There is a general perception that one of the quickest ways for an ambitious young person to start earning big money is by going into the property business. Salaries and commissions soon add up and, when times are good, even relatively inexperienced agents can pull in substantial monthly incomes. However, such rewards do not come easy. And Marco Au, managing director of Treasure Land Property Consultants, emphasises that there is no substitute for hard work and no shortcut to success.
Mr Au has a business degree and originally considered going into the banking or accountancy professions. However, he opted for Treasure Land in the belief that there would be better opportunities for long-term personal development, and joined as a management trainee in 1997.
Within just three years he was promoted to manager and became head of the residential division after two further years. Then, having completed an advanced business course at Yale in 2004, he was offered the post of managing director.
Mr Au attributes his rapid rise to diligence and persistence, pointing out that the company's property consultants usually start the day with internal meetings at 8am and carry out daily business reviews after 8pm. These long office hours are only part of the story, since staff must also do extra market research and keep in close contact with all current and potential clients.
"We should never give up, even when clients say no, and must always provide complete and correct information for their consideration," says Mr Au. While stressing the need for honesty, he adds that the sales side of the job obviously involves showing any property in its best light. "For example, if the main entrance is still under construction, I'll take the client in by the side door," he says.
Employees must be outgoing, ambitious, proactive and persistent
In his view, success in the property business depends on a commitment to service. Agents should not merely act to facilitate a transaction or secure a deal, but serve clients whole-heartedly and help them in every aspect of their search for an ideal place to live or work.
Property consultants with Treasure Land focus only on the high-end market of grade-A commercial buildings and luxury residential developments. Their customers are mainly senior executives with major corporations, who know their own minds and can be very demanding. Therefore, agents recruited to work in the prime property sector must be self-confident, well-qualified and determined. All of the company's consultants are university graduates and around 20 per cent hold Master's degrees. Nevertheless, the most important thing is to have the right attitude. "Employees must be outgoing, ambitious, proactive and persistent," says Mr Au. Previous experience is not essential, provided people can adapt to the rapid pace of the business and the hard work involved whether the market is up or down.
His main recommendation to graduates interested in the field is to take care in selecting the right employer. "Look for a reliable, well-established company, which has been operating for over 10 years and has a comprehensive database for daily business needs," he says. As in many sales-related roles, the satisfaction of the job comes from successfully closing a deal, the monetary rewards, and the sense of achievement from providing what clients want.
Regarding general prospects for the property market, Mr Au expects a slowdown in the near term. He predicts that, with the upward moves in interest rates, property prices will fall while rental costs rise.
However, in his opinion, fluctuations in the market should not be allowed to affect anyone's decision about going into the field. "While it is easier to make deals when the market is strong, newcomers can learn just as much when things are comparatively slow. They can also benefit from the fact that senior executives may have more time to coach them," he says.
As managing director, Mr Au now focuses on training and management issues, as well as sustaining healthy profit margins. He says the secret to achieving stable income when contending with market ups and downs is to have a strategy of diversification and not to follow trends blindly.
Although the property market is booming in China, there are few opportunities for frontline sales agents from Hong Kong to work in the mainland. Mr Au puts this down to a language barrier. "It's not a matter of speaking Putonghua, but that mainland customers often prefer dealing with someone who speaks their local dialect," he says. There are also cultural differences and local property market practices which any agent must be familiar with.
Some companies offer the chance for senior managers to transfer to offices in China. These roles often concentrate on administrative duties rather than sales.