Agent Provocateur: Why won’t the public put more value on agents – and is it our fault?

I recently took part in an RICS debate that asked “What does it mean to be a professional in residential estate and lettings agency?”

The audience, at RICS HQ, were budding and present chartered surveyors.

Partly to start a debate I jumped straight in and said that I thought the title was an oxymoron.

In a world where customers are increasingly used to getting what they want when they want, as cheaply as possible, and with a government that clearly doesn’t give a toss – does spending the money on a quality qualification give you enough clout to differentiate you from your opposition?

Ultimately we are all here to make money, and despite the fact that many agents get a sense of wellbeing by doing the right thing, unless the money is coming in you ain’t going to be doing much good for anyone.

I still don’t get how it’s possible to simply set up shop with whatever name takes your fancy over the door, give [literally] a nod to redress and anti-money laundering and start taking money from people and dealing with what’s often their biggest asset.

It staggers me that the selling and renting public don’t put more pay by quality.

Indeed the ongoing debate about listing with online agents shows clearly that many sellers out there THINK they can do it themselves, without the need for an agent at all.

Often they find that DIY sounds great until the 80% of work it takes to get their sale to exchange drops in their lap. It’s usually only then that they realise quite how important a professional agent is.

Forget the rights and wrongs of the various routes to sale then: the issue is education.

What was clear from the RICS debate was that everyone in the room recognised the need for professionalism, but over the years the public haven’t.

Quite how you do that in an age when agents simply aren’t interested in working together is anyone’s guess.

To start with you need an industry-wide qualification – which the old NAEA tech awards went some way to fulfilling – which is recognised and required by Government, allied to TV advertising informing the public.

It’s really not difficult but there seems no appetite for it.

Self-regulation and low fees seem to be what the Government likes – and until we have a unified voice they aren’t likely to listen.


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  1. ARC

    Yes it’s our fault always been another agent who undervalues their service and undercuts everyone else and then you have a race to the bottom. Simplistic but in a round about way true now more than ever.

  2. J1

    A wise old piggy once said “I am an expert”

    “I will show you”

    The amount of information available online gives the public a sense of being knowledgeable enough about their house value – in essence that’s all we as agents have done for years, so they are not largely wrong.

    Agency, not advertising, is all about human emotion, – the internet cannot comfort, persuade or pacify in times of stress, and that is what is truly provided by a good agent.

    Soure:  Daddy Pig



    1. JAM01

      Totally agree. Emotional Drivers need human interaction. Empathy is key and difficult to see how these can be 100% addressed via Proptech on its own.

  3. Blue

    When a seller gets 3 valuations from 3 “experts” and gets 3 different figures, that says that at least two thirds are wrong.

  4. CD853542

    The general public don’t value agents because a) We are not properly regulated (and any bit of dross can become an agent) b)Property mark / NAEA have done a very poor job of promoting the industry (other than producing a newsletter and changing a name!).  Agents do need to charge a fair fee to compensate for all of the marketing costs / fall-through’s etc and not suffer from the fee of “losing an instruction to a competitor – probably at the wrong price anyway”

  5. Property Paddy

    If you tell the public what their house is really worth 9 times out of 10 they will go to another agent who is happy to give them an unrealistic figure.

    There is no answer to this so instead do a different numbers game.

    How soon do they want to move, 4 weeks? 4 months? 4 seasons?

    from this you can deduce just how high a flag the owner wants to fly (er flag being price, innit)

    Then you ask, how much are they happy to negotiate on the asking price 1%, 5% or 10%

    1% and 4 seasons isn’t going to make you any money, walk away.

    As for fees well if it’s 4 weeks with 10% negotiation then you can charge 2% as clearly delivering a buyer is essential.

    4 months & 5% probably give it your best shot (lowest fee you dare assuming you want the business).

    Don’t worry about the lost instructions, those vendors will be making more hassle for those agents and you’ll be glad it isn’t you.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Think UBER in London for a moment.

    Quietly (or not) the black cab drivers have managed to point out that taking an Uber is (potentially) not as safe as a black cab.

    Now, I’m not sure how many of you I can persuade to put yourselves in the shoes of a cabbie – they work very hard, have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their chosen profession backed with a proper qualification and charge accordingly. I’m hoping that’s all of you…?

    By getting themselves licensed they have protection in terms of what they can charge.

    Uber can only undercut them because they (illegally?) circumvent some of the rules that are essential for the health, safety and well-being of their customers.

    Likewise, the Uber drivers have discovered that it’s not all a bed of roses and they really don’t get paid anything like the “promise” they were made.

    You’d think that the customer would spend a couple of seconds thinking about and decide that an extra £5 (or whatever) for their journey, considering the overall implications, would be well worth it.

    Well, guess what?  They don’t – because they can spend that money on a Long Tall Skinny Chunk Mocca-Chocca-Chino, or something.

    Now, multiply that by the value of a property…

    At the same time, it’s definitely our fault:

    1. We’ll get you more money (wink!) guaranteed!
    2. We’ll do it cheaper (nod, nod)
    3. We’ll do it faster (mah son!)

    But we’ve just found another nail for our coffin:

    4. Of course we can sell your property that’s 25 miles away – the internet don’tcha know!

    Number 4 is the latest, it’s been happening for a few years and is a reaction to a general lack of instructions and the fact that Purple Bricks (et al) are out there.

