You are currently viewing How do you retain top talent? – Property Professional asks the industry

How do you retain top talent? – Property Professional asks the industry

As a real estate brand, is keeping talent a matter of financial incentives or investing in training – or is it more complex than that?

Increasingly, real estate brands are fine-tuning their identities. Differentiation is key to attract property consultants who align themselves with the brand image and ethos, and to appeal to a niche market. Previously, becoming a property professional was rarely considered a career by school leavers or graduates. Today – aside from the obvious lures of reputed high earnings, a flexible lifestyle and the dearth of jobs in other sectors – real estate brands are providing quality in-house training, mentorship and support for professional qualifications.


There’s a growing realisation that being a property consultant is tantamount to running your own business within the framework of your chosen brand. If you’re a great consultant, you’re in demand. For agencies to retain top talent, they first need to attract real estate agents who fit their brand’s profile, are committed to being professionals and are driven to succeed.

How is BEE recruitment and training working out? Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, is outspoken about his concerns: “The number of realtors in South Africa has halved in the past eight years. The tighter market caused some natural attrition. But in 2008, the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) changed industry entry criteria. The stringent barriers are restricting all comers to the real estate industry, have created dysfunctional behaviour and are seriously hampering transformation and growth.”


Geffen believes that the EAAB’s mandatory year-long internship has effectively made it impossible for people to become agents. Says Geffen: “To expect candidates to put themselves in a position of low earning capacity for that long is too onerous. If you can’t independently support yourself for at least six months, chances are you won’t make it. The sad reality is that there’s a pool of BEE talent out there we’ll never get to nurture into future top-earning realtors, because the EAAB’s internship barrier is financially insurmountable to most.”

He believes one simple change would kick-start transformation and open the door for the industry to grow its next generation of senior agents and principals. According to Geffen the EAAB should do a “training audit of the large companies. Those with proven track records should be allowed to reduce the internship period to three months. Then let new agents work on continuous training. If companies don’t consistently coach candidates to Board exam-ready status, they lose the year-long internship waiver”.

He adds: “That wouldn’t happen, though, because the time and financial investment to bring new talent into the fold is just too great to throw away through carelessness or neglect of their agents’ needs.”

He’s not alone in decrying the current internship criteria. Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, describes RE/MAX training programmes as focused around effective strategies with the consumer. Says Goslett: “Our training doesn’t cater for any specific demographic but instead affords everyone the same opportunities to take their business to a higher level. Legislation and the costs associated with qualification remains prohibitive in enticing new entrants to the market. This is even more evident in the case of those from previously disadvantaged communities.”

What can a brand do to entice top talent to remain at companies, particularly when increased job mobility seems to be the norm? The balance is tipping away from financial rewards. Says Pam Golding Properties CEO Andrew Golding: “Given the dynamics of the real estate business, there is a finite limit to the incentives that companies can offer and still be sustainable. Most offers that are too good to be true are simply that.”

For Geffen, there are about 27 agents who have been with the company for more than 20 years. He ascribes it to one thing – loyalty. Says Geffen: “You have to make your business your family. And you stick by your family through good times and bad. If you’re loyal to your family, they are loyal to you.”


Goslett feels that the first strategy to hold on to high-performing employees is to change your mind-set as a business owner. Says Goslett: “Firstly, understand you can’t ‘hold on to’ anyone. Secondly, stop seeing agents as employees. Instead, start seeing them as clients. Help them reach clarity in terms of what they want to achieve and exactly how they plan on achieving it. Provide insight and input using your experience. Then hold them accountable for activities that will lead to their goals and objectives.” He continues: “Provide value that is relevant (what they need), irresistible (superior to your competitors) and irreplaceable (cannot be found anywhere else). Build and protect a positive, productive environment and office culture that promotes unity. Your systems, training, technology, support, office staff and brand should be geared to helping an agent make more money in less time. Help your agents to achieve their hopes, dreams and desires, and you’ll be well on your way to creating an ecosystem in which everybody wins.”

Likewise, Goslett believes incentives are short-term gimmicks that provide instant gratification but rarely leave a lasting impression: “Recognition is important and should be bestowed on individuals who shine. But I would sooner help an agent take their business to a higher level, enabling them to provide a better life for themselves and their families.”


Golding says, “Provided the remuneration and/or incentives are fair and adequate, in our experience it is not the incentive by itself that motivates agents to stay or leave. Rather, it is a range of other factors including: a sense of belonging and identity with the values and culture of an organisation or brand; the services the brand offers agents and clients; the geographical reach which impacts referrals; and training programmes and upskilling opportunities.” Golding agrees that, increasingly, job-hopping has become a trend. But in real estate, he says, many successful agents tend to stay with the companies or brands where they’ve been successful.

Says Golding: “In the more established companies, it’s not uncommon for agents to spend more than 20 years – and in some cases, more than 40 years – with the same company. The increased mobility tends to be a phenomenon associated with younger people. Maybe this is still going to play itself out as this generation gets older. But presumably there is also a possibility that these individuals will be satisfied where they are and not chase the next best offer.”

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