Josh Rayner Blog
Sun 01 Sep 2013
The next big challenge in estate agency will be the battle for talent in what is now a candidate-driven market.
Not only is it tough to recruit the best people, it is also extraordinarily difficult to encourage high flyers to stay.
The market has gone full circle and I would like to explore what agents can do to differentiate themselves and
make their firms attractive to the most sought-after candidates.
Since the dark days of of 2008 when throngs of estate agents were laid off, the market has been slowly but
steadily recovering, to the extent that prices in some areas are now back to their peak.
The inevitable result is that estate agents are hiring again and desperate for talented property professionals to
capitalise on the opportunities presented by a rising market.
A number of agents have enjoyed a strong few months and the most forward-thinking are thinking about making
that extra hire to handle increasing demand. But things are no longer that simple.
Agency bosses are finding that while its not hard to recruit trainees and disillusioned career switchers with little or
no property experience, its considerably more difficult to find experienced property professionals with exceptional
Why is this? Quite simply, times have changed.
Good agents will no longer up sticks for an extra couple of thousand on their basic salary and the mere promise
of higher on-target earnings. In todays job market, candidates are taking a longer-term view and are more
interested in building a solid career than making a quick short-term gain.
They want the assurance of a five-year plan that will enable them to develop their skills as the business grows.
They are looking for a senior-level position that gives them potential to shape the company and even the
opportunity to have a financial stake in its success.
The trend towards in-house recruitment has resulted in job boards littered with adverts that attract the wrong sort
of people job hoppers which contributes to the industrys poor reputation for staff retention.
The skilled individuals firms seek are normally working for one of their competitors and the best way to attract
these prized high-calibre individuals is to headhunt.
But success will depend on whether the package they are offering and Im not talking money here is an attractive
proposition. Todays top performers will weigh up the overall package on offer when considering whether it is
worth jumping ship. Just for starters, in all likelihood this will need to include: A structured training programme
relevant to whatever stage of career theyre at that will fill in any gaps in their skills or experience. For instance,
they may have a proven track record in sales but be lacking experience in people management or be weak with
figures. Genuine career prospects (not just empty promises) and even the potential to have a future financial
stake in the firms success. Autonomy over their area of responsibility, giving them the freedom to be their own
boss. An opportunity to influence the future shape of the business and feel they are making a difference. A
financially stable firm that can prove its not likely to be here today, gone tomorrow. An agent with a good reputation that will enhance their CV. An exciting reward and recognition programme that offers kudos and incentives such as five-star weekends away, overseas city breaks and the use of sports cars for the weekend.
This is a reality that Richard Palfreeman, managing director of Northfields in west London, understands. Since
founding his business 25 years ago, he has differentiated Northfields by investing heavily in his people. He says:
We want to attract, and more importantly keep, people who buy into the values of our business: individuals who
are going to be involved in the local communities they serve, are interested in developing their staff and want to
build long-term relationships. Its not just about the salary but the whole proposition on offer. Were looking into the
possibility of creating partners where top performers who have consistently good figures for, say, two years will be
offered a profit share in addition to commission, and given access to totally transparent management accounts.
Because theyre in that privileged position as a partner they will have more involvement in shaping the business,
making sure operational objectives are being met and influencing the company culture.They and their fellow
partners will be part of an inner circle. But he stresses: Its not something we will just give away they will have to
earn it. Well-known industry figure Michael Day, managing director of Integra Property Services, says a firms
success hinges on the quality of its people. He said: Irrespective of anything else that a business does by way of
having great products and services, marketing and promoting itself, the key is still in having committed,
motivated and highly skilled people reinforcing brand values and delivering top-quality performance. This starts
with taking the time and putting in the effort to recruit the right people. Not necessarily people with previous
industry experience, but always people with the right attitude who are capable of taking on board the knowledge
and learning the skills to deliver exceptional results. This needs to be followed up by ongoing training and
coaching to ensure that everyones potential is maximised for their own and the businesss benefit. He added: All
too often I see people with tremendous potential floundering as they are not given the support and guidance to
grow and reach their full potential. A lack of regular performance reviews and appraisals often leaves staff unsure
of whether they are doing the right things and doing them well. Poor performance is often not tackled or tackled
well by businesses and, when allowed to continue unchecked, often results in the best people leaving for pastures
new as they see no future in a business that does not identify and deal with performance, whether its good, bad or
indifferent. Peter Rollings, chief executive of Marsh & Parsons, echoes this view. His firm employs 200 staff
across its network of 19 London offices and makes a point of employing only career estate agents who are
personable, pleasant to deal with, well informed and highly professional. He explained: Ive often said that finding
and retaining the very best people is the most important thing I do. You can create a great brand only if you have
great people and invest in them, as people, constantly. Interestingly, this doesnt necessarily mean adding several
zeros to payslips. He said: I dont believe we have to pay our people any more than our competitors as regards
basic salary, but I do believe we have to give them the opportunity to create their own wealth and have fun at the
same time. This includes generous commission structures, an insistence on integrity (good people dont like
working with people they dont believe in), fun and achievable targets and a focused management team driving
the business, so enabling them to realise career progression. When it comes to making their next move, any
candidate worth their salt will have a choice of agents. What can your business offer them that others cant? *
Josh Rayner is founder of Rayner Personnel