“But for the most part, as a collective our industry just hasn’t shown the willingness to adapt and evolve to meet the changing world we now find ourselves living and working in.
“We’ve been adapting a little bit here and a little bit there. But, when it comes to client expectations, we’ve allowed ourselves to be left behind. We’re consistently letting our clients down because we continue to hold tightly to the belief that as agents we’re at the centre of the universe. We’re not. The reality is that our clients must be at the centre.”
So what’s the way forward?
“One word: professionalism,” Mr Cunningham explains emphatically. “We have a choice to make. Are we going to stay on the same path and adhere to the status quo? This says loud and clear that we’re no more than mediocre. It unequivocally says that we’re not professionals.
“But if we embrace a mindset of evolution by working to raise our standards of education and lifting the level of service we provide to our clients, we can position ourselves at a professional level and, as a consequence, not just survive but thrive.”
Mr Cunningham believes a changed mindset and thinking differently will be at the heart of the industry’s evolution into a profession.
“A shift in mindset won’t come easily, because we’ve all been clinging to our old habits and an attitude of ‘that’s how it’s always been done’,” he said.
“There’s a great saying that ‘if you’re going to break through, you first need to break with’. If we are to evolve into a profession, we first need to break with our old habits and our traditional ways of thinking. Only when we do that will we be in a position to break through and embrace a new mindset of evolution.”
For Mr Cunningham, a big part of this is putting client interests first and our own interests second.
“It’s about reframing what clients expect. Every day, we have the opportunity to facilitate transactions that change lives – buying, selling, leasing, investing – and client care must be at the centre of everything we do,” he said. “And not just caring for the clients who are paying our fee, the sellers and landlords, but also for our other clients – the buyers and tenants and others.”
These days, we all go to experts for advice and service in relation to so many things. Whether we’re after financial advice about how to best grow our superannuation or looking for a specialist joiner to craft a custom-built bookcase for that odd-shaped nook in our home, we seek out professionals to do the job because they’re specialists at what they do.
“Why should it be any different with real estate,” Mr Cunningham asked. “It isn’t. We need to demonstrate that we do something that no one else can do and, because of this, we’re invaluable.
“We’re in the advice game. We provide our clients with the advice they need and we use our recognised experience to achieve the best outcome. Advice plus experience equals the best outcome – and that’s the hallmark of working with a professional.
“A professional is there to not only achieve a certain result. They’re there to help at every step along the way, including when things go wrong.
“As agents, we’re in a position where we can add enormous value to every touchpoint we have with clients and potential clients, but we simply don’t leverage that enough for their benefit.
“That’s it in a nutshell. There’s so much more we can do, but we don’t.”
According to Mr Cunningham, the status quo can no longer prevail. “We must force a change to the status quo through leadership, commitment and accountability,” he said.
“We need to identify those agents among us who are true leaders – those who will commit to taking this journey toward professionalism, and who will stand up and be accountable for their actions.
“These agents will be our change-makers.
“They’re the ones who we’ll be working with to show the rest of the industry the way. They’ll be our leaders. They will not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.”
Mr Cunningham understands that this journey towards professionalism will not be for everyone, but firmly believes it’s the path the industry must take.
“It’s time to stand up. Collectively, we need to understand our commitments to our clients, our community, our agencies and our teams. If we do this, then we’ll truly be on the road to being a profession and, in doing so, fending off the threat of disruption and raising our standing in the minds of consumers.
“Evolution into a profession is the key to our industry’s survival.”