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Why is staffing always an issue?

Why can't estate and letting agencies retain senior staff? What’s wrong with property agencies these days?

Richard Payne
Richard Payne, Director, Baker Payne Property image

Richard Payne, Director, Baker Payne Property

Whilst it has always been a little bit of a merry go round, since 1988 when I started as a junior neg, modern agencies have had a real issue in the past decade with haemorrhaging senior staff, but why? They never used to.

In 2008, following the crash and the property market falling off a cliff, larger corporates attracted plenty of experienced professionals and dropped them in on lower grade positions, with middle gauge packages, because the job market was dictating a lack of opportunities – people had little option.

Mouths to feed, families to support, wellbeing and self esteem to keep satisfied – a person’s desk was previously run like their own little business, autonomy over rule, but no longer. Belts were tightened at head offices, the businesses were – and remain – run by accountants.

End of the old school

The old school thought disappeared, sadly that is what once attracted the best talent, especially now in 2019 when the job market has u-turned on these agents and there are lots of options and choices out there – like Purplebricks and the online or centrally based brigade.

By old school, I mean Regions run by Divisional Directors who had walked in their staff’s shoes, climbed the ranks, knew the pitfalls, knew what it took to make a particular branch thrive, knew what the difficulties were, knew the basics and the daily tasks of being an agent… and thus how to attract the best fixers for any ailing branches or specific areas of their region – and the package required to get that person.

The bottom line

Accountants simply look at the bottom line. Changes are made with numbers and instant fixes in mind. For example, if a BMW Series 1 leased vehicle cost X – and they can swap in a fleet of Vauxhall Astra’s for Y, they will do it without any real thought for the domino affect that has on the wider business for the next five years in staff retention, motivation, attracting new people. Basic salaries were suddenly much less than they had been for new starters, even a Branch Manager’s basic salary in 1995 was better than the majority of packages now on offer. Then, in a tricky property market, commission wasn’t as forthcoming as it had been, it offered no real top up. Basically, agents have spent the last five years chasing their tail so far as senior staffing is concerned.

Vauxhall at Sequence? BMW at Spicerhaart? You decide, there is always a tipping point to a final decision.

Different things motivate different people; if you want to attract the best, you need to offer a complete package that attracts, retains, and competes. Look at football clubs and how they woo their talent, although on a bigger monetary scale, there are many lessons to be gained.

Typical package and job advert in 1995: Branch Manager required, flagship branch, £25,000 Basic+ commission and 2.5 V6 Ford Cougar.

Typical package and job advert 2019: Branch Manager Required, Flagship Branch, Competitive Basic (They really mean £20k), plus commission, and a company car (likely an old dented Vauxhall).

As job offers go, that is probably a great little package to someone who is 22, first promotion, maybe been a senior neg somewhere, and wanting to take their first branch, but are they the applicant to get that business back to where your accountants need it to be?

The real fact is, that more than ever property agencies need experience, the best people to drive their branches into the next decade, people who know and understand what they are doing, the turnaround people, the fixers, the trainers, the motivators, but accountants will never be able to attract or retain those types.

The high street and traditional office based agencies still have a huge market share and role to play, and will always have a place in the property world, but you need the right bums on seats! And fast…

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