Estate agents enjoy a mixed reputation on the Costa Blanca. In many cases they represent people's first and only contact with the area, indeed with Spain itself, and they are often entrusted with the fulfillment of people's dreams, not to mention their entire life savings.
Perhaps because of this elevated role, they also tend to be vilified and mistrusted by some of those who have passed through their hands. For other people they are a focus of envy, after all everyone knows that estate agents make lots of money. However, we don't always know a great deal more about them, so in an attempt to rectify the situation I decided to have a chat with Rob Meyer, a self-employed property salesman.
What are the differences between being a self-employed estate agent and working for a large property company?
If you work for yourself there is an awful lot more to do than just sell houses. You have to be a financial adviser and know about mortgages and taxation and you have to understand the legal aspects of buying a house in Spain. You are responsible for the kind of product you offer, you have to produce marketing materials and you need computer skills for your administrative work. Becoming self-employed does not involve a great deal of initial investment. In order to work with some builders you need to form a limited company, but anybody can sell resales. If you work for a big agency your only responsibility is the actual selling of the house. All other aspects of the work are dealt with by other departments.
What are the pros and cons of both types of work?
If you are self-employed you need to speak extremely good Spanish. This was not the case a few years ago when nearly all the business was centred on the coast. Now the trend is to move inland where most of the builders speak no English at all, and that can be a big problem. Another difficulty is explaining to clients how the system works in Spain as there are certain aspects which are completely alien to the British way of thinking. You have to put in a lot of extra office hours and you do a lot of mileage. I average about 1,500 kilometres a week just working within an hour's radius of Torrevieja. The responsibilities of being self-employed are much greater, but then so are the financial rewards.
When you work for a big property agency most of the work is commission-based, which means that you are dependent on your company to attract potential customers, otherwise you have no income. Commission can take from six to twelve months to come through which can be a problem, especially if you wish to change jobs in the meantime. Although you don't put in so many office hours, you may be expected to accompany your clients all day from breakfast to suppertime in order to "protect" them from other agents.
What is your experience of clients who come over from the UK to buy property?
There tend to be two types: those who come with unrealistic expectations and those who come without any clue at all. The first group are often influenced by TV programmes about buying property in Spain. The problem is that these programmes are often twelve months out of date, and price inflation is much worse here than in the UK housing market. Others come without any idea whether they want a "finca" in the country or an apartment on the coast. They don't know what is here, so they don't know what to expect. With people like that I would spend the first day just talking to them without even looking at property. Do they want to be near a beach or a golf course? Do they want to be in a Spanish village? What are the different ways of life? What are their reasons for buying property in Spain? Do they want an investment, a holiday home? somewhere to live permanently? To be honest, agents often know better than the client what kind of property would really suit them.
Would you recommend buying new or resale houses?
New, because they are better value for money. People say that when you buy a resale you can see what your buying, but because of that the prices are higher. When you're selling a new build, you are selling an idea, which is much harder to sell so therefore the prices are lower. Of course there are certain risks in buying a new build property, but most of the real cowboys have been weeded out these days, so people shouldn't be too anxious.
How can you justify the types of commission estate agents earn?
Well, a lot of people compare the rates with the UK, but that is a little unfair as the responsibilities of the job are not really comparable. English property agents in Spain have to advertise overseas and pay a percentage to their British agents. They also have to arrange accommodation and flights, their after-sales work is much more demanding and they have to liaise with builders. All of this involves extra cost.
Why are there so many complaints from customers about after-sales services?
The truthful answer? Because most agents pick up their commission at the time of the sale. Some agents take the attitude that they've got their money, so it's time to move on to the next customer. Other agents realise that good after-sales is a marketing tool and that people will come to them through word of mouth. It depends on the company philosophy.
What sort of bad practices should people be wary of?
Some agencies attract customers by advertising property at a low price, and then telling them that unfortunately those particular properties have sold out, but they have similar ones for only a little more money. Sometimes the projected pictures of new-build properties are deceptive, for example with sea in the background when the site is actually inland. The bigger property companies will tend to take people only to the places that offer the bigger commissions, as they need a bigger turnover to operate. Smaller companies which work on lower commissions may take you to other areas. Some companies insist on using English solicitors. The problem with this is that these solicitors don't always know all the conveyancing laws and have to consult Spanish solicitors. The result is that you can end up paying double the legal fees.
How can people tell a good estate agent from a bad one?
By finding out as much as you can about them. There is no obligatory professional association for estate agents, so really it's a question of recommendation. You might ask a property company to introduce you to people who have already bought through them, although they will of course choose someone who is happy with their service.
Is working as an estate agent a good way of making a living?
The rewards can be very good, and I don't just mean the money. It's a fabulous feeling when you sell a house and help people to fulfill their dream. People have said to me: "I've always dreamt of owning a house in Spain, and you have been a step on the way to helping me achieve that."
This article is published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com