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What does it take to become a real estate agent?

If you have set your sights on becoming an estate agent, probably the first place to look is within, to determine if you have what it takes. If so, and if you have the unwavering dedication to provide an exceptional level of service and be a high-achiever, the rewards and job satisfaction can be meaningful.

Do you have the x-factor?

Dr Andrew Golding provides some insights into being a successful agent: “There is without question, a level of competence, expertise and professionalism that is obviously a given requirement, but there is then an additional so-called x-factor that makes an exceptional agent, which is not necessarily that easily defined and is also not necessarily one single thing.

“In many instances it will be their innate drive and competitiveness but in others it can be specific aspects of their character – their human qualities that make them so exceptional. Fundamentally, though, the common qualities of successful agents include a passion for the combination of property and people, and that they love what they do.

“Surprisingly, top agents are very seldom primarily driven by money. Generally speaking, important drivers and intrinsic motivators include being able to influence lives and participate in the positive, exciting and significant moments in people’s lives. Fundamentally, and by virtue of the very nature of the successful concluding of property transactions on an ongoing basis, agents are in the business of nurturing and cementing relationships, and so effective communication is a key skill. Top agents need to be empathetic but also with the skill to understand both the said and unsaid.”

Lanice Steward, head of training for Pam Golding Properties and former president of the Institute of Estate Agents South Africa, describes how to become an estate agent, from that first decision to embark on the journey, to obtaining your real estate qualifications. From there, it’s up to you whether you become a successful agent, which essentially means being part of the top 20% or remaining part of the average 80%. According to Steward, they are two very different jobs.

Debunking the most common myth

Says Steward: “There’s a misconception that becoming an estate agent is easy. Simply write an exam that’s not too difficult, head out there, sell lots of homes and make lots of money. This is not true and it is this thinking that historically gave the industry a poor image. Fortunately, some 15 years ago, the Estate Agents Affairs Board (EAAB) identified the need to step in to implement a tighter qualification process to obtaining a real estate licence. Today, unlike in the past where you could write a three-hour multiple-choice Board Exam and open up your own business the next day, there are a number of hurdles over which to leap. This has already significantly professionalised the industry.

First steps

“Your first task is to find a company who is willing to take you on as an intern and who will register you with the EAAB for a Fidelity Fund Certificate (FFC). These are renewable annually, for every agent, even once qualified. As an intern agent, which is a minimum of a 12-month programme, you could potentially start earning quite soon, however, bear in mind that it takes an average of three months to transfer a property from date of sale and to earn commission, so the reality is that you may need up to nine months’ worth of funding to back you up. Until you are a full status agent, you are not permitted to sign any documentation and will be required to have a mentor who will accompany you when you list a mandate or complete an offer to purchase document.”

The three hurdles towards estate agent qualification

In a nutshell, says Steward, there are two ‘journeys’ which are completed simultaneously, followed by an exam. Journey A is an academic one, resulting in a NQF4 qualification required by the Services SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority), which requires the intern to enrol with a service provider, for example Chartall Business College. You are then taken through five modules that require research, answers to questions and the submission of practical examples.

Successful candidates are then issued with certificates of compliance after an assessment by the learning institution. This process costs around R12 000, however, SETA does offer learnerships, which you can enquire about through your chosen agency. Your service provider will then have to find you compliant in each of the five modules. After this, your file goes to SETA for moderation, and they will issue a certificate of compliance (NQF4), a copy of which should be sent by you to the EAAB.

Journey B is one that satisfies a practical requirement for the EAAB in the form of a log book. Essentially, this a compilation of practical examples that demonstrate your experience as an agent. This content is very similar to the examples supplied for SETA’s NQF4 practical requirement. To guide you, the EAAB website provides an outline for both the format and content of the logbook. The company you work for will be able to advise you on several providers, including some law firms who offer further direction on how to complete the logbook. During your 12 month learnership, your mentor will be required to periodically sign off your logbook and ensure that all obligations towards completing it, are fulfilled.

Says Steward: “This is really a step in the right direction considering that estate agents are signing legally-binding contracts and in many cases, dealing with a client’s most valuable asset.”

Once the EAAB has both your logbook and your NQF4 qualification from SETA, you can register for the PDE (Professional Designation Exam), which is a three-hour, open book, multiple choice exam. It is advisable to take a course on how to index your text books so that they are easy to reference during the exam.

Then once you have fulfilled both the SETA and EAAB requirements and passed the PDE you are a Full Status Agent.

Are you exempt from parts of the process?

Depending on the subjects taken for your matric qualification or your tertiary education, you may be exempt or partially exempt from the NQF4. Regarding matric for instance, if you have two of the official South African languages and maths (or maths literacy), you are immediately exempt from the language and maths sections within the NQF4 modules.

If you have a degree or other tertiary education, the subjects that you have completed may entitle you to even further exemptions. In recent years, property degrees through universities have also become an option, but bear in mind that regardless of exemptions or even a property degree, both the logbook and PDE exam need to be completed. To apply for exemptions through the EAAB, there is a non-refundable cost of R1600.

What is it really like to be an estate agent?

According to Steward, it’s important to know that the industry norm is that 20% earn 80% and that 80% only earn 20% of the pie. Unlike many other jobs, if you give 40% you’ll not get a 40% return but a very low return. Because of the perception that it’s an easy way to earn an income, many people think they can do it as a job that fits in between the rest of their life, whereas in reality, the life of the agent fits into the job. There is also a public perception that agents earn too much commission. In reality the average income of an agent is quite low, and, remember that a large portion of that income goes to their costs, such as petrol, maintaining a car, a smart phone, various marketing tools and often paying assistants to grow their business.

The top 20%

These agents fully understand that real estate is more than just a full-time job, it’s a lifestyle. An agent who is hard-working, dedicated and exercises good time-management can still enjoy family life and actually benefit from the flexibility of the job while being really successful.

The other 80%

These agents work a two to four hour day and because real estate is not really a half-day job, will earn the average income for most agents in South Africa, which is around R16 000 to R20 000 per month before tax and running costs.

Entrepreneurs in partnership with a brand

In essence, an agent is an entrepreneur who is running his or her own business and is in partnership with the company they work for and who, is in effect, capitalising their business, says Steward.

“Don’t be surprised if the brand you work for, demands a solid performance from you. Remember that agents cost the company an average of R15 000to R20 000 every month for their office set up, admin support, training, advertising and marketing.”

Top agents know that they never stop learning, so if you are serious about a career in property, choose a company where training is a key business strategy. Steward endorses Andrew Golding’s views and adds, “apart from the learnt skills, like how to negotiate or understand the many legislative processes, there are definitely inherent characteristics shared by top estate agents. These include drive and passion, but almost always a love for people that is expressed in sincere empathy and compassion.”