For a career as an estate agent you'll need good people skills and the ability to negotiate to see a deal through to completion

Working as an estate agent, you'll usually specialise in either sales or letting of residential or commercial properties, businesses or land on behalf of your clients. You'll value and market properties, with the aim of negotiating the best price for your client.

Your role will involve frequent liaison with banks, building societies, mortgage brokers, surveyors, solicitors and other estate agencies during transactions. You may also handle sales taking place via auction.

Types of estate agent

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

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

Responsibilities

As an estate agent in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you'll need to:

  • collect information about a property and arrange for photographs to be taken
  • visit and talk to sellers about their property and its special features
  • estimate the value of a 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 need to:

  • vet prospective tenants by collecting references and doing 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.

In Scotland, property sales are usually handled by a solicitor.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for estate agents are in the region of £14,000 to £20,000 on-target earnings (OTE) for trainee posts.
  • With experience, salaries can rise to £25,000 to £60,000, plus commission.
  • At the higher end of the scale, in certain management positions, and particularly if you're in a high-end London agency, you could be earning up to £100,000.

Salaries are typically made up of a basic salary plus commission, which is usually based on a percentage of your sales. Determining factors are location, your qualifications, the size of the firm and the economic climate.

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

You'll generally work a basic 35 to 40 hour week, although it can be longer than this, especially when completing deals for clients. Working hours typically include unsocial hours, including some evening work and Saturdays.

Self-employment and freelance work is possible and with experience you could establish your 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'll also spend a significant amount of time 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're 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 succeed with 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 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.

Work experience

Starting a career in estate agency is relatively straightforward as it's 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's likely you'll 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. NAEA Propertymark, the UK's leading professional body for estate agency, offers a range of training and qualifications short courses for those working in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate range of courses is offered for those working in Scotland.

Some jobs will also require qualification and membership of 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.

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 completely supersede their more traditional counterparts.