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Failure in mentorship: elephant in the room?

mentorship

Picture: Salma le Roux, iSiKolo School of Learning; Bruce Swain, CEO Leapfrog Property Group; Andrew Sadomba, principal Y-Rent Properties

The real estate industry is a tricky business – it is in the best interest of the industry that intern agents receive proper mentorship and supervision yet often this is not the case. What should be done?

Last week principal Matseleng Mogodi advanced that the real estate industry must unify in a collective effort to address unethical practices in its’ midst as its’ continuance undermines the credibility of the profession both in the eyes of young recruits and the public.

However, there’s another elephant in the room. As Mogodi also mentions, unfortunately the drive to transform the industry, in too many instances, has seen the recruitment of new interns become a numbers game without the necessary follow-up. In too many instances young interns are left to fend for themselves instead of receiving proper mentorship and supervision. “We can complain about the EAAB, NQF4 material, career interns and that ‘there is too much for an intern to do’. And we can talk about transformation. But fixing all of these without addressing the ‘elephant’ will mean that nothing much will change. Therefore, my question is how do we fix the poor quality of principalship?” writes PropertyTime real estate consultant Jim Alexander.

Proper supervision a legal requirement

The education requirements under the Estate Agency Affairs Act are clear that an intern estate agent must serve under the active supervision of either a principal estate agent or a full status estate agent with no less than three years practice experience. There are many agencies that do a sterling job in this regard, however there are also those that fail to provide the required and much needed guidance.

According to Salma le Roux, owner of iSiKolo School of Learning, the problem is that many principals just recruit people and don’t invest in their theoretical and practical training. “Agents are left to their own devices, encouraged to only start their qualification after their one year of active internship has expired! This practice does not do the new agent or the company or the industry any favours. These interns simply do not understand the contractual implications of mandates, lease and sale agreements. The general public is therefore put at risk as well,” Le Roux explains.

The practical reality of the real estate business is that many estate agents work from home, spending little time if any at an office. They go out to meet with clients, often without checking in at the office first. This and the flexible working hours make matters more complicated to provide active supervision to an intern. Furthermore, as a result of the pandemic, even less time is spent at an office as team meetings are often still being conducted online. Principal of Y-Rent Properties, Andrew Sadomba, notes that for many interns these online meetings are not accessible as they don’t have the financial means to purchase enough data.

When he was an intern estate agent Sadomba says they had proper instruction and mentorship as they had to meet at the office once or twice a week for training and a meeting. Also important was having the right attitude to want to learn. “Like today, those who are hungry for knowledge and want to prosper will succeed,” adds Sadomba.

To exacerbate the situation there are also rogue training providers. For instance, these training providers would encourage interns to complete their qualifications via the RPL method- recognition of prior learning. “How can an intern gain prior learning of the industry if they are new to the industry?” comments Le Roux.

Also read: Fly-by-nights: Cheaper but risky

The introduction of qualifications to the industry was a welcome step to create an industry standard. Having been in die industry since 1993, Le Roux says her experience is that the new agents in the large corporates are exposed to good training. At the same time new interns mentored on a one-to-one basis at a ‘mom and pop’ agency are also well trained. “It’s the interns in the in-between categories that are often left to their own devices. Unfortunately, this is the largest sector of the industry,” she says.

“The full training programmes of the new qualifications make up for this gap. However, principals are sometimes so invested in the bottom line of their profit margins that they neglect the people who create these profits- their staff. If you invest in the theoretical and practical training of your intern – you will nurture a successful estate agent,” continues Le Roux.

There are also career intern agents who have been intern agents for more than 24 months (the time provided by the regulator). The Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) is the authority responsible to address this matter.

What does active supervision look like?

Real estate is a demanding industry. Besides all the constantly changing legal requirements that an agent has to become acquainted with, there are also the unwritten rules and professional ethics to learn. Says Bruce Swain, CEO of Leapfrog Property Group: “Real estate is a professional industry with its own rules, nuances and challenges, and in order to be successful agents need to understand what they’re in for.”

The principal or full status agent in the mentorship role is there to help orientate new agents in this world, to support and encourage, and ultimately this helps to ensure the industry remains professional. “The best way of seeing this relationship is like that of an apprentice and master craftsman. The apprentice learns by watching and practicing under guidance. Buying a house is a huge investment for most people and they rely on skilled agents to give them good advice. This is not easy to learn theoretically so the on-the-job guidance is critical, comments Dr Karen Deller, academic director of Chartall Business College.

An agency with a proper mentorship programme should have regular training meetings as well as one-on-one meetings between the interns and their supervisor. They should also be encouraged to complete the logbook on their own (not pay someone to do it) so that their supervisor can see where they need help, adds Sadomba. In addition, a range of resources in the form of learning materials, workshops and formal support programmes could also be made available.

The saying goes ‘it takes two to tango’. The simple fact of the matter is that the training process will only prove successful if both parties, the principal and the new agents or interns, commit to taking the training process seriously. “Experienced agents and principals understand that although property is an industry in which individual agents need to think and act like entrepreneurs, the successful ones are those that also understand the value of learning from those who have put in the hard yards over the years. Mentorship is important but at the end of the day, the individual must want to make a success of themselves and want to be mentored,” comments Swain.

Also, once the new Property Practitioners Act (PPA) becomes enforced, then by law an intern will not be able to earn commission unless there was active supervision during the time of the transaction.

How can principals become more invested?

So, how to address the ‘elephant’. The direct involvement of principals with the training of new estate agents are critical, so why is this often not happening? Deller says one reason could be that while some principals excel at mentoring others, not all principals are suited to this role because they lack either in the skill of real estate or of mentorship. “There is no other logical reason why a principal would not make time to develop their staff,” she adds.

If this industry seeks transformation, there should be much more effort made in training the mentors and coaches. “Making the education requirements simpler is not the solution- guidance, support, teaching and learning are the solutions,” says Le Roux. She suggests the following:

  • Have strategies in place on how the new interns will be mentored
  • Employ mentors if there are too many interns. She suggests a maximum of 5 interns per mentor if the mentor still has to generate an income from personal sales or letting
  • Appoint sales managers whose function it is to be productivity coaches
  • Encourage the interns to start their qualifications as soon as they enrol to become estate agents- it is definitely not in their interest to waste time
  • Also invest in ‘train the trainer’ programmes so that mentors know what is expected from them

The PPA makes it very clear that it will be role of the principal of an estate agency to ensure the supervision of their intern agents. It is as simple as that ends Le Roux.

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