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The Plight of the Modern Day Estate Agent

Updated on March 19, 2014

The term ‘Estate Agent’ can often lead you to think rather narcissistically about men (or women) you've never even met! For some reason, they are grouped alongside the likes of traffic wardens as people who ‘it’s fine to unite in hatred for’!

But do they deserve this reputation? Where did this profession spring from? Are they just a parasite feeding off our property culture, or are they deserving of the high earning status they've come to acquire? Was it always such a profitable employment option?

Estate Agent History

The term ‘Estate Agent’ as we know it across England refers to ‘an agent concerned with the valuation, management, lease, and sale of property.’ Historically, the term referred to the person or agent who managed a ‘landed estate’ – so the properties and land belonging to a wealthy family and attached to their own main residence of a grand country house. In the past, it would be such a family as this who owned many of the residential properties in the surrounding villages, and their workers would live in them, or other people would, and be paying rent to the family, via the ‘land agent’. The estate would be passed down within the family via the oldest male heir, and in the absence of a male heir a female heir’s husband would take on the estate – you only need to watch Downton Abbey to see the variety of different legal rights and how the stories played out in such families!

In the early half of the 20th Century, the shift of aristocratic Lords reigning supreme over the land and local villages began changing the face of residential property agreements. As these huge estates struggled to earn enough to pay for their expenses, various parts of the land, and property on the land, were sold off.

And so began the rise of the modern day estate agent! As properties within a geographical location started to be owned by different people, and tenants were able to agree private rents with their landlords on a case by case basis, the property market became much more diverse.

It has been said that in the earlier years, working as an Estate Agent was like being in the Wild West! The main responsibilities of the agents were to know the local area in which the properties they managed were situated. They would be expected to be honest and give sound advice to potential tenants or buyers on any upcoming changes or incidents which may affect the desirability of the property. Furthermore they would be expected to be able to forewarn clients of future price rises or falls.

The estate agent would be in charge of giving a property a value or a suggested rental fee, based on other similar properties’ prices in the local area. It would be up to the agent to know all of the required information to be able to answer questions for potential tenants or buyers on the back foot, whilst showing them around the property. They would need to have accurately inspected and assessed the entire property in advance to avoid being caught out during a viewing.

In order to avoid being reprimanded for low conversion rates, and also to avoid awkwardness or embarrassment in front of potential clients, estate agents historically have been generous with the truth to say the least – avoiding mentioning the noise from traffic, trains or planes, or neglecting to mention the property is prone to flooding or damp etc.

Leica Disto Laser Measure
Leica Disto Laser Measure

The modern day Estate Agent

These days, estate agencies by law have to belong to their preferred ‘redress scheme’, so whether this is RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors), NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents), or INEA (Independent Network of Estate Agents) – you can be assured that if your estate agent doesn't adhere to the regulations set down then they will face being fined or even struck off.

Individual Estate Agents now have to take exams. So as well as being better educated, the modern day Estate Agent enjoys the benefit of modern technology, reducing the need for them to ‘make up’ information on the spot to avoid those awkward silences in front of clients. From Disto Laser Tape Measures removing the embarrassment of hopping over a couch and faffing around with metal tapes, to having property information available electronically so that amendments can be updated and emailed to clients. Properties listed online have revolutionised property search, greatly reducing the number of wasted visits as clients can be more selective prior to booking viewings.

How are Estate Agents viewed abroad?

In other countries, from those close to us like Scotland and those farther afield such as South Africa, Estate Agents actually do the legal side of rentals and sales too. I wonder if as the profession becomes more respected in the UK, whether Estate Agents will diversify and become one stop shops for the full range of property advice and services.


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