Those who a few years from now look back on what the South African residential property marketing sector has undergone in recent years will, says Bill Rawson, Chairman of the Rawson Property Group, have to accept, firstly, that a radical transformation has taken place in estate agents’ education and, secondly, that this has upped the professionalism and self-respect of agents to a greater degree than any other single factor.
“Estate agents,” said Rawson, “are traditionally proactive, go-getting people primarily interested in achieving sales and therefore likely to be averse to studying. However that has now changed. When I visit show houses at weekends I often find agents studying up their next week’s lessons in between serving clients. It seems to me that they are proud that they are now acquiring a professional qualification on the same lines as financial advisers, asset managers and even lawyers for whom postgraduate education is becoming more and more important. It has been gratifying to many estate agents at last to be able to see themselves as possessing recognized qualifications – which are not that easily come by and which take a year to achieve.”
The Estate Agency Affairs Board’s insistence that agents qualify, added Rawson, has been one of the reasons why their numbers have dropped so radically – in fact by roughly 65% – but this too, he said, has worked in their favour as they are now more and more seen by the public as members of a small, more elite group.
Rawson warned, however, that while the new qualifications undoubtedly raise the intellectual and general knowledge standards of agents, they do not guarantee that the agent will pick up a true service mentality.
“Estate agents,” he said, “are one of the few groups of people whose earnings are entirely result-orientated. They are not paid for the copious advice they are expected to give – even their valuations are free, although in many cases these may have involved hours of research and investigation, furthermore they are often exploited by clients. It is, therefore, understandable (although not acceptable) that many agents tend to give a far higher level of service and commitment to those clients whose properties are likely to sell fast, or who have given the agent a sole mandate at a satisfactory commission.”
This focus on good prospects, said Rawson, is most obvious when it comes to feedback and maintaining contact several times a week which is essential even though the agent may have no news. A “too busy”, entirely results-orientated agent can on occasions avoid contact with his client for days, even weeks.
In these circumstances, said Rawson, it is vitally important for the in-house training systems of the major estate agency groups to continue to focus on service to all clients, irrespective of the prospects — and it is a fact that when such an outlook is fostered it always works in the long run to the agent’s benefit.
“If there is one thing clients appreciate it is an agent who cares and who keeps in contact at all times.”