Knowledge is power

The quality of training real estate professionals undertake has become a hot topic in an industry looking to sharpen its customer proposition.

THERE IS a genuine focus on up-skilling amongst sales agents and property managers, but not all training is deemed to be equal.

Courses more focused on speed rather than content irk many in the industry; a complaint made worse by mooted plans to remove continuing professional development (CPD) from a proposed national licence for agents.

There are dramatic shifts in the way business is now conducted – driven by new technology and evolving consumer demands. The changing expectations of the vendor – and the buyer – are also major factors driving the need for fresh training techniques and content.

It’s for these reasons Real Estate Business recently surveyed more than 200 industry decision makers – most of which were agency principals and managers – about their thoughts on the current standard of education and training in the industry, and what they would like to see happen in the years ahead.

Following are the key findings from the survey, and what a range of industry participants had to say about the results.

BEST METHOD - ONSITE

Just 14 per cent said they preferred training via online sources, while 50 per cent liked attending seminars at an external venue.

This result didn’t surprise the majority of people Real Estate Business spoke to for this article. For most, it’s the ability to interact with other industry professionals that makes training attractive.

According to John Cunningham, director at Cunninghams Property, interaction is an important part of the learning process.

“Despite the advent of numerous online options, agents who are serious about their careers actually want a more interactive training on a face-to-face basis,” he says.

“The key is learning and reading ... following prompts does not have the same effect as Q&A time.

“This is the same for CPD training, many participants just want to get it over and done … but others actually want to learn and understand compliance issues so that they can operate with clarity and sleep at night.”

Moreover, getting away from the office – and all of its associated distractions – always helps with the learning process.

“At Louise Griffin Property Management (LGPM) our preferred method of training delivery is at an off-site venue, as it creates a more focused and dedicated environment,” says Louise Griffin, the company’s owner.

“Half day or full day time-frames seem to achieve the best results. Generally, we are surrounded by like-minded dedicated practitioners and it provides a valuable opportunity to discuss and share methodology.”

Sasha Boe, managing director at NSW-based Real Estate Training Solutions, says online does remain popular with some agents.

“In our experience, online seems to be popular for people who have left their renewal to the last minute,” she says. “They can work on their CPD immediately and not have to worry about waiting for a course to commence. It is also popular for agents in more rural and remote areas.”

She acknowledges, however, that those professionals who complete ‘in-house’ CPD, where all members of the office are involved, seem to take away much more from their CPD sessions.

“They are able to discuss the topic of CPD in relation to what occurs in their office and how best to implement any legislative changes that may be required.”

Craig Kerr, principal at Ray White Mildura, in regional Victoria, says he was surprised online-based training wasn’t more popular, particularly considering the difficulties faced by regional professionals in attending training sessions.

This view was supported by the findings of another question in the survey, which revealed 31 per cent of respondents found distance the main obstacle to attending training courses.

“Being in a regional area we have to travel six hours to Melbourne or four to Bendigo if we can't get a trainer here,” he says. “With everyone so time poor, I am surprised the online delivery is not more popular.”

Graeme Hyde, head of network sales, awards and recognition at LJ Hooker, says it’s important to define what online training means to industry professionals.

“If it’s simply clicking boxes online, that’s not as interactive,” he says. “Yet if it’s live streaming and broadcasting, online can be effective.”

Within LJ Hooker, this includes live interviews with top performing professionals that anyone in the network can log into. Question and answer sessions are generally included, ensuring viewers aren’t just passive.

Peter Ford, of Complete Property Training, agrees interactivity is crucial in training. Like LJ Hooker, he still sees a role for the internet – that’s why he plans to introduce webinar-based education sessions next year.

On the other hand, Amanda Hunter, general manager at Total Real Estate Training (TRET), the company responsible for the Australian Real Estate Conference (AREC), says agents are willing to travel to the events they run.

AREC was held on the Gold Coast in 2012, and will be again this year.

“We found attendees loved the chance to get away to the Gold Coast for AREC2012, so it shows that distance is not always a main factor in deciding to attend training,” she says.

TIME INVESTED - A FEW HOURS

Half of the respondents said they did a few hours of training each month

Paul Curtain, managing director at PLACE Estate Agents and principal at the group’s Bulimba office, gets to evaluate training from a variety of perspectives, based on the different roles he performs within the group.

