The Good News About the Property Industry’s ‘Baddies’

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

In a recent survey by Columinate conducted on behalf of Private Property, only 5 percent of people indicated that they trusted estate agents. By implication this indicates that 95 percent of people do not trust estate agents. When asked which characteristics the respondents least associated with estate agents, 80 percent indicated that they didn’t believe that those involved with selling property were dependable, accurate, accountable, trustworthy and informed.

Even allowing for a margin of error with a larger sample size, these figures are shocking and indicate that much more needs to be done in order to change the general public’s perception. What is interesting, however, is that regardless of the levels of distrust, more property is sold using an estate agent than through deals that are concluded privately. This could perhaps indicate two things. Either buyers or sellers are just accepting their lot and are willing to deal with this unscrupulous group, or the perceptions that all estate agents are bad is simply just that; a figment of a large majority of South Africa’s buying and selling public’s imaginations.

Reputations are everything in the business world and some sectors just don’t seem to be able to overcome the negativity associated within their areas of expertise. Lawyers and used-car salesmen spring to mind and it appears that no amount of education is going to change people’s mindsets. Individuals that practice law or sell second-hand vehicles are generally viewed with a great deal of mistrust, regardless of how professional they may try to be. It seems that the same applies to estate agents.

There has recently been a major shake-up in the real estate industry and this was probably overdue. At one stage, particularly during the property boom of the mid 2000s, it seemed that anyone with a car and a cell phone who was looking to make a little cash on the side tried their hand at selling property. It was a recipe for disaster and it quickly became apparent that something had to be done to weed the undesirables. Many left the industry when the boom ended and the seemingly never-ending fountain of money dried up. However, a few remained and things may have carried on as they were if the powers that be hadn’t introduced a challenging qualification system that all agents had to comply with.

The estate agent of today is a far cry from those of the past. Only those with certain university qualifications are exempted from the educational requirements, which essentially means that anyone who utilises the services of an estate agent can do so with the reassurance that they can not only do the job, but do so with a solid background of real estate knowledge. A few will undoubtedly fall through the cracks and, as with any industry, there are always going to the odd rotten apple that will tarnish the profession. Nevertheless, buyers and sellers need to learn to vote with their wallets and if an estate agent does not live up to their expectations, it should be a simply exercise of moving on and finding one who not only does the job, but does so in a professional manner.

Buying a property is a fairly complicated process and it is extremely unlikely that estate agents are going to disappear completely. That said, the numbers of practising estate agents have dropped significantly in recent years and it has been noted by a number of those highly-placed in the industry that the time may well come where buyers and sellers are going to have to make appointments and wait in line in order to secure an agent's services.

Whether the attempts to professionalise the industry will pay in the long run remains to be seen. However, what has become abundantly clear is that something needs to be done in order to change the public's perception of the real estate industry. Unfortunately, the saddest part of the story is that it is not easy to change perceptions and it is probably going to take years to reverse peoples though patterns.

The flip side of the coin, is that most people who participated in the survey indicated that they did not have a sound knowledge of property. Surely, this represents an opportunity for the real estate industry to take the initiative and to educate people about buying and selling property and about the new Consumer Protection Act? Casting their bread upon the waters in this way might go some way to dispelling the myth that all estate agents are bad.

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