Everyone wants the best sales agents and property managers to work for them. But are principals’ recruitment practices up to scratch? Real Estate Business asks recruitment specialists and industry professionals about how to secure the best talent.
Top-notch agents are in hot demand, according to industry experts, as are property managers, with an increasing number of principals in need of skilled people to manage their portfolios.
But where do you get them, and how do you get them? It’s widely agreed within the industry that finding those star performers is no easy task.
“The candidate-short market in real estate is, unfortunately, here to stay,” says Jeanette Hockney, director of Melbourne-based property and real estate recruitment specialists Buckmaster Hawkey.
“If principals don’t [work out] how to tackle these conditions and come up with workable solutions, they are only going to find it harder to find people and keep their good people. [This] will add to their salary head count cost and reduce their bottom line.”
Angus Raine, CEO of Raine & Horne, agrees: “With mounting competition between property firms for the best and brightest young staff, it has become an increasing challenge for agents to find and retain top new talent in today’s property market,” he says.
“In an industry that has in some cases adopted a ‘sink or swim’ attitude to new staff members – and which traditionally hasn’t placed an emphasis on induction – many agents are now re-examining their approach to recruitment in order to stay ahead of the game.
“Savvy agents are responding … by offering prospective employees access to both in-house and industry training programs. Also, numerous employees now prefer to work closer to home to achieve a work/life balance. This can be a benefit to many real estate businesses, which are using the knowledge of locally-based staff to gain an advantage in a competitive marketplace.”
WHERE DO YOU GET NEW PEOPLE?
New recruits come from a wide range of backgrounds.
“Some come from other areas of property,” says Ms Hockney, “for example, from administration/support roles into property management or sales. We have successfully placed many new entrants from hospitality, retail, office administration, sales and customer service.”
Meanwhile, Paul Fenech, principal of Stockdale & Leggo Croydon, in Melbourne, says while he isn’t noticing any trends in where new recruits are coming from, he agrees the hospitality industry is a good place to look.
“They’re generally taught to be good with people,” he says.
According to Ms Hockney, the critical element when recruiting from other industries is being able to identify transferable skills.
“[Principals] should develop key skill criteria for the ‘competencies’ and skills required to complete the duties of the role,” she says. “These skills can be ‘transferable’ if developed from experience in comparable roles.
“Utilising behaviour-based interview techniques best enables principals to determine if the candidate has the skills required to successfully transition to the new role.”
Mark Kentwell, principal of PRDnationwide Newcastle, in NSW, says finding experienced sales agents is best done by contacting them directly.
“I may make that contact myself, and just have a coffee with them,” he says. “It’s not a sales pitch; it’s just understanding where they’re at, what their goals are and where they plan on going in the next five years.
“If we can show them the path to get there a bit quicker, or support some of their endeavours a bit more, [we may ask] whether they’d be open to a change.”
He admits, however, that it’s tough finding good people and so continuing those conversations is essential.
Mr Fenech visits the local TAFE College to meet with prospective candidates who are undertaking the sub-agent’s licensing course.
“Obviously, they’re already keen to get into the industry,” he says, adding that he is more likely to be impressed by candidates who take the time to follow up.
Darren Gorrel, NSW state manager for Gough Recruitment, says he’d like to see more new blood entering the industry.
“It can take a lot of time for a new person to get established,” he says. “There are a lot of young kids out there who have gone and done their real estate course and licence but they can’t get a start. Ninety-five per cent of the jobs we recruit for in residential real estate require a minimum of six to 12 months’ experience.
“There are a few agencies that are a bit forward thinking: they like to train people up because they’re training them their way – they’re not bringing in any bad habits.”
“Not enough agencies have programs or structures in place to train new entrants into key roles,” Ms Hockney says. “Many experienced operators – in particular, property managers – leave to have children, move into sales or other areas of property, or move into other industries to earn more and not work weekends.
Todd Hadley, national franchise services consultant at PRDnationwide, says training new agents is a core focus in his organisation.
“New sales agents come from two places,” he says. “The first is from within: We’re training a young person as a new PA, into a buyer’s agent, and then into a sales agent. That’s a 12-month to two-year process. That seems to be the strongest trend at the moment – getting someone 26 years of age and under.
“It gives them far more knowledge, and without the pressure. With knowledge comes confidence, and with confidence, comes ability.”
Some networks, however, such as Raine & Horne, aim to secure new entrants via career nights.
“Recruiting established sales agents already working in the marketplace is a longer, more difficult task,” says Mr Hadley. “Anyone who is around 28 to 30 is generally married with children, and it’s hard for them to leave established careers and to take a step back into real estate.”
JOB DESCRIPTION AND INTERVIEW
Tracking down candidates, of course, is only the beginning of the recruitment process; you also need to be able to supply them with a detailed job description and know how to interview them.
An accurate job description is crucial: “You spend just 20 minutes writing one up, and it’s going to save you hours later on,” says Paula Simoes, director of PS Recruitment.
