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A push for ethical conduct in real estate

real estate

Picture: Matseleng Mogodi, founder and principal Snooks Estates

Matseleng Mogodi

One of the biggest challenges to transform the real estate industry may be one which is self-inflicted. There are instances where our credibility within our own estate agencies, as well as within the industry itself may be questionable due to certain unethical practices.

This pandemic reminds me of the 2008/9 recession. It was during this time that some local black real estate companies in the townships came together to form a collective, through an organisation called the Black Estate Agents Forum which I chaired for two years. The main intention was to recognise that we were in a quagmire, our businesses were shutting down, and the only way forward was to rebuild the township market and leverage our collective skills to empower ourselves and become more competent in our trade. This was done to enable us to compete for business with our counterparts on an elevated level if not necessarily equal, because there was still a long way to go.

The Covid-19 pandemic ignited the same flame within me. I looked around and started to ask myself, when there is so much business in the township and surrounding markets, why then do our businesses not flourish as they should? Many estate agents are busy, but the ratio of busy versus success, is a sad tale. I looked at my own business and other businesses around me and knew that if we do not do something to correct this, it may take us another 10 years to be jolted into action.

Public’s negative image of real estate hinders transformation

The real estate industry still has a very skewed representation of practitioners according to race – the latest statistics in 2020 stated that of the 46 000 registered estate agents, 28 171 are white while just under 6 000 are black with Indians and coloured people making up 4 000. The Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) may be flawed in a lot of things, but it has tried to transform the industry through increasing the number of black estate agents in the market.

However, they failed in the monitoring and evaluation of this great initiative. Although thousands have been trained to join the industry, only a small percentage gets retained. Not everyone that gets inducted into this industry actually wants to be in it or is sufficiently inspired to remain in the industry because it is a tough one. Sadly, this also contributes to young people feeling dejected because some of them fail. They do not deserve to be thrust into this precarious position and in an environment that already has ethical dilemmas, because they can interpret their failure as young people as an indication of them being failures when this is not the case.

One of the biggest challenges facing our industry may be one which is self-inflicted. There are instances where our credibility within our own organisations, as well as within the industry itself may be very questionable due to the continuance of certain unethical practices. It has become quite common for some practitioners to use company resources to run a parallel operation of their own. This not only stunts the growth of the affected real estate companies but also demoralize some estate agents who want to remain ethical. This is not a racial matter, as there are agents of all races who are guilty of unethical conduct. It is also important to recognise that because the EAAB’s systems are constantly down, many estate agents are forced to operate illegally because they have to earn a living.

A further negative impact is that customers lose trust in estate agents and are forced to first verify the integrity of a real estate company before dealing with their estate agents. A lot of people still fall prey to unscrupulous ‘agents’. To prevent this from happening, a lot more education is required to keep our customers well informed about the correct processes to expect in property transactions.

Business owners have a responsibility

The existing Code of Conduct to regulate how estate agents should operate could substantially reduce unethical conduct, if complied with by all. However, as mentioned it’s effectiveness is hampered by the current lack of proper monitoring. It is clear that the responsibility lies with each business to ensure that it has systems in place to prevent wrongdoing. It is incumbent upon all real estate practitioners to create a safe environment for this sector. If we justify unethical practices or turn a blind eye, we are crippling the very businesses that provide a platform for us to practice. A ship that continues to take in water will not move efficiently and fast enough. Remember, customers can sense wrongdoing.

The biggest responsibility lies in building business confidence so that real estate agencies can be sustainable. The industry yearns for young people to bring innovation and new ideas, but to attract the right young people, we must transform, not just by skin colour, but also by how we practice business.

There is still a lot of inequality in how even the banks treat real estate companies in their appointment of agencies to sell their distressed properties. We as black companies are often still treated like the unloved stepchild who has to look for crumbs after the big boys have eaten. However, we have the choice to be bitter or become better by working harder.

The bulk of black estate agents that operate currently are brilliant in what they do. If we redirected that to building a successful business sector, our industry would sustain many practitioners. Soweto and its surrounding suburbs remain a real gold mine.

Advancing a collective effort

Finally, just being in a position of authority like owning a Pty (Ltd) does not make one necessarily knowledgeable. Running a real estate business requires one to invest time and effort to learn the technical theory that forms a foundation to this practice. We as black property practitioners need to make a collective effort to learn together and support one another.

There are different organisations that purport to represent real estate agents, some have made great strides, while others that are integrally involved with the current challenges that estate agents face, especially in townships, could be more forthright in addressing these serious issues.

If this happens, I am certain that the number of real estate businesses will increase in our market, and that more jobs can be created through these small entities. As our former public protector advocate Thuli Madonsela once said “Hope is that little spark that gives you faith in the possibility of a future that seems unattainable”.

About the author: Matseleng Mogodi is the founder and principal of Snooks Estates and has been in the industry for many years. She is also the co-founder and former chairperson of the Black Estate Agents Forum of South Africa from 2008 to 2010. As a member of the Property Charter Council, she was one of the signatories to the Charter in 2009. Since then she has been actively involved in various roles in the local real estate sector aimed at empowering others to succeed in this profession.

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