Channel 4's Dispatches: Exposing estate agents dodgy antics
I tuned into Dispatches last night and from the very beginning, I could see an all too familiar practice that is rife within the estate agency industry.
Rewinding 17 years, my very first job was with Abbotts Estate Agents (Part of the Countrywide Group), who featured on the programme. My brilliant manager Denis Warren taught me the craft of estate agency and immediately gave me the insight of how to go about selling properties the ethical way, and taught me to always focus on one person: The client - the fee payer - the vendor.
Whilst working for Abbotts, the pressure we were under from Countrywide to refer mortgages was severe (even as a junior negotiator, I was being groomed on how to get better mortgage referrals) and performance was always measured in several sections (not just house sales): number of applicants, number of viewings, number of offers, number of sales and of course, the number of mortgage referrals. Another area measured was the number of conveyancing referrals – this is where you would refer the buyer/seller to use their conveyancing team/solicitor (but this is another can of worms we will ignore for now)!
Due to me locating back to London, I found another job with Barnard Marcus; the other agent who starred in last night's show. The situation was more severe as (at the time I worked for them) they were owned by Royal Sun Alliance and the money they made on mortgages was astronomical – so referring was always at the top of the agenda. I felt like I was a mortgage referrer-come-estate-agent and was taught all the tricks in the books to reach targets. I lasted three months.
Moving on, I went to work for a local estate agent which was owned by Black Horse Agency. The pressure was different, but it still felt awkward. Again, I only lasted 18 months.
It’s sad to see that in the 17 years since I left the corporate estate agency world, nothing has changed. If anything, it looks like it’s got worse. Just glancing at the Countrywide PLC yearly accounts, you can clearly see that the money they make from referrals is a serious part of their business model.
Making money is not a bad thing. Profit is not a bad thing. Misleading or mis-selling, however, is unethical, illegal and must be stopped. These corporates (and some independents!) need to look at the grass roots on what their business is set up for, and focus on that. If other revenue streams offer themselves, staff must be trained on how to offer them and not be heavily remunerated if their products are bought. They should also be trained to be open, honest, transparent and definitely not be biased towards any party. There are a lot of agents (big and small) that do sell and let property, as well as refer business in the correct way – but last night’s Dispatches shows a darker side that must be stopped.