Estate agents sell or let residential or commercial properties, businesses or land on behalf of their clients. They look at the property's condition and compare it with others in the area to value it and get the best price for the client. They also market the property and negotiate on deals.
Residential estate agents deal with the sale and purchase of houses, flats and land. Many also manage rental properties. Commercial estate agents deal with a wide range of business properties including offices, shops, leisure facilities, hotels and restaurants. Rural estate agents specialise in land and rural businesses.
An increasing number of homes and commercial/industrial lots are sold by auction, so involvement in property auctioning is becoming more widespread, particularly in England and Wales. Increased interest in overseas relocation or second-home purchase abroad is also a growth area during times of economic buoyancy.
Estate agents often have to liaise with banks, building societies, mortgage brokers, surveyors, solicitors and other estate agencies during transactions.
Property sales are dealt with in different ways in the UK depending on the nation. Property legislation in England and Wales is different to that in Scotland and Northern Ireland. For example, in Scotland, sales are usually handled by solicitors.
The work carried out also varies depending on the specialism of the agency, but there are some common tasks which include:
- collecting information about a property and arranging for photographs to be taken;
- visiting and talking to the sellers about their property and its special features;
- estimating the value of the property;
- marketing and promoting properties for sale;
- representing the sellers in negotiation with prospective buyers;
- monitoring sales as they proceed and liaising with all interested parties including mortgage brokers, solicitors, surveyors and other estate agents;
- advising clients and helping buyers to decide what they want to buy;
- making sure that a price is agreed that is acceptable to both buyer and seller;
- keeping up to date with trends in the local residential property market, as well as the commercial market.
Those who work in the lettings area of estate agency also:
- vet prospective tenants by collecting references and carrying out credit checks;
- ensure properties meet legal and health and safety requirements, e.g. gas safety certificates;
- draw up tenancy agreement contracts;
- collect or organise rent payments;
- act as a property manager and resolve any issues that arise with properties.
- Estate agent salaries are typically made up of a basic salary plus commission, which is usually based on a percentage of your sales. Salaries are often advertised as on-target earnings (OTE), which are an estimated total salary including the potential commission.
- Starting salaries for estate agents are in the region of £12,000 to £20,000 OTE for trainee posts.
- With experience, salaries can rise to £25,000 to £60,000 plus commission. The higher end of the scale may be reached in certain management positions. Some estate agent managers may earn more than this, particularly if they are in a high end London agency.
- Salaries vary greatly depending on location, qualification, specialist area, size of firm and the economic climate in the property market and the building industry.
- Commercial agency tends to pay higher salaries with less commission-based earnings.
- You may be employed on a guaranteed initial commission with this being reviewed (and not guaranteed) after three to six months.
- Frequently, a company car is provided or a car allowance is paid in addition to your salary.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Estate agents generally work a basic 35 to 40 hour week, although it can be longer than this.
Working hours typically include unsocial hours and almost all roles will involve some work on a Saturday. Evening work is a regular feature and some extra hours may be required, especially when completing deals for clients.
Part-time work is common.
What to expect
- Work is office-based but also includes a significant amount of time spent visiting properties, either for valuations and marketing opportunities or for viewings with potential buyers.
- Self-employment and freelance work is possible and experienced staff with a client base can establish their own business.
- Success depends on the economic state of the property market.
- There are greater opportunities available in urban areas, such as large towns or cities, but work is also available in rural areas.
- A smart appearance is necessary.
- Travel within a working day is frequent and driving is usually a key feature of this job. You may require a clean driving licence.
- Absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel is uncommon unless you are dealing with international property.
Personality, skills and experience are as important as academic achievement, and many people in the job are not graduates. However, while a degree is not an essential entry requirement, increasing competition for employment means that taking a degree, foundation degree or HND in one of the following subjects may give you an advantage:
- business-related studies;
- civil and structural engineering;
- estate management;
- property development/management;
- urban and land studies.
