What do estate agents say when asked "What do you do?"

What do you say, when someone asks you “What do you do?”

Do you reply, “I’m an estate agent”? Or perhaps you say, “I work for Downtons”? Or even, “I help people move ”?

Perhaps what you say isn’t as important as how you feel when you reply.  I’ve heard agents pre-empt any cruel barbs with comments like, “But I’m a nice one”, “Don’t shoot me” or even “Sorry!”

Do you feel a bit embarrassed when you tell a stranger what it is that you do for a living? Anxious they will take the opportunity to have a rant or a dig? And then there is the chance you’ll unleash a tale of woe from the teller.  Just as midwives get regaled with birth stories whenever they declare their profession, (a midwife friend of mine tells people she is a bookkeeper), estate agents know are probably going to hear every sorry property sale story from the person they’ve told.  Is it any wonder if you’re reluctant to admit your chosen career?

I watched the first episode of BBC1’s Under Offer last Tuesday with interest, along with many others in my industry.  It was kinder than I thought it would be; so far, at least.  (Excepting perhaps the London not-in-the-real-world agent.) The editing wasn’t as audience-grabbingly cruel as it could have been, and certainly not of the same all-agents-are-liars ilk that we’ve seen in previous fly-on-the-wall documentaries of this type. Some estate agents I know were approached, but turned down an offer to appear on the programme, presumably because they were concerned – rightly so – that the editing would be sensational and one-sided.  That said, the agents that were brave enough to say yes to the offer may well receive more positive coverage than they could have hoped for.

Over the weekend, I was enjoying coffee with a friend in a local café.  I told her I could spot an estate agent straight away, and mused that I thought I could even pick him out if he were in ‘plain clothes’, or walking and cycling garb, as many of the guys were in the café we were in.  She thought this was very funny, and as I started to describe the clues that would give him away (yes, we were talking about male agents only), she noted how many were actually positive traits.  For example, agents are often in a hurry, walk confidently with their head high, and are observant.  They are usually very smartly dressed when in their work outfit, suited and booted, and when you talk to them, they normally make good eye contact.  When they talk, they do so with passion, and often strong opinions, backed up by evidence and experience.

It’s not so easy to spot a woman estate agent from afar, for me at any rate.  But when you talk her, you’ll usually find she is very engaging and interested.  She may be attentive and ask you all about where you live, looking for an opportunity, certainly, but also genuinely interested in your answers.

Of course, not all estate agents are like I’ve described.  There are many who do, in fact, let the side down; who are unscrupulous and devious, and who only have their own nefarious ends in mind in all their dealings.  At least, that’s what I’ve heard.  Because I’ve never met one. I often find myself defending agents; in conversations, on social media, to journalists. I tell them that estate agents are hard-working, likeable folk who are just trying to help people and make a living at the same time.  Because it’s true.  The agents I know are genuinely warm, kind people and I’m lucky enough to call many of you my friends. Isn’t it about time you started believing that of yourselves?

People will think of you, what you think of you. If you bow your head and kick your shoes when you tell them what you do, you can’t blame them for assuming you’re ashamed of it. And witty rejoinders might be a protection mechanism, but perhaps you weren’t about to be attacked.

Next time you are asked “What do you do?” please, hold your head high.  With a sparkle in your eye and a big smile, say proudly “I’m an estate agent and I absolutely love it.” Because you do.

How do you answer that question? Please, leave a comment, let’s find out what everyone thinks on this very emotive topic!  


If you’d like to have a chat about this, drop me a line at sam@samashdown.co.uk  – I’d love to hear from you.

What do estate agents say when asked "What do you do?"


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24 thoughts on “What do estate agents say when asked “What do you do?”

  1. Michael Berry 6 years ago

    Hi Sam

    I have never failed to admit what I do, as I am proud to say I have helped many people over the years in lots of different ways and not always for financial gain!! We are a much maligned profession and frequently misrepresented, so adding ‘self denial’ to the list is a mistake, as it helps to reinforce the stereotype!

