In a free society – well, free-ish – there is nothing anyone should do about stopping people saying how much they earn or what bonuses they receive. But is it not time for the property industry to be a little more sensitive on the subject?
As a country we are undoubtedly in for difficult times and there is no secret being made by government that many people will have sharply reduced standards of living.
Yet one top end estate agent awarded its partners an average of £600,000 each a few weeks ago – up from £169,000 a year ago and announced via press release just before the agency sent out a letter to journalists, amongst others, saying that the country would not be getting any richer in the near future. Great timing.
The firm’s structure meant it had little choice but to announce the bonuses. However, it could have chosen to award smaller bonuses, or none at all, but instead chose to make a statement about its affluence in a time of recession for most others.
Loadsamoney attitudes like this are not restricted to the big agencies. London’s property industry is, in many areas, awash with money and even some small firms appear unafraid of people knowing how well off the industry has become.
A modest Kensington estate agency has sent me a notice saying a maisonette going on sale this week will carry “a £2,000 negotiator bonus” and that the launch breakfast will involve all business cards put into a hat “and one successful negotiator will win a magnum of champagne.”
It’s hardly the scale of the £600k bonuses, let alone the much-hated bankers' bonuses, but the tone is not exactly in tune with Britain’s mood at the moment.
Some property players are more canny: just before last Christmas King Sturge announced that its partners had given up half their remuneration in the year to April 2009 so it could be used as working capital.
Now like all journalists I’ve had my share of gratuitous hospitality but, as always, it is a matter of judgement about what is acceptable and what not. In journalists’ cases, we have to appear neutral and objective despite the schmoozing; do top-end property firms not have to appear at least a little sympathetic to the wider population’s circumstances?
Of course the irony is that most property insiders are extremely hard working, highly skilled and not conspicuously well off - most agents outside of south east England could only dream of £2,000 bonuses let alone £600,000 windfalls.
David Cameron made it clear that the Conservative party conference, for the second year running, should not be ostentatiously celebratory; official champagne receptions were off the agenda, for example.
As October 20 looms, would it not be a good idea for the property industry top brass to follow that sort of advice?
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