Getting back on track
Mr Cunningham said raising the level of qualifications required to become and remain a real estate agent will have a number of positive flow-on effects.
“Once we raise education standards, we’ll start to see a higher calibre of agent enter and remain in the industry,” he said. “Right now, the divide between the best agents and ‘the rest’ is too great. We need to close the gap and have consistent, high standards of education and practice across the industry.
“As a consequence of these higher standards, the client experience will improve. I want to see excellence in service as an industry standard. Why do real estate agents always rank so low in terms of consumer opinion? The main contributing factor must be because, in general, they have a poor experience when dealing with the industry. They don’t see us, on the whole, as acting professionally.”
According to Mr Cunningham, we have the opportunity to rapidly change this negative consumer sentiment.
“There’s certainly no shortage of experts who are willing and able to provide us with the tools and knowledge we need to succeed. So why have things gone so incredibly wrong? How have we managed to go so far off track?” he asked.
“One fundamental thing has been missing: education standards. The myriad of quickie entry-level and qualification courses that are available have failed to address the critical issue of essential foundation knowledge. Without a strong foundation of knowledge, the development of other essential skills is fundamentally flawed.”
And experience counts too.
“There needs to be a marriage between theoretical learning and the knowledge and experience a person gains on the job,” Mr Cunningham said. “Learning isn’t the product of teaching alone. It’s also the product of on-the-job experience.
“If someone doesn’t have the benefit of theory, then they’ll do what they’ve been shown but won’t understand why they’re doing it. Equally, if there’s an absence of practical experience, they’ll understand what needs to be done but won’t know how to do it.
“Experience counts and each level of education should ensure an adequate balance between theoretical knowledge and practical experience.”
Taking it a step further, Mr Cunningham explained that an important part of what agents do is sharing knowledge with clients.
“These days, consumers have access to so much information. It’s freely available. Part of an agent’s value comes from being able to turn that information into a consumable product. To do this, we need additional knowledge and that knowledge comes from education.
“Consumers are sophisticated and we need to respond to this by demonstrating our expertise and sharing our knowledge to help guide them through the transaction. This means we have to not only improve our traditional entry-level and ongoing education standards, but also extend our range of knowledge to those other areas that impact the property.
“All of this together will help position us at a professional level,” he said.
Education is key to professionalism
The Professional Standards Councils, with its agency the Professional Standards Authority, is the independent statutory body responsible for promoting professional standards. They use the 5 Es to define the elements that are necessary to qualify as a profession.
Education is the second E and to be recognised as a profession we must demonstrate that our education standards equip agents with both the technical and professional expertise necessary to effectively discharge our responsibilities.
“The reform package is a giant step forward,” Mr Cunningham said. “We’ll continue to work closely with the government to ensure the package is not diluted.
“The overwhelming majority of issues that attract the attention of the regulator and aggravate consumers can be resolved by substantially improving education standards.
“Education is at the core of everything we do as agents. We have to be skilled professionals who deliver an invaluable service, one for which we’re paid according to the value we add.
“With the right entry-level and ongoing education standards in place, we can deliver great advice, a great experience and a great result. That’s what our clients should rightfully expect from us as professionals.”