in the long term is good news for estate agents as their fees are linked proportionately to prices
Few homes are being built compared to the historical average and the population continues to grow, inflated by high levels of immigration. Meanwhile, divorce and later marriage means that more of us are living alone or in smaller groups, so the same number of people will need more houses and flats than in the past.
That prices will rise in the long term is good news for estate agents as their fees are linked proportionately to prices. But in the short term, slowdowns will put first-time buyers off purchasing until the situation becomes more stable.
Forced to continue renting, these delayed buyers fuel rent increases, which is good for letting agents, who take a percentage of the rent as a fee. The profusion of buy-to-let properties has benefited letting agents, as has the fact that average rents have risen in the last decade.
Buoyancy in one half of the market resulting in a slowdown in the other half is testament to the fact that housing is one of life's essentials. Whatever the economic situation, estate agency will always be a viable business proposition.
Unfortunately, estate agents have not always had a good press, with the public putting them on a par with politicians and tabloid journalists when it comes to trust. But in fact, being likeable, amiable and trustworthy are invaluable assets in this trade, not deficiencies.
For most people buying a house, it will be the most expensive purchase they ever make, and they're not going to want to use an agent who comes across as slimy, unfriendly and coy.
"Estate agency is a people business," says a spokesman for the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA). "Agents have to communicate with many different people - potential buyers and sellers, conveyancers and solicitors, for example - and they have to be able to communicate effectively.
"Good communication on the part of the agent can reduce the stress enormously, can make a sale go through more quickly and efficiently and will ensure that customers come back to the agency with more business."
The letting and management side of the market will test those interpersonal skills even more, as you will have to deal with an even wider circle of people, including cleaners, plumbers and builders.
The vagaries of the housing market mean that anyone looking to move into estate agency will need to have a great deal of patience. "A long delay can ensue just after the agent has done the bulk of the work and the process of legally transferring land and/or property starts," warns the NAEA spokesman.
"Sometimes cancellations can occur at a very late stage, about which little can be done, and so those to whom a career in 'selling' appeals may need to think twice about going into estate agency, as the final results can take some time to achieve."
A basic knowledge of economics and a degree of numeracy, together with some appreciation of property law, are all desirable in any potential estate agent. As yet - although the government has threatened to change this - you do not need to pass any exams or be a member of any professional body to legally practice as an estate agent, although some at the more established end of the market are qualified surveyors. Others possess diplomas or NVQs in estate agency or property services.
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