His network, which was named the Real Estate Institute of Queensland’s (REIQ) Best Large Residential Agency of the Year in 2012 for the fourth consecutive year, prides itself on delivering high quality training and coaching, using a mix of internal and external trainers.

Mr Curtain also presents training himself.

He estimates agents working at PLACE would undertake up to three to four days of training each month – well above industry standard.

Some of this training for agents can involve ‘one-on-ones’ with their respective principals or sales managers; a role he also performs at the company’s Bulimba office, which employs 25 sales staff.

The company also sent 50 of its staff to AREC, has put its 100 or so staff through an intensive Lee Woodward training course, and has contributed half of the costs for another education program conducted by Michael Sheargold of the Real Estate Results Network (RERN).

He says they’ve also just completed the group’s 2013 training calendar, which he estimates will deliver a 30 per cent increase in the amount of training each member of his team receives. This includes plans for a study trip to the United States.

Douglas Driscoll, CEO at NSW-based group Starr Partners, says it’s impossible to quantify how much training an industry professional should undertake each month.

“Having said that, there should be a dedicated time and place for training,” he says. “It has to be something that can be implemented, monitored and measured over time.”

John Percudani, director at WA-based network Realmark, agrees you can’t quantify how much training an agent or principal should do.

“It’s all about assessing the needs of the individual and catering to their abilities,” he says. “It’s horses for courses.”

MONEY INVESTED – ONE TO FIVE PER CENT OF AGENCY TURNOVER

More than half – 54 per cent – said this was the amount they spent on training

In this regard, the survey’s finding fitted in with what Paul Curtain believed was a reasonable level to spend on training.

He based his view on seeing a performance coach once a quarter, attending AREC each year, and choosing a few other courses over the 12 months as well – and he estimated this might cost around $3,500 or thereabouts, or 3.5 per cent of $100,000 – a wage that most agents would be happy with after being in the industry for around three years.

For Louise Griffin, while investing in education is critical it has become increasingly expensive.

“I was fortunate enough during the first thirteen years of my career to be involved with an agency that invested a lot of time and capital in training, and I’ve been fiercely committed to carrying on this philosophy within my own business,” she says.

“However, the necessity of training to maintain acceptable levels of professional development has seen the cost, both in time and capital investment, escalate dramatically.”

MAIN FOCUS FOR 2013 – SALES SKILLS

Around 31 per cent of respondents will focus on improving their sales skills training this year

While this result isn’t surprising in an industry that revolves around selling, Real Estate Business asked a number of professionals what aspect of sales skills should be the focus for agents in the New Year.

Sasha Boe says she’s often surprised by an agents’ lack of knowledge around ‘the basics’.

“Filling in agency agreements correctly and lack of understanding around the rules of conduct are common,” she laments.

Sadhana Smiles, Harcourts Victoria CEO, says their focus is very much on ensuring their agents are great at the basics in real estate.

“No matter what market you work in, get excellent at the basics and you will have success,” she says.

Many salespeople looking to hone their skills attend the industry’s biggest training event – the AREC. In 2013 this will be held on the Gold Coast again. It attracted more than 2,500 attendees last year from across the country.

“Industry members are at different places in their lives, careers and in the roles they perform, thus there is always a varied need for content,” says Amanda Hunter, TRET’s general manager.

“AREC13 is themed ‘Ideas That Work’, given its strong practical content and the fact attendees love hearing from agents and coaches within the industry who, on a daily basis, are seeing what is working for themselves and others.”

An important aspect of sales is being held accountable for your results. This forms the basis of a program being run by Harcourts Victoria.

Harcourts Victoria general manager, Vanessa Kupsch, delivers one-on-one coaching with a number of Harcourts Victoria’s top sales consultants, including Shane Donovan, the group’s number one agent.

“I have worked with Shane for the past three years, and during that time his figures have significantly improved as a direct result of having someone to be accountable to,” she says.

“I don’t train the agents on anything new – it’s all basic real estate but it’s the accountability with the coaching that keeps them going and writing consistently strong figures.”

TOPICS THE INDUSTRY WANTS MORE TRAINING ON – LEGISLATION AND COMPLIANCE; PROPERTY MANAGEMENT; AND ETHICS

Around 15 per cent of respondents said there should be more training on legislation, compliance and/or regulatory issues

According to John Cunningham, there is a need for a “significant” improvement in legislation and compliance training.