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thanks Michael, and that’s very good to hear. Totally agree that ‘self-denial’ is just a self-limiting belief! After all, we need to remind ourselves that we do one of the most important jobs there is to do – to help people move on. What could be more vital than that??
      Thanks for commenting Michael :o)

  2. Ben Deacon 6 years ago

    Wow Sam, three months ago i used to appologise for the fact i was an estate agent. All the things you said there about looking away and saying things like im one of the good ones, i did all of that. We were told three months ago by @michaelbrucepb that all agents have a walk… didnt believe him until we all realises that we did. The training that we received from purplebricks helped us fall in love with the industry again. By being customer focused rather than concentrating on the £ has reinvigorated nearly 40 estate agents. Your blog is extremely well written amd all of it i as an agent can relate too.

    Well done Sam.

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Hi Ben, love the comment about ‘all agents have a walk’ – it’s so true! Glad to hear that Purplebricks is doing such a great job. Customer focus is key, and I think agents are embracing that mostly. Thank you for your kind words on my post – always great to hear such positive feedback!
      Thanks again for sharing your valuable thoughts Ben.

  3. Christine Melling 6 years ago

    Great post Sam!
    I’ve got a strange dual career…a pharmacist and an estate agent. Must admit I’m very proud to tell people I’m a pharmacist, even though its not the career it once was…Perhaps because i know the hard work that went into it.
    When I say I’m an estate agent, I do feel defensive and that I have to explain why I’d choose estate agency over pharmacy. Im very proud that I’ve built my agency up from nothing but we all seem to be painted with the same shameful brush. It’s difficult to gain trust

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thanks Christine! You make some very interesting observations. An unusual dual career, certainly! I think you’re right, that public perception is more positive of a pharmacist (any kind of scientist or medical professional, perhaps?) than of an estate agent. Maybe if we had a must-pass industry standard of qualification, like they do in the States, estate agency would also be a proof of hard work.
      I would also point out that you’re doing a great job of building up trust! Social Media is somewhere you have to be transparent, and you’re doing just that. Keep up the good work Christine, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Emma ford 6 years ago

    Great blog as always Sam. I have a few estate agents in the family (as well and a huge number of lawyers) and chose what I thought was the least maligned profession of the two and started out in legal. Having worked there most of my life and taken a social media job with an Estate Agency, life has come full circle and I’ve now joined the EA ranks as a sales progressor & peninsula rep. I have to say I’m the happiest and proudest I’ve ever been! I can’t wait to tell people what I do when they ask!

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thank you Emma!
      Yours is such an interesting story – legal to estate agency – and I’m delighted to hear that you’re so happy and proud of what you do! Isn’t that all we hope for?!
      Love the attitude – keep up the excellent work!

  5. Jaimie Rice 6 years ago

    I happily own up to my profession as an estate agent, I’m proud of where I work & what lengths I go to in order to help my customers. I am also proud of our reputation and how much business we gain through past/current customer recommendation. I recognise the bad agents out there. But will admit that I cringe every time someone replies wanting me to on the spot value their home despite the fact it may be my day off, and including when it’s a property not even located in my area. I do wish the tv programmes showed more of what goes into the day to day work involved including all the admin, paperwork and compliance that takes up a large proportion of the day, so the general public see the real background work and not just a negotiation phone call or a viewing appointment – there’s a lot more to it than that.

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Hi Jamie, and good to read your comments on my blog, thank you! I’m so glad to hear you are proud of your profession, and that you take such pride in doing the best job for your clients. I’ll be glued to the programme tonight ( link here if anyone needs it) – there are 6 episodes in all – and I, like you, hope that they will show how hard we all work to actually get people moved on!
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on here Jamie, hope to see you here again soon :o)


  6. Carey Gilliland 6 years ago

    Hi Sam – love the article and you’re spot on about our mannerisms. I love what I do, especially now I have my own agency. We’re trusted with advising on most people’s biggest asset and, if your clients return to you again and again, that helps strengthen the self belief even through the rocky patches. Its even better when they take the time and trouble to offer testimonials.
    Have a great weekend

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thank you Carey! Kind words indeed! I know you love what you do – it comes across in everything you do and say – I knew that from the first time we tweeted, years ago! I think you consider your role as a privelege and so you should.
      You’re definitely one of the good guys Carey – keep it up!

