Buying and selling houses is hot again

It was a boom industry, but now few graduates want a job in property. But as Hazel Davis discovers, the area may yet be up-and-coming ...

Thursday 12 November 2009 01:00

At the beginning of the decade, a career in the property industry was a guaranteed money-spinner. Glossy TV programmes told us that all we needed to do was stick some decking in the garden and create an "inside-outside space" and we'd all be millionaires.

Since then, for obvious reasons, the lustre has tarnished somewhat. In the last two years one-in-four estate agents has closed down and if you say you're selling your house, people tilt their heads in sympathy. And that's before you tell them what you do for a living.

Things appear to be looking up, however. UK house prices rose for a sixth consecutive month in October, according to Nationwide figures, which also suggest that annual house price inflation turned positive for first time since March last year. And last week the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said that demand from first-time buyers is rising, also reporting an increase in buy-to-let investors in the last three months.

So, now's the time to be entering the industry, right? Ivor Dickinson certainly thinks so. As managing director of the London-based estate agent Douglas & Gordon, which has been operating since 1958, he is predicting an upturn and looking to expand operations.

But despite advertising on their own website as well as through recruitment agents and industry websites, and despite graduate unemployment being the highest for decades, Dickinson says he can't recruit graduates for love nor money. "People are apparently walking the streets of the City with placards over their shoulders asking for jobs. Where is everyone?" he asks.

According to 2008-2009 Cambridge University Careers Service figures, attendance at its property-related careers events last year was down a whopping 45 per cent, while more stable professions such as law and teaching was up 10 per cent.

Dickinson thinks the fact that job opportunities are scarce is forcing graduates to take career breaks. "They are seeing their fellow graduates not being employed and are disillusioned," he says.

Douglas & Gordon could employ six sales people tomorrow if the right graduates walked through the door, according to Dickinson. While job losses are reported in all sectors, Douglas & Gordon have been trying to recruit a sales negotiator, lettings negotiator and property manager but have been forced into filling the roles with staff contacts and referrals.

Because of the lack of graduates out there, the company is now employing non-graduates, which is a complete change of policy. People are being put off entering the industry by reports of rogue operators during the upturn and a general trend towards playing it safe among job-seekers.

Scott Murray, 22, is one graduate playing it safe. After a degree in property management, he signed up for a PGCE despite wanting to work in the industry. "I always wanted to work in building and property," he says. "When I started my degree I was really excited but as I neared the end and some of my friends who'd graduated were finding it really hard, I thought I had better cover my back."

Murray says he might well enter the industry when he can be sure of some job security but for now feels that teaching will offer him peace of mind. "I don't actually trust the property world to give me job security," he says. "Even if I did get a job I wouldn't hold out much hope on having it in a year's time."

Denise Taylor, a life coach and author of How To Get A Job In A Recession (Brook House Press), says, "When I take new clients through an in-depth programme to identify careers that closely match with their abilities, personality, skills and values, occasionally they will identify estate agency or surveying. Their immediate reaction now is usually, 'What's the point? Nobody is buying houses at the moment.'"

Not everyone agrees. Douglas & Gordon believe the industry will recover: "The property industry will lead us out of the recession, as it always has, says Dickinson, "What people don't realise is we're operating in a far more sophisticated property market than two years ago. The days of block viewings and churning out stock brochures are gone. Agents will become what they once used to be – trusted, well-connected consultants and advisers."

For more information on becoming an estate agent visit the National Association of Estate Agents' website:

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