“Our industry works under no less than 20 pieces of legislation from the obvious Property Stock and Business Agents Act [NSW] to the less obvious Dividing Fences Act and the obscure Property Relationships Act, not to mention the recent anti-fraud checks that are required on every sale.

“But how many agents really understand their obligations when carrying out their duties and due diligence every day?

“I really believe this is as a result of the excessively low standards of entry and ongoing training requirements to hold a real estate agent licence in Australia.

“In NSW there are training organisations offering a licence in four days. No wonder we are seeing so many fraud cases opening up at present.”

Craig Kerr, of Ray White Mildura, says he is seeing some improvement in this area.

“I think the industry continues to move in the right direction regarding legislation and compliance,” he says. “We are already quite highly regulated and when someone does something wrong the media are all over it.”

Bob Walters, of the Bob Walters Team (BWT), says legislation is important, but even more so for new entrants.

“The hard thing about running training on legislation is that it is not very entertaining for the attendees and therefore, not appealing for them,” he says. “Although, when there is new legislation that impacts agency practice, real estate practitioners come running as they don’t want to be left behind.

“Legislation and compliance training desire is lacking when there is no new legislation to learn.”

Property management was an area that also ranked highly as a topic that respondents would like to see more coverage on in 2013.

According to Ms Griffin, as property management gains credibility and becomes increasingly recognised “as a free-standing industry”, property managers now have an obligation to be able to advise on matters of risk management and legislative compliance.

“In the litigious society within which we live, it is imperative property managers be well equipped to carry out this role.

“The focus of training within our organisation for 2013 will be directed towards implementing and communicating to our clients the imminent changes to legislation affecting risk management at tenanted properties,” she continues. “I would also like our team to participate in exercises where they can hone their skills in conflict resolution and mediation – these competencies are becoming increasingly more important in the property management industry.”

Ethics training was raised as another area that should receive more attention.

“Some agents I have met over the years think that ‘ethics’ is a little town outside London,” says Mr Walters.

“I believe that acting ethically is a personal ‘value’ and you can provide training in ethical real estate practice, but ultimately someone is either ethical or not. Training cannot make people ethical.”

Bob Berry, principal at Bob Berry Real Estate in Dubbo, in regional NSW agrees.

“I think ethics must come from the principal,” he says. “The principal sets the culture and policies of the firm. You can’t legislate for honesty.”

BIGGER PICTURE

PUTTING ASIDE the day-to-day need for ongoing skills development, a number of industry professionals had strong views on the bigger picture.

According to John Cunningham, more industry professionals need to focus their attention on how to run a business.

“Real estate businesses to date have mostly been run on the basis that if we make enough sales then everything will be alright, without really looking at what it takes to run a sustainable business,” he says.

“The trend today – with serious growth businesses – has changed that position. We are now seeing business managers and coaches in place who focus on cash flow, strategic planning, growth, career paths, stability, investment and bullet proofing the business.

“So the need for training on this level, I believe, will become essential for principals who want to be survivors. The same really applies to those agents who are running their own effective business units (EBUs) – they also need to understand basic business principals to ensure they are sustainable and compliant.”

For Craig Kerr, training should centre more on an agents’ broader role.

“Going forward I would like to see more discussion on how agents can maintain their relevance to the public,” he says.

“There’s no hiding the threat of online portals and we need to continually add value to the customer.”

This is a crucial point for industry trainer, George Roussos, director at NSW-based Industry Training Consultants. He says continuing professional development (CPD) training isn’t geared for the world that the real estate industry now finds itself in.

“Many licensees throughout Australia don’t have the experience in corporate development and business management to enhance the overall customer value in a new economy,” he says.

“The traditional real estate business models are still not conducive to change. The aim of the CPD scheme is to improve knowledge, skills and practice across industry in identified areas of marketplace concern, and improve levels of customer service and business management skills.

“However, the true benefits of ongoing CPD training could be tarnished if what is taught in the classroom is not implemented in real practice. Again, the current business models are not conducive to industry development – in particular in the area of HR management and consumer demands. The fear is they become increasingly less commercially viable when there is a resistance to change, or the industry itself is not understanding the true impact of globalisation, migration, technological and knowledge revolutions and climate change issues.

“This is the reason why I don’t support online learning for CPD – there are far too many complex industry issues we are facing in this new economy.”

For John Percudani at Realmark, it’s about more than just ‘hard skills’ training – important as they are, these are generally taken care of by CPD courses.