    Of all the things that are going to do us in, it’ll be number 4 that finally proves to the general public (well, a sizeable percentage of them at least) that estate agents are yesterday’s news and “why bother with them?”.

    The number of posts on PIE from agents denying what could be a very dangerous future for our industry is amazing.

    I’m not saying it will happen (or that it should happen) but that if COULD happen, and relying on the general public to make up their minds for us is a recipe for disaster.

    As far as I can see Industry Leaders, Agency Owners and their staff need to make a decision either to get down in the mud and accept that “Ye Good Olde Days” are gone and do cheap fixed fees, or to PROPERLY specialise in a location (or series of locations), get seriously professional, get good quality, respected staff and charge accordingly.

    There will always be people that want it cheap – let them.

    But it does mean that the number of estate agents per high street is going to go back to the levels of 200/2004 – approx half of the number now.


  7. MrSerious

    Looking at the RICS angle in particular, I have to say that they have been the master of their own failed destiny.

    The ‘AssocRICS’ designation introduced 2009, and the ability then to publicly declare ‘Regulation by RICS’ (using the monochrome Lion on stationery) introduced I think a year later, has dropped credibility considerably.

    Prior to 2001 or so, when you Qualified as a Chartered Surveyor with a Degree-standard examination plus 2 years internship, plus passing a final Test of Professional Competence (written and oral), you then were an ASSOCIATE of the RICS (ARICS).

    But since 2009, to have an Associate designation, all you need to show is that you have “relevant work experience and vocational qualifications” (source: RICS), such as “IRPM Member Exam [which] is considered to be on a par with Level 4 NVQ” (source: IRPM), or BIFM or similar.  (NB. ARICS was mutated into MRICS to accommodate).


    A good business friend of mine commented at the time that he thought this was a back-door way – a ‘Free Pass’ – to ‘get into the RICS Profession’, and was “One of the worse cases of dumbing-down professionalism and the Royal Charter he had ever seen.  John Clutton would turn in his grave”

    PS. In business, an ‘Associate’ is one down from a Partner/Director, i,e, very senior.  And ‘Member’ a junior member of the team.  It appears that the RICS operate in a different world.

  8. AgencyInsider

    ‘ It appears that the RICS operate in a different world’

    Good to see that at least one thing hasn’t changed then.

  9. Richard Copus

    The problem is that we live in a world where the lowest common denominator rules and the highest common factor doesn’t manage a look in.  The majority of people aim to get what they want regardless.  Most homeowners look for the cheapest deal and the majority (and yes, I think it is a majority) of estate agents will do what they can get away with and the last thing they want is a minimum standard of competence.  Until there is a sea-change in attitudes and a ground swell of public opinion that quality matters more than saving a few bob we can only look forward to more of the same.  (Gosh, I’m sounding unusually negative this morning!).

  10. cappleton327299213

    Yes it’s our fault, and as an industry it’s our responsibility to up our game and prove why the services of a traditional ‘full service agent’ (I don’t like using the term traditional/ high street agent) are worth the fees that we charge.

    The internet is great, and has helped us all, but it has made the traditional model lazy and we rely to much on Rightmove and the likes to generate business for us and we’re all to concerned about how we look in regards to New Instructions compared to our rivals and this has allowed the likes of the online agent to swoop in and take advantage.

    In the absence of difference cost is the only differential!

    If an online ‘self service’ agent such as Purple Bricks believed in there product/service so much than why when the share price reached its record highs did the directors sell huge swaithes of their shares?

    Why wouldn’t they invest in employing there ‘Local experts’ as actual members of the staff rather than self employed individuals who don’t get a salary.

    It’s a model based purely on usership and outside investments to bolster revenues, rather than actual profitability, and the service the client receives as a result of this is sub par to say the least.

    By the time a client requires a helping hand from there dedicated ‘Local expert’ or equivalent there’s no incentive because nine times out of ten they’ve already been paid and there really isn’t any incentive to get the deal over the line and completed.

    Equally if a flat fixed fee of £850 is the same for a three bedroom very saleable semi detached house, or 1 bed flat in the not so nice part of town, where’s the incentive to push the flat? There isn’t is the answer, the motivation is merely to get the listing and that’s it!

    On the other side of this coin the ‘Full service’ agent which by the way are also online, I’m sure we all use Rightmove; needs to have the confidence to charge what they are worth. All it takes is for a couple of agents in your area to start the journey on the slippery slope of chopping there fees left right and centre and you are completely undermining not just your competitors but ultimately  your business/office and essentially putting yourself on par with a self service online agent.




  11. blackberry

    Most of the marketing material produced by full service agents sets out to massively play down the extent to which they rely on Rightmove etc to match buyers to houses. They then overplay the importance of tradiational methods, all to try and hoodwink vendors into signing up. It’s an industry wide arms race in nonsense and it’s unprofessional.

    At the same time online agents with ridiculous ratios of staff to property claim they can provide an attentive service which they cannot have the time or money to back up.

    If proffessionalism has anything to do with honesty then there is very little of it about.

    id like to think regulation and qualifications would help Ed, but it needs to be drafted by the people who understand what homeowners actually need.






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