CLIMBING THE CORPORATE ladder is no easy task; doing so when the market is in constant flux is even harder. In the property market, where change is constant, financial rewards come only with hard work. Charles Kwok, sales manager at Midland Realty's Fairview branch, is living proof that reward comes to the industrious. This tenacious, positive leader, who heads a team of 13 people, works until after midnight as a matter of course. 'It was easier to get deals before 1998, when the economy was going well,' he said. 'But now it is a buyer's market. Buyers have a range of choices and more requirements. 'To satisfy these, a property agent must work hard and be very knowledgeable about the market.' Mr Kwok arrives at his Yuen Long office before 9.30am every day to prepare for the morning briefings. 'Typically, I spend half an hour briefing my team, updating them on the market and allocating work that needs to be done,' he said. He must also look at what the agents are working on and review how they have been doing. In the afternoon, he meets clients looking for new and second-hand residential properties. Since he has a couple of junior staff on his team, Mr Kwok also sometimes goes over their work with them at night. He said the promise of financial rewards had attracted him to work in the property sector. Despite the attractive income, not everyone can endure the long working hours. Mr Kwok usually finishes his day at about 3am, and the people in his team finish theirs at about 1.30am. 'It is not difficult to get into a property agency, but about 30 per cent of newly recruited agents usually leave after about three months,' the sales manager said. Mr Kwok became a property agent in 1996. Before that, he had three years of experience as a salesman representing various consumer brands. 'Being a property agent is very different [from selling branded goods]. With consumer products, life is easier once you are familiar with your retail clients,' Mr Kwok said. 'As a property agent, I must watch the market closely every day because it never stops changing. Sales [representatives] in other industries can perhaps relax occasionally. But when property agents do the same, their income is likely to decline drastically.' Despite the collapse of the property market a few years after he began in the industry, Mr Kwok has not looked back. He has risen rapidly through the ranks since he joined Midland Realty as a trainee. He became a property consultant after spending only three to four months as a trainee, a process that usually takes at least six months. 'I took a lot of initiatives to understand the market and the operation of property business,' Mr Kwok said. 'I think this is the major reason why I was faster in getting to the next level.' He worked as a property consultant for two years before becoming a senior property consultant. He was promoted to the position of account manager about 18 months later. Two years down the line, he is now the sales manager in charge of the newly opened Fairview branch of Midland Realty in Yuen Long. He has been recognised and rewarded for his hard work and achievements not only by his employer but by the Hong Kong Management Association, which awarded him the Distinguished Salesperson Award last year. Mr Kwok said that, in addition to being industrious, property agents needed to be outgoing, articulate and motivated. 'It is definitely not a career for quiet people.' Because property agents now need to be licensed, trainees at Midland Realty have to pass the Estate Agent's Licence exam, for which a prerequisite is passing the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination. Language skills have grown in importance. 'Good English is especially important for those who handle the Island-side market because there is a 50-50 split between English-speaking and Chinese-speaking clients,' Mr Kwok said 'Even in Yuen Long, about 10 per cent of the clients are English speakers. Mandarin is also important in this area as some potential clients are business people from the mainland.' Realising the importance of language skills, Midland Realty had organised Putonghua classes and joined the Hong Kong government-driven Workplace English Campaign, he said. Other useful training provided by the company includes programmes on laws and regulations relating to buying and selling property. Mr Kwok advises those interested in joining the real estate sector to get to know all they can about the market and the basics of the property business in the first three to four months on the job. 'Don't expect to secure a lot of deals in the first few months,' Mr Kwok said. 'It is an acceptable performance for a new agent if he or she can win three to four deals in the first six months.' Equally important is to have the attitude of a business partner. 'As you know, our income depends on commission. We are like business partners to the company,' Mr Kwok said. 'Business partners need good control over costs. As a branch manager, I need to put the limited resources to good use and generate revenue from the money I have spent.' Agents should also see themselves as professional service providers, he said. 'The profession has changed. Before the licensing scheme was introduced, property agents were just salespeople. But now we are licensed to provide a service.' Despite the long working hours and fluctuations in the market, Mr Kwok is committed to staying in the property sector. 'I experienced the decline after 1998 and survived. And now I have seen a rebound in the market. This is not a time to quit but a time to think about how one can win a larger slice of the pie,' he said.Salaries Sales director $40,000 to $1,000,000 a month District manager $34,000 to $400,000 a month Sales manager $29,000 to $290,000 a month Account manager $26,000 to $200,000 a month Property consultant About six months' experience as a sales trainee $10,000 to $180,000 a month Sales trainee Entry position $5,000 to $6,000 a month Promotion at all levels depends on sales volumes achieved. For sales manager and above, management experience and ability are also important real estate Agents must: Take the initiative; Be outgoing; Be articulate; Be hard working; Have the attitude of business partners; Consider themselves service providers; and Have an HKCEE qualification or above.