A postgraduate qualification is not required for entering the career and professional exams can be taken once you are in the role.
You may be able to enter the profession at an administrator level and then progress to an estate agent with experience.
You will need to have:
- skills in negotiation and persuasion;
- a confident and outgoing manner;
- commercial awareness and the ability to achieve sales targets;
- excellent communication skills;
- customer service focus;
- determination, perseverance, and patience;
- an understanding of marketing techniques;
- IT skills.
While pre-entry experience is not essential, a sales or administrative background is very useful as it can demonstrate that you have the required skills. A customer service background can also show that you have good communication skills. There are increasing amounts of legislation applicable to property transactions, which have to be understood by those in the profession, so experience of legal work may also be an advantage.
The majority of estate agents work in independent, private estate agency practices. These companies can range in size from small one-branch agencies to larger companies with multiple offices.
The bigger agencies often have specialist divisions in commercial, rural, corporate or residential property, planning, surveying and property investment.
You may be able to find a graduate recruitment scheme within an estate agency, although these are mainly within the larger firms which have many branches.
Vacancies in this area depend largely on the state of the property market. When the economy is buoyant, there are usually vacancies within sales and commercial property, while during times of recession the majority of vacancies are within the residential lettings business.
Look for job vacancies at:
Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies and there are a number of specialised agencies that deal with estate agency. For details of relevant agencies, search the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).
Competition for entry varies according to the state of the economy, particularly the property market. Finding vacancies in buoyant times is relatively easy, but positions may not always be advertised so there is a need to make general enquiries on an informal basis.
Training takes place on the job and in-house. It is likely you will have an in-house induction, which may last one or two weeks, giving you an insight into the running of the business and the legislation attached to estate agency work.
Professional qualifications are also available and many employers encourage their staff to take them. The National Federation of Property Professionals (NFoPP) is the awarding body which offers a range of relevant qualifications. These include:
- Level 3 Technical Award in Sale of Residential Property: an introductory level for those who want to gain and develop knowledge in key areas. It has to be completed within one year and can be done through distance learning. Once passed, you can join the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) as a full member.
- Level 4 Certificate in Sale of Residential Property: for experienced estate agents who have completed the Level 3 Award. It is based on self-study and must be completed within 18 months. Once passed, it allows you to get fellow membership with the NAEA.
A Scottish version of the Level 3 qualification is also available as well as other national training courses and qualifications in the areas of:
- residential letting and property management;
- commercial property;
- auctioneering for property and chattels;
- residential inventory management and practice.
For more information see NFoPP: Qualifications.
The NAEA also has a wide range of short courses that run across the UK. The training can include areas such as:
- conveyancing practice and procedure;
- dealing with difficult people;
- effective estate agency;
- effective leadership;
- essential law for residential estate agents;
- first class customer service.
The NAEA encourages continuing professional development (CPD) and a full one-day course equals seven hours of CPD, while a half-day course equals three and a half hours of CPD. For more information see NAEA: Training and Courses.
Some jobs in commercial property will require qualification and membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
You may start work in a secretarial or administrative post and then work your way up to become a sales or lettings agent. Alternatively, you may start straight away as a trainee or assistant sales or lettings negotiator.
You could then progress to senior sales or lettings negotiator where you would build on your experience of selling and letting different types of properties and land and perhaps deal with higher value properties.
Promotion to a senior level may involve having to move branches or companies, so mobility may sometimes be necessary for career development. With further experience, you may be promoted to the position of branch manager of a small area office. This will involve managing staff in branch, acting as a senior sales negotiator and also as mentor to junior sales negotiators. After branch manager, there is often a bottleneck in promotion opportunities.
With substantial experience, you could consider self-employment, becoming a partner or sole principal of your own firm. There are opportunities to study for professional qualifications and the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) offers a range of short courses. Some of these may be useful if you are thinking of setting up your own company.