Why all the fuss about an estate agents course?

I wouldn't have expected the launch of a Foundation Degree linked to established provision to cause so much fuss.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

A £9,250 a year course to learn how to be an estate agent?

As is increasingly expected in broadsheet coverage of the sector, the facts of the matter are somewhat at odds with what has been reported and debated by the usual suspects.

The course in question is the FdSc Residential Estate Agency at the Royal Agricultural University. It is far from the “first estate agent degree” – a cursory examination of secretive government-backed course database Discover Uni will tell you there are already at least 64 courses from 22 providers dealing, more generally, with “real estate”.

You could, if you wished, study a BSc in Urban Planning and Real Estate at the Russell Group’s own University College London – combining a core focus on urban planning and design with a “focus on property markets, investment decisions and real estate economics”. There’s a third year module on “Real Estate Valuation” . Or maybe you’d be more interested in one of the more specialist offers at the University College of Estate Management.

It’s not even the “first estate agent degree” at RAU: there’s a BSc in Real Estate there that shares many of the same modules (and is available with, or without, a foundation year) – if you’d have read down the press release as far as paragraph six you would be aware of this.

As far as the claim for uniqueness goes, the argument is that this foundation degree is focused particularly on the residential side of real estate (ignoring the more widely catered for commercial end of the profession). It is promoted as being “ideal for those already working in the industry or those considering becoming an estate agent”.

The main thrust of the pushback has been centred around the fact that a qualification is not required to become an estate agent. There are many routes into the profession – though pretty much every industry group is clear that some level of external training is required. Industry accreditation scheme PropertyMark, for instance, itself offers various level 3 qualifications alongside a HNC in Property Agency Management and a full continuing professional development offer.

Like in many other sensible countries, the direction of travel is towards a regulated profession and this is likely to mean – at the very least – some form of professional standard. Though there are some truly expert estate agents that have mastered the chunks of law, regulation, finance, negotiation, and marketing that you need to do the job well it is still possible that you would be guided through what is probably one of the most expensive purchases you will ever make by someone with no training whatsoever. This is probably not a good idea.

As the government said in 2018:

We believe that introducing a requirement to hold a professional qualification backed up with a programme of Continuing Professional Development would professionalise the industry, improve service and reassure consumers

And again:

We now intend that letting and managing agents have a nationally recognised qualification to practice. Agents will also be required to undertake continuing professional development

With a government working group further clarifying in 2019 that:

We therefore recommend that licensed agents should be qualified to a minimum of level 3; company directors and management agents should be qualified to a minimum of level 4 (my emphasis)

The other salient fact in all this is that being an estate agent is something which – according to the way the government and regulator uses Standard Occupational Codes (SOCs) – is routinely coded as a “graduate job” in sector statistics (3555: Estate agents and auctioneers, 1251 Property, housing, and estate managers). And rightly so.

A university, in other words, is being pilloried for offering a short vocational course linked to a skilled profession. Which kind of feels like the sort of thing universities are routinely asked to do.

So why the pearl clutching? I suspect the price tag. Whereas, as a nation, we seem to be fine with billing graduates £9,250 for each year on non-vocational courses like politics, philosophy, and economics – something about graduate repayments for vocational training for a defined career sticks in the craw. Is this, perhaps, training that employers should be paying for? It is arguable that they should – but the advent of a whole world of short, vocational, courses as a part of the lifelong learning entitlement (LLE) suggests that this is not the path the government sees us on.

Leave a Reply