In common with many other professions, the standards expected of people working in the property sales sector continue to rise. This applies not only in terms of market knowledge and ongoing education, but is also seen in the stricter entry-level requirements for those coming into the business.
According to Kitty Ip, managing director of Midland Realty, the minimum requirement is now an education to Form five qualification, rather than to Form three standard as in the past. In addition, the introduction in 1999 of the licensing system for property agents brought tighter controls, and a further set of regulations will be enforced in 2007. Among other things, these will require agents to take at least 10 hours of extra training every year before their licences are renewed.
"Our job involves so much more than taking the customer to view a property which is for sale or available for rental," says Ms Ip. "There are now a variety of value-added services which cover everything from market analysis and after-sales support to providing referrals for mortgages, insurance and interior design."
Customer orientation and quality service are the phrases that regularly come up. Ms Ip says that agents are now trained to take a long-term approach to identify exactly the property clients want, rather than using a hard sell approach to shift what is on hand. "Even if there isn't anything suitable at the moment, you can still maintain regular contact with customers and provide them with up-to-date information for consideration," she says.
Although standards are getting higher, Ms Ip admits there is still room for improvement. She believes that too many agents still just walk a potential buyer around a property without fully explaining the features and benefits. The general level of legal knowledge about, for example, the wording of contracts and the handling of land searches also leaves a lot to be desired.
Midland has therefore established a special department to train staff and, for a fee, external parties as well. Ms Ip points out that there are some widely available courses to prepare property agents for the qualifying exam of Estate Agents Authority (EAA) or for their continuing professional development, which will be a statutory EAA requirement as from 2007. The Midland programme emphasises practical knowledge and all the trainers can draw on their own real-life experience. As a result, the pass rate is over 80 per cent, which is significantly above the industry average of around 70 per cent.
New recruits usually have two to three months' intensive training. This covers details about the company, industry practices, legal knowledge and documentation, sales skills, and the essentials of customer service. Besides classroom training, a mentor programme provides junior staff with on-the-job guidance.
More experienced agents who already have all the mandatory qualifications can enhance their professional skills with courses in property trading, languages and negotiation techniques. Those identified as having management and leadership potential receive additional training to equip them for new responsibilities.
With the property market expected to strengthen, Ms Ip says more agents are required, especially for the residential sector. Midland plans to open 40 new branches this year, which will create about 400 frontline positions.
Fresh graduates are encouraged to apply, since they can often compensate for a lack of experience with adaptability and a willingness to learn.
In considering what it take to succeed, Ms Ip highlights good communication skills, a proactive and responsible attitude, and good business sense.