“We’re focused more on communication, self-management, understanding the emotional intelligence of consumers, and [developing] intellectual skills,” he says.

He says consumers expect agents to be competent in the basics of selling. It’s having the ability to connect with clients at a higher level that’s now vital.

“We’re in an era where consumers have more choice,” he continues. “We truly have to do more than basic competency. It’s a game changer; you need to connect with clients at a higher level.”

He adds that he’s had a clinical psychologist talk to his team at one of their annual Jump Start events, with a view to helping his team have more self-belief.

GET REAL

THE PUSH towards more pragmatic and ‘real’ training gathered some momentum in 2012, with the launch of REAL2012, the continuing popularity of AREC, and the momentum behind the REBarCamp concept.

Peter Ford, the co-founder of REAL2012 and CEO at Complete Property Training, told Real Estate Business in August that one of the key thrusts of the event was having speakers who could relate directly to the audience.

Part of his research involved a road trip that took him to agencies across Queensland and northern NSW, and during this time principals and agents made it clear what they wanted.

“They want relevant, real people, not American superstars with the ‘S’ on their chest,” he told Real Estate Business at the event. “They’re looking for people who are doing it, and having success in difficult markets.”

Michael Sheargold’s Real Estate Results Network (RERN), which was ranked eighth in this year’s Real Estate Business Top 20 Real Estate Groups ranking, also works on the premise that using the collective wisdom of its member agencies is more powerful than any one company.

“None of us are as smart as all of us,” is RERN’s mantra, he told Real Estate Business in 2012.

He adds that the group is based on commitment rather than compliance. And when it comes to getting value out of the membership, one of its policies involves members submitting four innovative ideas each year, which they must share with other members. With more than 30 members, that’s more than 120 ideas shared amongst the group each year, from which any member can learn from.

The group will continue in this vain with its Real Estate Sales Summit, due to run in early February in Sydney, which features a range of current industry practitioners, including James Tostevin from Marshall White and Cathy Richards from PLACE Estate Agents.

Another event which attempts to be as ‘real’ and practical as possible is REBarCamp, which encourages open and honest conversations between real estate professionals.

According to Peter Fletcher, trainer and organiser of the most recent REBarCamp, held in Perth in October, open forums that allow agents to learn from one another are the key to a better industry.

“REBarCamp encourages agents to come together and share what they know,” he told Real Estate Business.

“The camps attract people who want to learn but are also generous [with] what they know. Combine those two values and you get a space that really encourages people to share and develop.”

Getting buy-in from attendees is also closely linked to the credibility of the speaker and trainer.

“I’ve found the presenters’ credibility is directly proportionate to the reception of their content by our team members,” says Louise Griffin.

“As the time invested in training is precious, we expect the presentation to be factual, efficient and well-researched.”

Bob Berry questions the quality of some trainers operating in the industry. It’s for this reason he rates the courses offered by the Real Estate Institute of NSW and EAC, both of which provide courses run by experienced professionals.

“You’re getting the people who have done ‘it’,” he says. “The most important thing is the knowledge of the trainer – they must be a hands-on practitioner who has done what they are teaching.”

In one instance, Mr Berry recalls a trainer who simply stood at the front of the room reading from a book. “People switch off,” he says, not unsurprisingly.

For Bob Walters of the Bob Walters Team (BWT), it’s important to give training attendees something tangible to take with them after they finish a course or seminar.

“What I consider most important in designing a training session is that there is a lot of ‘take home’ information for the attendees to use in their business lives,” he says.

“The fact an attendee can acquire CPD points from the session should be a secondary concern.”

THE FUTURE OF CPD

PLANS TO exclude continuing professional development (CPD) from a national licence for real estate agents sparked a strong rebuke from many in the industry when it was announced.

As part of the proposed new rules, which are currently open for industry feedback, CPD would not be a requirement of a national licence for property-related professions. Furthermore, diploma-level education would no longer be required for a full real estate agent licence.

This news sparked a robust exchange of views on rebonline.com.au in August, with a number of people questioning the validity of CPD requirements, particularly when courses are of a short time frame or contain material lacking educational merit.

“I think the national licensing system is a great idea but … I also think a CPD system should be in place too,” said Larry Nelson in a comment on rebonline.com.au. “For some agents, it is the only form of training they get.

“Ideally, some specific standard of CPD training should be set so that it is not just a ‘turn up and copy out the given answers’ system, as seems to be the case now.”

