Estate agency industry suffers ‘worst staff shortages’ in a generation – despite branch closures

An estate agent recruitment consultancy says that the sector is experiencing the worst staff shortages in a generation.

Cutbacks made by firms last summer look to have been premature, as they may have driven good people out of the industry, and are said to be responsible for the shortage this spring.

Property Personnel managing director Anthony Hesse says that the number of residential sales vacancies registered with the company in the first quarter of this year has more than doubled compared to the same period last year.

This is despite redundancies and branch closures – most notably by Countrywide, which has reported shutting 200 outlets in the last year, while LSL has closed 21.

Hesse said: “It’s a really strange market out there in estate agency at the moment – but the lack of available recruits is a defining factor.

“One of our clients has over 100 vacancies they are unable to fill; another has 46 property manager vacancies that they can’t find suitable candidates for.

“I would say that the struggle to fill vacancies is currently second only to the difficulties estate agencies are experiencing financially.”

We asked Hess if there was any trend towards candidates not wanting to work for corporates, but he told EYE: “I don’t think so. In fact, we make as many placements with independents and small boutique agencies as we do the large corporates. This trend seems to be happening across the board.

“The belief that the ‘grass is always greener’ means that we get people at large corporates who want to go and work for small independents, as well as people at small independents who want to go and work for large corporates – in almost equal measure.

“The truth is, the low availability of candidates is down to the agencies stopping recruiting last summer. The impact of that is starting to filter through now. Added to which, despite Brexit, there’s a genuine feeling of optimism out there. And we’re working hard to secure placements wherever we can.”

Hesse’s comments echo broader observations made by Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Kevin Green, who said: “Although permanent placements have hit a 12-month high, businesses across the UK are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit for permanent roles.

“The big question still remains about how employers will fill their vacancies.”

Hesse added: “After nearly 30 years of placing personnel in all areas of residential estate agency, the number of vacancies registered with us is a good indication of confidence in the sector.

“So in many ways, this is an excellent time for people who are prepared to move jobs, as those hiring them compete to secure the talent available.

“It’s also a good time to welcome people into estate agency for the first time. Last year, 36% of our placements were people with no experience in estate agency whatsoever.

“And this year, around a third of our clients would consider candidates with a similar background.

“So the opportunities are definitely out there for those who want to discover what a dynamic and exciting industry this is.”

Whilst the number of sales vacancies registered with Property Personnel has more than doubled, the number of lettings vacancies has remained stable in comparison.

Hesse said: “The three months after the referendum saw a significant drop in the number of vacancies available – especially in residential sales, but also a slight dip in lettings. However, on the sales side, nine months later, there are scores of jobs available out there.”


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  1. Rickman2154

    The big problem is that estate agency recruitment companies offer corporate positions first and not the independent agencies vacancies, where the individual could thrive. Recruitment agencies steer employees to the ‘Big Guns’ as they  are their big clients rather than look after the ’employee’s interests. have seen this on many occasions, believe me.

    1. PropertyRecruiter06

      Rickman2154, you are sadly wrong in your assumption that candidates are being steered towards the corporates.  There are many many reasons why this is simply not the case, but I would suggest that an open forum is not the place for me to list these.  I would, however, confidently say that 90% of our business is driven by the independent Estate Agencies, and this has always been the case.
      I agree wholeheartedly with Anthony’s comments and insight – we are also experiencing record levels of new vacancies across both sales and lettings.
      From where I’m sitting, I can certainly confirm that there are more vacancies than there are candidates right now, and the good news is that salaries do finally seem to be on the rise across the board, after having remained static for so many years.  However, don’t think for a minute that employers (and I’m very aware that many people reading this are employers themselves) are simply employing the first person they see because of this shortage of talent – most are content to wait for the right person, and they will usually put together a strong package in order to secure them.
      In short, the savvy Estate Agencies out there (the traditional independents mainly) are now bolstering their teams with the very best talent – which must be a good thing for the industry as a whole.

    2. Property Personnel

      Rickman2154, as PropertyRecruiter06 has done, I have to take issue with your comments as they are incorrect. I’m not sure if you have worked in recruitment, but we certainly do not ‘steer’ candidates in any direction. We listen to what they want and try to find them opportunites that match their needs. I can assure you that if you try to push someone in a direction they don’t want to go, they won’t!
      To clarify exactly where we are doing our business, I have just looked back over our figures for last year and the breakdown of our placements was as follows:
      Corporates = 10%
      Large Independents (more than 10 branches) = 25%
      Small Independents (less than 10 branches) = 65%
      Finally, another reason that we are doing less and less recruitment with the corporates is that the majority of them now have their own in-house talent acquisition teams.

  2. J1

    The main problem is cash

    20 years ago you could earn 40k easily as a SBM

    nowadays that’s really hard to achieve

  3. P-Daddy

    This is a pattern that has been building since the credit crunch. There was a bounce back when the market was seen as booming and easy, drawing in a wide variety of newbies as well as the experienced being lured into new roles supposedly for more money. The land of plenty was not as was sold for many, as there were so many new agents opening and expansion for others, resulting in more mouths feeding off the same cake. Unless you are a business with new homes exposure! So, with all the prophets of doom out there, why would you move and put yourself at higher risk in a corporate environment with the increasing retail model, to find your self downsized as quickly as you were drawn in. The old FILO principle applies. Estate agency is also out of fashion compared to a lot of the new industries rising from the IOT and of course, school leavers now want to go to UNi and then go on a perpetual gap year, leaving their entry to the workplace until they are older and with student loans. No wonder they can’t afford to buy a house!!

    The jobs out there with the large companies have a prescribed format, where their way is the right way or its the highway for you; so they need lots of machines who aren’t necessarily entrepreneurial, as micro management ensures lots of stats to judge performance. Estate agency in its best form is part science and whole lump of black art. The best agents I have ever seen and worked with had a style of their own, but it took time to bed in and its not how modern management works. Until this culture is embraced, there will be a skills shortage.

  4. Moolamarkie

    I suspect with the country enjoying low unemployment, estate agency isn’t the only sector looking to fill vacancies.  The larger corporates may be skewing the figures slightly as they’ll always dealing with churn and change and therefore will constantly be driving recruitment.  Statistically, 2-3% of positions are available at any one time.  This might mean one open position in a 50 person agency or 200-300 in a 10,000 person employer.

    The follow-on questions are, does not filling the positions create operational difficulties?  Is there a broader issue in the relevance of estate agency as a career choice?  Does estate agency match the skills currently being taught?  Does estate agency satisfy emerging skills and qualities?  There may just be a bigger picture to consider.


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