  7. Bruce Talbot 6 years ago

    Hi Sam,

    Interesting post that I think applies to many professions and is more possibly to do with the type of people they attract rather than the actual profession itself.

    I always prefer to look at the individual, people seem to fall into two types givers and takers (often in disguise as a giver). You might expect to find more nurses as natural givers than estate agents, say, but there will be many exceptions of course both ways.

    Spotting an estate agent who is one of life’s true givers is the key starting point, imo, to finding a great estate agent!

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thanks Bruce – good point. Perhaps we need to review our recruitment processes? I agree that agents need to have a giving nature, but I wonder if there’s a danger then of them reaching burn-out – after all, we all need to do a little taking every now and again. That said, taking could just mean enjoying the delight on a purchaer’s face and perhaps a box of thank you chocolates!
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts Bruce.

  8. Clint Purches 6 years ago

    Hi Sam,

    Another well written piece from yourself, It might be a little more difficult to spot an agent in some parts of Essex where we are based as a lot of people display the characteristics you look out for.
    I always tell people what I do with no shame whatsoever, I do a good job so why shouldn’t I? and besides it’s hard not to when you drive a car out of office hours with the company name emblazoned all across it.

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thank you Clint. And yes, with a sign-written car you have no choice but to be proud and tell people what you do! Good point. I also think, like every other commenter on this blog, that you are a caring, sharing person online and that’s got to come across when you talk to people. Social Media has made us transparent by definition, which I think is a good thing.
      Thanks Clint for your comments.

  9. Paul rolfe 6 years ago

    Im proud of what I do. I make both the vendor and the buyer happy. In fact its “win:win:win” because we all win when I achieve that. Me being the third winner.
    Its an amazing thing to help people change and help them move on their lives.
    So no apologies from me.
    I also know I have found my life’s vocation.

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      So great to hear that Paul! And yes, you do make people happy. Getting to win-win is the point of us! Lovely to hear you say that. Thanks for sharing that Paul.

  10. Chris Wood 6 years ago

    Good article Sam.
    If you’re not proud of what you are doing; change.

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Yes!! Most definitely agree.

  11. Martin G Haigh 6 years ago

    “They are usually very smartly dressed when in their work outfit, suited and booted” … (oh dear, that doesn’t sound like me)….”Of course, not all estate agents are like I’ve described”… (hooray! Sam’s included me after all) … “There are many who do, in fact, let the side down” … (Oh! Darn).
    Joking apart, Sam, nicely done and very true. It is easy to feel apologetic for what we do. And hardly surprising considering the bad press some agents give the rest of the industry, not to mention being the butt of many stand-up comedians’ jokes.
    We should be proud of what we do, stand up, puff our chests out and cry YES! I AM AN ESTATE AGENT AND I LOVE IT! (word of caution though: think for a moment before doing this. Row 8 of the stalls half way through a performance by the Royal Ballet might not be the best time or place. Just saying)

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thank you Martin! But you’re wrong – you do always look very smart – just like your photo!
      Totally agree that it’s easy to feel apologetic, and I never took you for a ballet fan. (Just saying).
      Haha thanks for your thoughts Martin – you always make me smile!

  12. Steve Lucas 6 years ago

    Hi Sam,

    Great post.

    Interesting what you say about female estate agents. By far the most successful sales negotiator I ever knew was a woman and the traits you mention describe her accurately.

    Did I shy from telling people what I did for a living? Not really, but I always preempted the jibes and made humour of it. Made me very popular at dinner parties!

    But perhaps the thing I’m most guilty of was turning down an invitation to be on House Doctor.

    Estate agency’s a stressful business and people don’t appreciate how much. Maybe if our house buying system was changed and we adopted the same agent licensing process as the US, the industry would gain respectability and shed the reputation created by a minority.

    Once again, great post.
    Steve Lucas

    1. Sam Ashdown 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comment Steve and for your kind words! Very pleased to hear that the most successful neg you knew was a woman – there are quite a few chauvinistic agents out there who need to hear you say that! I too think we need some licensing process, if only to give us greater credibility and to reassure our clients that we do know what we’re talking about!
      Thanks again Steve – great to hear from you :o)