If you enjoy negotiating with people and you like the satisfaction of seeing something through to completion then a career as an estate agent may be for you

Estate agents usually specialise in either sales or letting, either of 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.

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. Sales can also take place via auction.

Estate agents often have to liaise with banks, building societies, mortgage brokers, surveyors, solicitors and other estate agencies during transactions.

Types of estate agent

You will usually specialise in one area of estate agency, such as:

  • residential sales agent;
  • residential lettings agent;
  • commercial sales agent;
  • commercial lettings agent;
  • rural estate agent.

The rise of low-cost online estate agents, which are becoming mainstream, threatens to undermine the traditional high street agents, which have much higher fees.

However, the level of work required with the DIY options means they won't be suitable for many people and so are unlikely to supersede their more traditional counterparts.

Responsibilities

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland property sales are handled by estate agents; in Scotland they're usually handled by solicitors.

As an estate agent you'll need to:

  • collect information about a property and arrange for photographs to be taken;
  • visit and talk to the sellers about their property and its special features;
  • estimate the value of the property;
  • market and promote properties for sale;
  • represent the sellers in negotiation with prospective buyers;
  • monitor sales as they proceed and liaise with all interested parties including mortgage brokers, solicitors, surveyors and other estate agents;
  • advise clients and help buyers decide what they want to buy;
  • make sure that the price agreed is acceptable to both buyer and seller;
  • keep up to date with trends in the relevant property market.

If you work in the lettings area of estate agency you’ll also need to:

  • 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.

Salary

  • 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. You may eventually earn more than this, particularly if you are in a high-end London agency.

Salaries are typically made up of a basic salary plus commission, which is usually based on a percentage of your sales.

Salaries vary greatly depending on location, qualification, specialist area, the size of firm and the economic climate in the property market and the building industry.

You may be employed on a guaranteed initial commission at first, for a limited period to give you a chance to gain some experience and start securing deals. The higher your fixed salary is the lower your commission rate will be; some agencies offer a choice. A company car is frequently provided or a car allowance is paid in addition to your salary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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 you may be required to work extra hours, especially when completing deals for clients.

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. Part-time work is common.

What to expect

  • Work is office based but you will also spend a significant amount of time spent visiting properties, either for valuations and marketing opportunities or for viewings with potential buyers.
  • Because travel within a working day is so frequent, a full driving licence is extremely helpful and is likely to be a requirement of the job.
  • You will be expected to dress smartly.

Qualifications

A degree is not an essential entry requirement for this career but 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;
  • surveying;
  • 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 the position of estate agent as you gain experience.

While pre-entry experience is not essential, a sales, administrative or customer service background can be helpful as you will have developed some of the required 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.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • skills in negotiation and persuasion to win clients and achieve success in deals;
  • a confident and outgoing manner to gain trust and give reassurance;
  • commercial awareness and the ability to achieve sales targets;
  • excellent communication skills for liaising with different professional contacts;
  • customer service focus to keep clients happy;
  • determination, perseverance and patience;
  • an understanding of marketing techniques to help market the properties;
  • IT skills.

Personality, skills and experience are as important as academic achievement, and many estate agents are not graduates.

Work experience

Starting a career in estate agency is relatively straightforward as it is common to find trainee negotiator opportunities where no prior experience is required and full training is given.

Experience in a related area such as customer service or administration may help your application. Having good IT skills is also desirable. If you want to further strengthen your application you could seek out unpaid work experience opportunities while you search for jobs, to demonstrate your interest in working in the property sector.

Employers

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 you may need to make general enquiries on an informal basis.

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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

You may start as a trainee or assistant sales or lettings negotiator and progress to the position of senior sales or lettings negotiator. In this role you would build on your experience of selling and letting different types of properties and land, and perhaps deal with higher value properties.

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.

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.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged and there are opportunities to study for professional qualifications. The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), the UK's leading professional body for estate agency, offers a range of short courses, including the NFoPP Level 3 Technical Award in Sale of Residential Property for those working in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, the NFoPP SCQF Level 6 Technical Award (a Scottish version of the Level 3 qualification in Sale of Residential Property) is available.

For more information see NFoPP: Qualifications. Some jobs will also require qualification and membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Career prospects

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.