Groomed for the precious few

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 2006, 12:00am

Talking up prices to buyers and down to sellers, and lacking professionalism and reliability are just some of the accusations made about estate agents in the past.

Thankfully, their style of doing business has vastly improved in recent years, especially since the Estate Agents Authority was established in 1997 and made it a requirement that all agents pass an examination to become certified.

One industry player working hard to dispel the less flattering preconceptions of the profession is Treasure Land Property Consultants. The firm, established in 1991, focuses only on grade-A commercial properties and premium residential developments on Hong Kong Island.

It puts emphasis on quality over quantity, with efforts made to smarten up the image of agents by way of grooming: dark navy suits for all staff and tidy haircuts for men and women.

To help build on this image Treasure Land offers a comprehensive marketing executive training scheme, which now recruits between 50 and 60 graduates each year.

The programme is valued as a genuine means of nurturing talent all the way to the top. There is no better example of this than managing director Marco Au Chi-hong, who launched his career by joining the scheme.

'Our clients are hugely successful top management people and can be quite demanding so we need to mentor the trainees right from the beginning,' Mr Au said.

Marketing executive trainees undergo training for two to three months in a classroom and an on-the-job supervisory format.

Trainees will be tutored on a range of basic issues, including how to interact with customers, getting and keeping them happy, being aggressive at the right time and how to close a deal.

Other training includes property fundamentals such as accounting, contract law, tenancy agreements and negotiation skills.

Trainees are expected to sit the estate agent examination within three months of joining, then they will be assigned to a team and issued a sales quota.

Mr Au said one of the major hurdles trainees faced in meeting the targets was a lack of confidence when talking with clients and not having enough clients. Treasure Island deals with this by regularly reviewing targets and guiding new entrants.

But staff must be aware that they face long hours and hard work. The company is well aware that this kind of environment is not suitable for everyone, which is why it aims to hire more trainees than it needs, taking into account the fallout rate in the first year may be as high as 30 per cent.

Those who stay the course will find their efforts well rewarded if they are aggressive and hard working.

The starting basic salary is $7,000 per month and the commission structure is based on a tiered system according to the volume of sales transactions generated. There are also bonuses each quarter for top performers.

One appealing element for potential candidates is the opportunity to study overseas. Staff with the company for more than three years are eligible to apply for short company-sponsored overseas study courses as long as the courses are work relevant.

Courses include time management, negotiation skills and other management and finance related courses in Singapore, the United States and Europe.

Beyond a strong work commitment the company recognises that down time is equally important. Sound performers are often granted extra holidays, while outstanding performers are awarded all expenses paid trips to destinations of their choosing.

Previous winners have visited Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Europe.

Ultimately, Mr Au said, the most rewarding part of the job was meeting diverse clients and the satisfaction that came from helping people find office space or a dream home.

'We have the opportunity to interact with clients who are extremely successful. So you can really learn a lot just by meeting and talking with them. That motivates us to work harder and focus on constantly improving ourselves,' he said.