Don't bash estate agents says Steward - they more than earn their keep

Lanice Steward, MD of Anne Porter Knight Frank, the Cape Peninsula estate agency now working from five offices, has taken up the cudgels on behalf of estate agents countrywide.

“I am,” she says, “becoming a little tired of having to counter the perception that estate agents earn huge incomes for very little work. In my experience the exact opposite is usually the case.

“As in most sales jobs, 80% of the incumbents earn less than 20% of the fees. Many go two, three or more months without earning any income at all and their annual incomes can be distressingly low.

“The other 20% of the sales force who do earn the lion’s share are almost without exception hard working and skilful people. These good agents - and fortunately at Anne Porter Knight Frank we have several - work seven days a week, are on call at all hours of the day or night and they do invariably go the extra mile on behalf of their clients.”

Many agents, says Steward, regularly provide a range of services for which they are not paid, sometimes not even thanked.

“We have had agents helping clients to find schools for their children, to get quotes for and supervise repairs, clean-ups, gardening and pool services. They regularly ferry clients or potential clients to and from airports, they put their pets into kennels or catteries, they help with passport and travel documents, find temporary accommodation and caretakers. They have also be known to help with the sale of surplus furniture or cars and more than once they have found themselves having to stock up refrigerators prior to the clients’ arrival. They sometimes find themselves having to devote a day or two to being unpaid tour guides of the whole of the Cape Peninsula and the Winelands.

“Occasionally they do end up as the client’s lifelong friend - but often they are simply used and then dismissed without thanks or reward.”

One of the many services which they provide, that of giving an accurate valuation on the property, is often the least appreciated, adds Steward.

“It can take four or five hours and involve research at the bureaus and the Deeds Office to arrive at a valuation that is genuinely market-related,” she says, “but this service is almost invariably given free.

“Try asking one of the better interior decorators or landscape gardeners to give his consultancy services free - and you are almost certainly likely to end up being rebuffed.”

With the two-thirds drop in estate agency numbers, says Steward, South African clients may well find that the boot this year will be on the other foot: to get the services of a reputable and fully trained agent they may find themselves having to ‘join the queue’ and wait a day or two.

“I do hope that will not happen,” says Steward, “but it would not altogether be a bad thing. Estate agency bashing in the boom times became a favourite South African practice, but all too often those doing it ignore the long hours and hard work put in by agents over and above the call of duty.

“A good agent will know how to nurse both sellers and buyers through what can be a very trying, even traumatic time for them both. Agents are, after all, handling what is very often the client’s major asset and they are only too aware that getting an unacceptable price can lead to distress and anxiety. The fact that this so seldom happens these days is a tribute to the professionalism and the dedication of most Cape-based estate agents.”

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