Applicants need to know what they are letting themselves in for. “There are always people coming in to start a career in real estate, usually from sales backgrounds in other industries,” she says, “but you would be surprised: a lot do not do the correct prior research.
“They perceive the industry to be ‘looking at big houses, driving a nice car and easy money’.
“If I had a dollar for everyone who said that I would be a millionaire! I usually spend a long time explaining to them that it’s not like that,” she says. “[After] hearing about the hard slog, they walk out pale and don’t come back.”
If, however, the job applicant is experienced, principals “should explain more about the organisation, its history and future direction, and how the role fits into their overall strategy”, Ms Hockney says.
“Discussing the individuals who have succeeded in their business, and why that was, can benefit the potential new recruit,” she says. “Principals want to ascertain not only the candidate’s suitability to the role but their level of desire for the new role.”
PRDnationwide’s Mr Hadley suggests running job interviews over a week or two. “Then you can judge their desire to really succeed in this business,” he says. “If they’re going to chase you hard for a job, they’ll chase hard for a listing and a sale.”
“I’m looking for people who have got a bit of direction,” Mr Kentwell says. “It concerns me when I talk to salespeople and ask, What have you got in mind about where you want to be? and they say they really don’t know.
“If they’re not motivated in this regard, they’re unlikely to be a match.”
“I suggest principals have candidates meet some of the senior sales people in the team, just to have a second opinion,” Mr Hadley adds. “I often come in as a third opinion to do interviews with potential salespeople. It just gives the principal a deeper understanding of the applicant.”
WHAT DO CANDIDATES WANT?
In the current tight employment market, interviews are a two-way process: candidates are interviewing principals to gauge whether a job will meet their personal and professional needs as well as being assessed by the principals themselves.
“The number one thing employers have got to do if they want top people is to create an environment that supports them,” Mark Kentwell says. “They want support so they can focus on making money.
“Most salespeople have a goal of getting the highest sales volume, and if your systems aren’t set up around volumes, then you may as well forget about the idea of having a top performing salesperson.
“That means great support from the administration team and listing coordination department; a high-volume reception enquiry service; a great database that has automatic buyer-match function; data entry taken care of; training support systems; and just having people around them to allow them to do what they do – which is list and sell.”
Professional development and career opportunities are also important, Ms Hockney says.
“Candidates want to ensure the company is going to provide constructive and relevant feedback; that they are going to have regular reviews, not just a salary review; that the office is going to provide the right mix of social interaction; and that they are able to utilise their initiative in coming up with new ideas,” she says.
Property managers will also want to know the state of the portfolio they will be managing.
“Some job candidates’ demands and desires are reasonable – particularly in wanting an understanding of how they are going to be inducted, supported, and developed within the role,” Ms Hockney says.
“Some, however, have taken their advantage in the market to the extreme in demanding sign-on fees, or higher packages that don’t fit with other employees.”
“They’re always going to want to work where the brand is strong, whether that’s a franchise or independent,” Todd Hadley adds. “They want a strong market presence.
“They [also] really want to work in nice environments, not ‘old’ offices that haven’t been refurbished for the last 10 years.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” exclaims Paula Simoes when asked whether staff inductions are important. “I believe there should be a one-on-one induction at least weekly for the first six weeks.”
So, are formal inductions common practice at agencies? In an online straw poll conducted by Real Estate Business in late August, more than 90 per cent of the 628 respondents claimed they offered a formal induction program to new recruits.
But not everybody agrees with the findings.
Charles Tarbey, Century 21 chairman, believes this response would be possible where a majority of respondents came from larger franchise groups; otherwise, he says, formal inductions are “simply not there”.
“Having a formal induction program is crucial to a new recruit’s success,” adds Ms Hockney, “but unfortunately, many [principals] have a ‘sink or swim’ attitude or assume that if the person has done the job before they should instinctively know how the new employer wants things done.
“We see so many candidates come to us to assist them find their next role because they’ve had a bad experience when they were not given any expectations of their performance, or there was not enough communication within the office nor clarity around procedures and processes.”
Also surprised by the straw poll findings, Ms Simoes questions how some agencies define ‘formal’ induction: “To me, a formal induction program is a systemised approach which includes meetings with staff and managerial appraisals,” she says.
Sharon Bennie, director of real estate and property recruitment specialist firm Sharon Bennie, agrees. “Some of our clients do two to three days offsite, which is incredibly thorough, and obviously not possible for all scales of business.
“We’ve found that most of the businesses we work with – at least 85 per cent – are extremely professional and do have a formal induction process. However, many of the companies that candidates are coming out of do not.”
“We have some strict checklists around little things, like when is their database turning up, when are their business cards being ordered, is their mobile number in the system and much more,” Mark Kentwell says. “By the end of the seven to 14 days, they’re walking and talking like they’ve been here for six months.”
“We have people in the offices who do things extremely well,” says Rebecca Freeman, sales, training and recruitment manager at LJ Hooker City Residential (WA). “We like to get the new recruits to spend as much time with our team as they can and learn from the best. Everyone in our office remembers what it’s like to be new and they are more than willing to jump in and help the newbies get up and running.”