Yet again this weekend the papers are full of negative articles about estate agents. One article calculated that the average estate agent earns over £800 per hour for the five hours work necessary to sell a house (if only that were true). Another article listed the top ten complaints about estate agents which included running open houses to “whip buyers up into a frenzy” and that good old chestnut, gazumping (which has now been upgraded to legalised mugging). It makes my blood boil and I could easily spend every weekend writing to the newspapers to reply but even if they publish my letters, it is not my job to do so. What we desperately need is a professional PR initiative from a trade association.
Every other profession seems to have one. The supermarkets, the bankers, the insurance companies, the energy companies, local government, the police, even the car parking industry all have highly articulate spokespeople who regularly appear in the media to defend the indefensible. But who speaks up for estate agents? No-one does so far as I can see.
Until a few years ago, ARLA employed a professional PR company to write positive news stories about the lettings industry. I was on the circulation list and remember some very good articles but since the merger with the NAEA, they seem to have stopped. RICS put out articles about the commercial market and about house price trends but I cannot remember the last time I saw an article about the behaviour of residential estate agents.
So, if the NAEA and RICS are unwilling to fill this role, who else could take it on? Perhaps the major estate agency chains could club together to fund a PR person. Perhaps Rightmove or Zoopla, both of whom have sophisticated and effective PR operations, could put out some positive stories to defend their member companies who, after all, fund their businesses. Perhaps the trade portals or magazines could take on the job. Perhaps a retired estate agent could take it on as a project. Whoever it is, the profession needs someone to champion them.
The negative stories are so very easy to counter. The story about, it take five hours to sell a house is ridiculous. How about the time and money that was spent registering and servicing all the applicants for the property during the six months or so prior to the sale? And how about the many hours that will be spent on getting the sale through to completion? A good estate agent can very easily achieve a price that is ten or twenty percent higher than the vendor could achieve themselves – that is what the client is paying for and it’s great value for money.
Open houses are fair and transparent and are often an excellent way of achieving the best price for the vendor. They also give every purchaser an equal opportunity to compete. In many other countries, every new property is launched by way of an open house and the public accept this. Why should things be different in the UK?
Gazumping is of course the fault of the vendor, not the estate agent. A good agent knows the damage that can be caused quite unjustly to their reputation if a purchaser is gazumped and will do everything they can to prevent it. However, ultimately if, despite their reasonable precautions, a higher offer comes in after the sale has been agreed, then they have a legal duty to pass it on to the vendor and the vendor has a legal right to accept it.
In addition to responding to negative stories about estate agents, there are so many positive stories that could be told. How about a story on how letting agents have in less than twenty-five years created a multi-billion pound buy-to-let market which creates secure income for investors and provides homes for several million tenants which did not exist before 1988? How about a story about what good value UK estate agents provide? The typical UK estate agent charges fees of one to two percent. In Australia, it is four percent. In most European countries, it is four to six percent and in the USA it can be as much as ten percent. We are great value in comparison. I could go on for another twenty pages.
The need for an effective industry spokesman has never been greater. Many of the online estate agents have very effective PR operations and at the moment they are running rings around the traditional estate agents in the press. We urgently need someone to speak up for his but who will step up to the challenge?