It’s all about image for estate agents

Real estate salespeople need to spruce up their image – and there's how they can do it.

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Whether it's about a corner store, a major corporation or a utility provider, we've all had cause to complain about poor customer service. But the group that seems to attract the most criticism, with the possible exception of used-car salesmen, is estate agents. As The National reported yesterday, estate agents in Dubai have been accused of failing to keep high standards of customer service, and have been urged to take the issue more seriously.

The general perception seems to be that agents are opportunists who will set up quickly in boom times, offer little or no service and then disappear when the market flattens. Indeed, this was the case in Dubai at the end of the property boom, when some unregistered agencies did simply shut up shop overnight. One agent admitted that clients were ­often wary of him, and that “out of 10 people, maybe seven will trust me”.

At the heart of the issue is the question of who estate agents actually work for – the owner of the property, the prospective buyer or tenant, or simply themselves. As one Dubai resident said: “My experience of estate agents has been that they just want to get their percentage of the deal and don’t really care what happens afterwards.”

From a customer’s point of view, word of mouth – a recommendation from a friend or colleague – is often a reliable way to select a reputable agent. An online rating system set up by one real-estate firm in May 2012 is also playing its part, with indications that satisfaction levels with agents have risen from 6.5 to 8 out of 10 in the past two years.

But there is more that agents can do to raise their esteem in the eyes of the general public. While government oversight already plays a role, the voluntary establishment of an industry-wide body would be a positive step. Such a body could help raise standards of service a by setting a code of conduct, and by offering training and ongoing professional development courses, rewarding those who meet high standards and perhaps penalising those who don’t. Agents in the UAE also need cultural awareness training, as they will inevitably be dealing with people from different backgrounds with different expectations.

By addressing how they can, collectively, improve the way they do business, agents can go a long way towards salvaging their reputations and securing the confidence of the people they deal with.