A FORMER estate agent has lifted the lid on the sordid, sexist and seedy world of selling houses.
In a shocking expose, Caroline Rose details her appalling treatment in branches of several well-known High Street firms.
The writer, 28, who quit the property trade three months ago following a string of unpleasant incidents in the workplace, is now calling for a major overhaul of the sector.
She says: “Estate agency is like something out of a 1980s time warp. It’s incredibly sexist and belittling towards women.
“It still goes by the attitude that ‘sex sells’. It is also quite elitist. In parts of London, employees who attended private schools are preferred. The salary is often below minimum wage — you’re expected to work on Saturdays without complaint — and the hours are brutal.
“Women are made to wear make-up and high heels. Low-cut tops are encouraged to persuade men to sign on the dotted line. It’s also incredibly pressurised, with unrealistic targets that have to be met.
“Cocaine use is rife as workers struggle to keep pace with the hours and find a way to cope with the stress. Coke was openly spoken about across the desks — and applauded — with some guys taking it almost daily.”
While regulation of the banking and financial sectors was overhauled in 2013, the Estate Agents Act of 1979 remains largely untouched. That legislation, designed to ensure buyers and sellers are treated honestly and fairly, makes few provisions for estate agency staff themselves.
According to research published last year, estate agency remains dominated by men, with relatively few women in top roles and the gender pay gap even wider than is seen in other professions. Nationwide, women earn 18.4 per cent less than men in similar roles. Among residential estate agents, that gap yawns to 27 PER CENT.
Bonuses vary wildly too. In 2018, one leading agency paid its men on average 82 per cent more than women. Caroline, who is from Fulham, South West London, and was privately educated, claims her first job offer in the trade came after she was asked if she wore a skirt to play hockey at school.
She says: “The levels of sexism I witnessed first-hand were staggering. Interview questions included, ‘What do your parents do?’ and, incredibly, ‘What did you wear when you played hockey at school?’
“At a firm in South West London, I was told it was mandatory for women to wear high heels and skirts were preferred. A few months in, a married, 50-year-old male manager with three kids became increasingly tactile — chasing after me, ruffling my hair, complimenting my appearance every day.
“He then started sending increasingly explicit texts. But when I emailed him and copied in human resources, I was effectively made to withdraw my complaint as it would break up a happy family.
“The next year he placed his hand on my colleague’s bottom at a party and forced entry into her taxi, where he pushed himself on top of her. He still works at the company.”
Caroline goes on: “My flatmate was at a well-known West London firm. She was told by her boss that ‘sex sells’ and to wear low-cut dresses to ‘reel in the punters’.
“Her boss would comment on her breasts each day and encourage her to ‘get them out’ before a viewing. Adultery and sex are everywhere. There were constant tales of male managers indulging in affairs with female negotiators. Sadly, it is the norm in estate agency.”
Not surprisingly, Caroline believes estate agency deserves its tag in surveys as Britain’s most hated profession. She also reveals the underhand tricks used by agents to drum up business. She says tactics include fake viewings, imaginary offers and mandatory cold-calling.
Caroline recalls: “My days consisted of cold-calling applicants for hours each day. An applicant list was presented and we aimed to call 50 a day. To reach our targets, we had to book 35 viewings a week and receive one offer.
“Fake viewings were seen as a necessity to maintain client confidence, and clients were targeted for price reductions every week based on false feedback from made-up ‘buyers’. On one occasion, an imaginary low offer was put to the client to demonstrate there was activity on the property.
MOST READ IN UK NEWS
“Completely unexpectedly, the client accepted the low offer. I had to watch my colleague call and explain that the buyer had been in a terrible accident and had to retracted his offer.
“On another occasion, a client came in to say his mother had died. My boss looked sombre, speaking to him in hushed tones. As soon as the client left, the manager started shrieking euphorically across the office, ‘She’s finally died! We can flog her house! It’s worth £5million!’
“The entire office gave victorious yelps. I understand that much of the income from an estate agency is based on others’ misfortune but the whole industry is utterly lacking in morals. The whole thing is disgusting.”
'Trapped in time warp'
“GIRLS are expected to wear heels and skirts,” I was told by the overweight, bald male manager when I was offered a job as an estate agent. It felt like an Eighties time warp.
“And no one takes lunch here,” he added. “You’ll have time to eat a sandwich on the way to a viewing.”
Then a form was thrust under my nose for me to sign, waiving my right not to work over the legal maximum hours. I was told my salary would be £12,000 a year.
Over the next four years, my appearance was the focal point of morning conversation. The first time I didn’t wear make-up to work, my male boss immediately demanded – in front of the entire office – that I put some on.
At one interview, I was told men were better suited to sales and women to lettings. When I asked why, the interviewer said men are wired to be intelligent, persuasive, fierce salespeople – while women are better suited to manipulation.
Cocaine use was ubiquitous. The head of sales at one agency would boast about how much he had taken that day and offered it around at company parties. The “in-crowd” who said yes were promoted, while those who abstained were not.
I witnessed countless unfair dismissals of women of child-bearing age. It is no secret how expensive maternity contracts can be. It is great that estate agency provides a career for many people who aren’t trained in anything else. But with no update to industry regulations in 40 years, no wonder the business remains stuck in the Eighties.
It is time for change.
- GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL [email protected]