CPD is currently mandatory for real estate agents in NSW, WA, TAS and the ACT.

More recently, while the industry awaits detail from the government on the final makeup of the national licence, the Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) claimed that a drop in the number of complaints against agents in WA, was due to the introduction of a mandatory continuing professional development (CPD) requirement five years ago.

“The proof is in the pudding,” said the then REIA president, Pamela Bennett. “Since Western Australia introduced mandatory CPD in 2007, written complaints across all categories of real estate activity have dropped by around two thirds.”

John Percudani, director at WA-based Realmark, agrees the introduction of CPD has helped raise standards in that state.

“As a leader and owner of a real estate business, CPD is integral, and I would agree that it has improved things in WA.”

Mr Percudani says it’s important to note that in WA, CPD is even more important considering the offer and acceptance document that an agent handles forms the basis of the final contract – so effectively, laypeople are involved in preparing a legal document.

“We take a proactive role in CPD, one that’s mutually beneficial and symbiotic, and it’s programmed into our training schedule,” he continued. “Even if CPD wasn’t compulsory, we would still continue to deliver training and mentoring.”

Graeme Hosking, managing director of Ausnet, a WA group of more than 30 independent agencies, believes CPD is vital to the industry.

“As the saying goes, ‘old habits die hard’, and unfortunately this is probably still relevant to parts of our industry today,” he says. “’I’ve always done it this way’ or ‘This has always worked in the past’, are possibly common utterances in many real estate offices.

“Some may call themselves ‘old school’. However, real estate practice has changed dramatically over recent years, and continues to do so on a frighteningly regular basis. No person could seriously contemplate undertaking a real estate transaction with the same tools and methods that may be decades old.

“Yet, probably more importantly than this, legislation effecting various aspects of real estate practice changes regularly. Therefore it is vitally important all practitioners are fully aware of what new or amended laws govern real estate today,” he continues.

“Without CPD training ensuring every practitioner is made aware that specific changes have occurred, many people will simply continue to act blindly and ‘do what they have always done’.”

Yet Bob Berry believes CPD isn’t necessary.

“CPD training will disappear,” he says. “It’s a competitive industry, and if you want to be successful you’ve got to have a skilled staff. So in this day and age, you’ll ensure that you undertake that training.”

Franchise group have been performing that role over the years, he adds.

Mr Berry says with the internet and magazines, it’s very easy to be kept up-to-date with trends, rather than sitting in a room with a closed mind, just because you have to tick a box to say you’ve done your CPD.

NETWORK INVESTMENT

RESPONDENTS GENERALLY applauded the efforts of their network when it came to the delivery of education and training.

For those respondents in a network, when it came to rating the quality of the training they received, 66 per cent said it was either good or excellent. In terms of the range of courses provided, 69 per cent said it was either good or excellent.

An example of the level of investment one group has put into training is LJ Hooker, through the LJ Hooker Institute and Future Captains program.

“The Future Captains Programs, which includes agents with anywhere between two weeks and 15 months’ experience, starts with four days of face-to-face training, and then two years of ongoing training, which includes once a month broadcasts,” says Graeme Hyde, head of network sales, awards and recognition at LJ Hooker.

“Already in its first seven months, five [Future Captains] have been accepted into Captains Club, which is the top 15 per cent of sales agents in the network,” he says.

He says the LJ Hooker Institute – the group’s in-house registered training organisation (RTO) – is the overarching umbrella for the group’s training, which is designed to provide a career pathway.

“All of the training helps deliver credits that go towards a graduate certificate in real estate at Bond University,” he says, adding that participants can earn enough credits to cover 50 per cent of the course.

Some in the group are already on this pathway, and he expects to see the first graduates in 2013/2014.

“It’s also about retention – we have something that allows them to continue to grow,” he continues. “We have this whole pathway and this is very important in the first couple of years, hence why the Future Captains course is so important – so many good people leave the industry. The main reason they fail is a lack of good leadership, accountability or training.”

About the survey

THE ONLINE survey was conducted in November, and received 204 responses.

The majority of respondents were principals or licensees, and were based in NSW (74), Victoria (48), Queensland (46), Western Australia (27), South Australia (3), Tasmania (3) and the Northern Territory (3).

Most respondents worked for independent agencies (112), followed by franchise networks (83) and cooperative networks (9).

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