Saturday: the weak end of estate agency?

“Quite a few estate agents are just a little bit lazy.”

That’s not my view, you understand. But it is the view of one estate agent I interviewed about four years ago for an article I was writing.

I spoke to him again last week and he has become no less charitable about his peers.

This agent, who for the benefit of his own health had better remain nameless, is now very successful and runs a central London agency.

In the past (he’s in his early 50s) he has worked for and run agencies in Australia, the United States and Britain, with over 25 years experience to draw on. And believe it or not he’s quite popular within the industry.

So why the ‘lazy’ jibe against his fellow agents?

The reason is simple: it’s because of what they do (or don’t do) on Saturdays.

He explained that as agents in the UK became more senior, even in small agencies let alone the big corporates, they would typically have most or all Saturdays off and would definitely not work on a Sunday.

Instead, offices were often staffed at weekends by “people who didn’t know much about the properties they sold” I was told.

It’s not quite that simple, he admits. European labour legislation means any employed (rather than self-employed) agent is entitled to time off after weekend working.

But my interviewee surely has a point when he says it would be good if more senior agents worked every Saturday.

“You’d get husband and wife and even the children seeing the property in one move, instead of now when one looks at it during the week with the agent and has to arrange the rest to see it on a Saturday with a part-time employee who may know little” he says.

We all know the arguments, for and against.

We all know that in London and many cities, agents do indeed work at weekends; and there are many hugely diligent agents, often in small agencies serving specialist markets, who work Sundays as well.

And of course many agents - especially senior ones - take work home or are on the telephone or iPad across the weekend, juggling family life and professional diligence.

But in many cases, especially outside big city centres, it’s different.

In the past I have undertaken extremely ad hoc surveys of agents on Twitter and by email.

They show that almost without exception, single-office or small-scale agents worked each Saturday and sometimes Sundays. More experienced senior agents working as partners or for chains had all or most Saturdays off – and did not work on Sundays.

In my little town of about 6,000 homes, 200 miles from London, all five agency offices shut for the weekend at Saturday lunchtime with few having senior staff on duty in the morning.

What makes this particularly surprising is in my town some 10 per cent of properties are second homes and as a result many buyers are available at weekends, not weekdays. If they don’t come down from London until Saturday morning, they will miss the agents.

All of this proves nothing, of course, and let me be the first to say that it ill-suits a freelance journalist to complain about the working hours of anyone else.

But with traditional estate agents facing new competition from - dare I say it? - online estate agents emphasising they are open 24/7, is this not the time for things to change?

“Saturday’s the busiest day for estate agents anywhere and those in the US, Australia and New Zealand will do it. But in this country there’s resistance” says my anonymous interviewee.

And then he has a warning.

“In the US now, Sunday is becoming the busiest day for selling property. What’s going to happen when that spreads over here?”

This article first appeared in the Industry Views section of Estate Agent Today

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