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Time to wake up

Amid a wave of brave public personal statements, it looks like the property industry could be on the brink of its own #metoo movement, says Nigel Lewis.

Nigel Lewis

Link to Comment on #MeeToo

Agents may be wondering why The Negotiator magazine and website has been carrying a plethora of stories about subjects that some commentators might portray as ‘woke’. Interviews, comments and stories have featured within both our print and online platforms about a range of different subjects including gender, inclusivity, racism, sexual violence and related topics.

But this has not been a crusade by The Neg to highlight these issues. Rather we, like other trade media in the sector, have been approached by companies and individuals who feel a tipping point has come in society that makes some of the attitudes held by a minority of agents within the industry seem archaic at best and dangerous at worst.

Social mobility
Link to Comment - Nigel Lewis

Nigel Lewis

I am referring to my recent interviews with both Misa von Tunzelman, who is bisexual but keen that the industry takes a more inclusive approach to gender issues in general, and gay former agent Michael Wood who now works for Reapit. Also, I spoke to Foxtons’ COO who says the industry is failing society in its inability to help promote social mobility.

These people were agreed on one point about which they have been proved correct.

They said that, unless something was done to persuade the industry as a whole to wake up to (i.e. become woke or awaken) to the problems faced by women, the BAME community and LGBTQ people who work in the sector, a #metoo moment would eventually emerge.

And so it came to pass. Last month a Savills employee felt emboldened enough to tweet a racist comment about three black players in the England football squad, while a respected trainer and former agent told Chris Watkins recently about the ordeal she endured of being raped by her manager.

Facing down these issues is part of this transformation. The industry is endeavouring to present itself to the public as one moving into an era of professionalism.

The former now faces disciplinary action both at work and in the courts, while the latter’s assailant died recently, and so will not face justice.

This sort of behaviour is not restricted to the property industry. Only a few weeks a young female negotiator was brave enough to recount how she is regularly solicited for sex by members of the public during viewings, and now positions herself within properties to facilitate a quick escape should the matters turn more sinister.

Personal safety

Having written about all these cases and interviewed those trying to change the industry, I do wonder whether estate agents’ memory of the Suzy Lamplugh murder case has dimmed too much. Lamplugh’s disappearance, police believe, is very likely to be linked to a viewing she booked with a man in July 1986 to see a house in Fulham, only for her to disappear into thin air.

One positive output of this is that awareness of lone female employee safety during viewings has increased.

And it was heartening to see Ed Mead’s Viewber platform launch a service that alerts colleagues if a negotiator is likely to be or may be at risk during a viewing.

As Clare Yates, the woman who spoke to Chris Watkins about her rape experiences, highlighted – no-one is trying to stop blokes bantering in the branch or down the pub, or against staff flirting with each other. But she did call on agents to think how far this should go and when it changes from being ‘harmless fun’ to predatory, racist, homophobic and other unpleasant behaviours, and even sexual assault.

These issues are interlinked. The industry is endeavouring to present itself to the public as one moving into a new era of professionalism.

August 25, 2021

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