Agents training – listen up

Nov 25, 2017 | Advice, News

You’re building a reputation and putting in hard graft and training. Word is that the format of new agent qualifications may be tweaked in 2018. Happily, current qualifications will always remain valid

Few enjoy writing exams, but for thousands of estate agents countrywide who bite the bullet and achieve relevant qualifications, it’s not only a feather in their caps but a step in the right direction for the property industry. An industry that has worked hard collectively to raise the profile of estate agents and erase any negative perceptions.

A key component in that drive has always been a qualification. It ensured that those who chose this sector as a career were given accreditation and professional status.

All good and well, but there’s a glitch, the implications of which risk undoing any gains made over the past year or so.
As things stand, current estate agent qualifications will no longer be applicable from June 2018. Yet for agents who want to join the profession, plan B hasn’t been formulated … and a qualification is essential for newcomers to practise in the industry.

Catch 22?

Property industry mouthpiece the Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa (Rebosa) has seconded Howard Markham to head an industry team to manage the way forward. Markham, national manager of business development at Pam Golding Properties, says new agents could have an uncertain future. “Professionalisation of the industry has slowly but surely been changing perceptions in the country, where people suddenly realise that becoming a property consultant is actually a career – you have to study and pass a board exam to do it, then the public can entrust you with their single biggest asset, their property.”

He explains the complexities of the problem. “The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which fall under the minister, are the overriding government bodies that prescribe to academic institutions what constitutes a particular qualification,” he says. “SAQA provides the framework of the qualification to the institution where you’re studying – university, college, and so on – and allows that institution to confer on you that qualification. SAQA stipulates the criteria for an estate agent’s qualification.”
“Even if we could design a new qualification in the time available to us, when the imminent Property Practitioners Bill is signed into law, we would have to go back to the drawing board” Howard Markham, national manager of business development, Pam Golding Properties

EDUCATION: TWO MAIN QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

For an estate agent to be allowed to sell property on an industrial, commercial or residential basis, she needs an FET certificate in Real Estate NQF Level 4 – also known as an NQF4.
For a principal in a franchise – anybody owning a real estate business – the minimum requirement is an NQF5 in real estate.
Once that qualification is in hand, a board exam must be written: the Professional Designation Exam (PDE).

But there’s an additional interim measure prescribed by the Estate Agents Affairs Board (EEAB). To be a licensed real estate practitioner, you also have to provide the EEAB with a prescribed logbook – essentially your “portfolio of evidence”. An agent will have a number of stipulated activities and projects to complete in the logbook such as getting a mandate, listing a property and so on. This logbook cannot be completed in less than 12 months, effectively putting the barrier to entry to the profession at more than a year.

As an agent, only once you have your NQ4 qualification issued by the Services SETA, after a period of prescribed academic study with a Services SETA-accredited training service provider, and your logbook marked and signed off by the EAAB, can you write the board exam. You can then practise as a full-status agent, qualified in real estate. Until that time, and in the lead-up to passing the board exam, you practise as an intern under the mentorship of a full-status agent or principal. They are required to sign off all the activities of your logbook and mentor you along the way.

The logbook portfolio of evidence is the route taken for an occupational qualification, rather than an academic one. The focus is as much about practical experience in the field as on writing exams. An occupational rather than academic-only bias makes perfect sense.

SIMILAR YET DIFFERENT?

Markham outlines what has changed. “A while back, the government decided there was no formal environment for occupational qualifications and so created another organisation named the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO). They asked that all occupational qualifications, which currently fall under SAQA, be examined and developed into a fresh set of standards for use in South Africa.” In short, where a curriculum is found to be outdated, to update it. Real estate was among hundreds of affected qualifications. Says Markham: “Real estate is an occupational qualification because there is a conviction, and Rebosa agrees entirely, that you need to get experience in selling real estate before you can earn your licence. In other words, in a perfect world, you get a job in an agency, shadow a qualified agent or principal for a minimum of a year, and that will give you a good grounding to be able to say: I have learnt enough to go on my own.”

The concept of rethinking and reworking what an estate agent needs to do to qualify is good. Few would argue that meaningful changes could be made to the curriculum, which would be more useful and appropriate to the skill set required by an estate agent. But Markham says the government – in order to put pressure on the process – decreed that the current SAQA qualification would expire on a certain date. That date is long past. Two extensions were granted, plus another that expires in the middle of 2018.

IMPACT FOR NEWLY QUALIFIED AGENTS

National HR development manager at Seeff Properties Ronel Bornman is part of the Rebosa steering committee. “Nobody can ever take your qualification away from you, that’s certain,” she says. “The new qualification may have a different name, and different criteria, but yours will always qualify you as an estate agent. Nobody needs concern themselves about losing their qualification.”
But why is it taking so long to grant these extensions? “It involves three government departments, and they all have to follow due process,” suggests Bornman. This also begs the question: why is the revision of the qualification taking so long? Markham says the QCTO needs the collaboration of the real estate industry because it’s not feasible to prescribe without consultation. Rebosa, as the industry voice, has pulled together an experienced task team to participate in the process of developing new curricula. But all agree that it’s not achievable in the time period.

PROGRESS OR U-TURN?

Markham points out another glitch. “Even if we could design a new qualification in the time available to us, when the imminent Property Practitioners Bill is signed into law, we would have to go back to the drawing board. That bill includes a broader scope of practitioners such as the mortgage originators, who would not have been taken into account in the new curricula/qualifications. So there’s little point in starting until that bill is adopted.”
Markham says that although the Services SETA is doing its utmost to “fix” the situation – and the Rebosa team is collaborating with it – the industry will take a knock if this situation isn’t resolved soon. “Our industry is taking on interns all the time; we are growing; everybody’s growing. We need more estate agents.” As things stand, the committee is concerned about ending up in a situation where the industry is paralysed and unable “to grow any more nor, very importantly, transform, nor replace those who are retiring”.

Dr Shirley Lloyd, director of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) directorate in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), says that students in current programmes will not be disadvantaged, as there is a phasing out and teach out process and final achievement dates.

“All role players are committed to working together to the benefit of the industry, providers and learners. The QCTO, DHET, SAQA and the Department of Tourism have met to discuss the issue of the qualification development and registration on the NQF. The QCTO will be working closely with the various role players to ensure that qualifications and part qualifications are developed and registered by the end of registration date of current qualifications.”

There is little else to say but: watch this space.

Rebosa has requested an extension to the current estate agent qualifications. The status was pending at the time of printing.

Words: Anne Schauffer

(The above article has been amended to remove a quote incorrectly attributed to Ronel Bornman)