Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Estate Agents: Hard Times for Home Pedlars

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Estate Agents: Hard Times for Home Pedlars

Article excerpt

Spotting a vague acquaintance across a crowded Tube carriage at 7 am can provoke only one reaction. Head down, look engrossed in newspaper. Alas, too late: I was clocked. A girl I had known at university came to sit down opposite me and our eyes met.

"So, what do you do now?" I asked.

"I'm an estate agent, actually."

"Haha. No, but really, what do you do?"

"No, really, I'm an estate agent.

When someone tells you they are an estate agent, it instantly arouses suspicion. Why would any one choose to pursue a profession that explicitly alienates them from most of the population and invites almost universal hatred and ridicule?

The answer lies in the jobs section of any newspaper: "Graduates--earn [pounds sterling]90k a year OTE with company car!" Property pedlars are loaded. Who can do without them? Buying or renting property is time-consuming and stressful; selling or letting a house or flat involves legal and marketing know-how. No wonder more than nine in ten property-sellers in 2002 turned to an estate agent.

The average estate agent has never had it so good. World economic conditions and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, have combined to create a sustained period of stability, which has produced a boom in house prices unprecedented in strength and duration. Estate agents, whose earnings from house sales and lettings are calculated on a percentage basis, have benefited from steadily rising house prices over the past decade. Typically, an estate agent will earn 10 per cent of his or her agency's cut on every sale; this is usually between 1.5 and 3.25 per cent of a property's sale value, depending on whether the agency is the owner's sole representative.

But I could not help questioning my newly rekindled acquaintance's timing. This month the IMF warned that "there is a danger that higher interest rates could trigger a large downward adjustment in house prices". …

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