Sales / Marketing

Estate agents on a learning curve

by Wing Kei

Anthony Kwok, director, Centaline Training Institute
Photo: Johnson Poon

Training institute hones skills and bolsters professionalism

With the property market booming and new residential developments constantly springing up on either side of the harbour, the property sales force is under the glare of public exposure over tactics and ethics.

Like any other employees in Hong Kong, these estate agents are doing their job to the best of their ability, and most of them are conscious of the need to upgrade their professional skills and other competencies through continuing education. One way they can now do so is by joining the Continuing Professional Development Scheme (CPD) organised by Centaline Training Institute, a subsidiary of Centaline Property Agency Limited.

The CPD was launched in May 2005 and uses a course framework under the supervision of the Estate Agents Authority. The director of the Centaline Training Institute is Anthony Kwok, who has 23 years' teaching experience in property markets. "The institute provides a platform to enhance the professionalism of estate agents. This will help demonstrate credibility and create a positive impression to clients," he says. "Estate agents are encouraged to acquire at least 10 CPD points — six from core subjects and the remaining from non-core subjects each year under the CPD scheme. In general, one point is awarded for one hour of formal classroom study. It is very easy to handle, so that most people have a smooth ride through the programme and accumulate all 10 points."

Estate agents who met the requirements are presented a certificate of attainment and can leverage the CPD attainment symbol on the estate agent card issued by the Estate Agents Authority upon licence renewal. Since 2005, there have been a total of 146 classes attended by 7,909 participants.

While all training courses are presently conducted on a voluntary basis, Mr Kwok foresees a time in the near future when the government will gradually tighten up on estate agents. "The profession is under constant public scrutiny and in the coming years I can see the government introducing regulations requiring all property sales agents to be properly qualified," he says. The ultimate step will be when this becomes compulsory. This is a natural progression for the industry since we are mostly dealing with people who are investing their life savings in a residential property. Having the right qualifications helps establish trust with clients since it demonstrates professionalism.

"We offer training to enable our staff to get their estate agent's licences. Providing such training opportunities helps keep us ahead of our competitors, and it's free for all staff. Our courses are all results-oriented, and we want all staff to be aware of the importance of continuing education," says Mr Kwok. "For example, we want them to be completely familiar with the Estate Agents Ordinance and also to keep abreast of the latest market developments, especially buying trends that may be beginning to surface. We also apply case studies to teach our staff both technical and soft skills. The courses are usually held during morning hours on weekends since this is the non-peak period for most estate agents."

The Institute uses about 20 qualified teachers to impart both academic and practical skills, but presents its lessons in a down-to-earth style and in language familiar to staff accustomed to the real-life situation of property salesmanship today. As Mr Kwok explains, "We want to upgrade their skills in all aspects."

Each class has about 120 students, and every month about 11 classes are held covering all key aspects of the property sector. In addition, the institute offers courses that teach social and language skills — attributes that are invaluable to estate agents since sales depend heavily on interpersonal and communication skills.

To become a property sales agent, a person must get a salesperson's licence. The next step upward is to obtain an estate agent's licence (individual). "People holding an estate agent's licence could choose to start their own business and become sole proprietors, directors and managers, while sales agents can only be employees," Mr Kwok points out.

Although the institute concentrates on continuous training for Centaline's own staff, it also allows agents from other companies to take its courses. Mr Kwok estimates that among the total number of property agents who have fulfilled the CPD scheme requirements in Hong Kong, 51 per cent have taken courses at the institute, confirming the widespread acceptance of the quality and professionalism of its courses. "Registration is very user-friendly. Applicants can register online, and everything can be completed in just one minute," says Mr Kwok.

With the approval of the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation, at least 15 new courses will be launched later this year as part of the institute's ongoing drive to broaden the scope of its lessons.

Mr Kwok points out that by providing good internal training the company not only attracts new talent but retains experienced staff. "While our training programmes foster recruitment, we believe retention of experienced staff is more important. It's always better to keep people who have learnt our methods and procedures rather than having to start again from the bottom with newcomers. There is always room for experienced staff to grow within the organisation, and where necessary they can acquire new skills through continuous training," he notes.

He is confident that the property market will continue to play an important role in Hong Kong's economy in the years ahead. "Investor focus is more on the stock market at present, with the Index reaching record levels recently. But we still believe the property market is a reliable and stable investment," he says.

Learning the basics

  • Centaline Training Institute a platform to increase professionalism of estate agents
  • About 20 qualified teachers impart both academic and practical skills presented in down-to-earth style and in language similar to real-life situations of property salesmanship
  • Additional courses teach social and language skills — attributes that are invaluable to estate agents
  • Courses opened to agents from other companies
  • Around 15 new courses will be launched later this year

Taken from Career Times 19 January 2007
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