What Makes an Ethical Estate Agent?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called How Ethical is Your Agency?

In the article, I shared ten things I’ve learned from the most ethically-minded estate agencies I’ve ever worked with.

It received a load of interest, comments and some good questions.

One that stood out was, what makes an ethical estate agent?

In truth, I don’t think there’s a definitive answer.

And there’s a risk that people become so bogged down with the details of what being ethical means that they end up with paralysis through analysis and don’t do anything positive.

As I see it, being as ethical as possible is something we strive to be better at.

No one is perfect, but if your path of direction is towards something wholly positive for your clients, colleagues and community (local and global), surely that beats wasting your time picking holes in people and businesses genuinely trying to be better versions of themselves.

The opposite of ethical

So, what follows is my opinion based on my 13 years of experience working with estate agents, our company’s drive to be as ethical as possible and the ideas and info I’ve collected along the way.

Let’s start with why I think some agents operate unethically.

Put simply, I think it’s down to greedy owners and leaders.

Corners get cut, and pressure is ramped up to gain more market share at the expense of client care.

The people at the top are conductors of the agency’s culture.

The tone is set when the boss is solely focused on making money, no matter what cost it involves.

Things like this happen.

  • We MUST overvalue to get instructed even though we know the seller will never achieve that price, and a reduction will follow.
  • We HAVE to aggressively push financial services even if better deals are to be found elsewhere.
  • We ALWAYS pressure sellers to take first offers so we can get the deal done quicker, regardless of our ‘role’ as negotiators.
  • We DON’T care about the quality of a tenant as long as we get the place rented out quickly.

Now, I’ve never been an estate agent, BUT I’ve been a seller, buyer and landlord multiple times, and ALL the above happened to me at some point.

It’s unethical behaviour.

It gives agents a bad reputation.

But there is another way.

Now for the good news

What makes me most proud of our Estate Agent Content Club and fledgling Ethical Agent Network is the calibre of agents within them.

Not just top agents but top people who share many of the same values, such as honesty, pride (in their services), community-mindedness and compassion.

I asked our WhatsApp groups for examples of an ethical approach to agency.

We received several great examples, but these two stood out for me.

An unplanned dilemma

“I advised a seller last week that I couldn’t sell his beautiful house.

We had signed contracts, completed marketing and had a day of viewings – then he told me he didn’t have planning permission.

But he said he had an engineer who would certify it, so ‘it would be ok’. He had knocked an old house down and built a new one – once he knocked the old house down, he was required to apply for planning.

I said, knowing what I now know, I’d have to resign as we pride ourselves in doing the right thing and never misleading people.

He then praised me and agreed on my recommendation to rent the house and apply for retrospective planning.”

It pays to hold your agency accountable

“We were once involved in a transaction where the seller confirmed that their service charge (S/C) was £1,400 pa on our property information form, and it later transpired that it was £2,800 pa, but payable in two installments of £1,400.

Long story short, the buyer was notified of this by his solicitor after reviewing the documents.

Then, before exchange and completion, the solicitor informed him that the S/C was double what we had quoted.

The buyer then flagged it up to my Sales Director and asked for a meeting with me to voice his understandable frustrations.

Upon listening to the buyer, he was genuine and sincere and said he had no option but to complete due to a separation from his partner.

However, he would be out of pocket to the tune of £2,800 over two years, as that’s how long he planned to stay there.

He then asked if we would be happy to contribute towards the service charge he hadn’t factored into the purchase.

He explained he would be happy if we were to meet in the middle and pay £1,400.

We then turned over a cheque that we had already drafted to the sum of £4,500, which was our entire fee from the sale.

The gentleman was shocked and said he didn’t want that amount and would be happy to take less and for it to be a lesson for both of us.

Our stance was that this was a genuine error on our side and has helped us improve internal processes to ensure it is never repeated.

The individual left crying with happy tears and has become a raving fan of the business.

Funnily enough, he has recommended us several times since.

Being ethical to us is doing the right thing consistently, even when no one is watching you and doing it with a smile on your face.

We now use this situation on interviews to see how prospective team members respond and if our values align with the candidate.”

And finally

The definition of an agent according to the Oxford Dictionary is:

A person who acts on behalf of another person or group.

The definition of an estate agent is as follows:

A person whose job involves selling and renting out buildings and land for clients.

A redefinition of an ethical estate agent might be:

A person who always acts in their client’s best interests and always aims to do the right thing even if it costs them time, money or extra effort.

Thanks for reading, and to all the ethical agents out there, keep fighting the good fight.


PS: Read How Ethical Is Your Estate Agency here

PPS: Here’s a link to the promises we ask from members of our Ethical Agent Network