Should estate agents still be wearing suits?

When the nine-branch London-based estate agency James Pendleton recently announced that it was encouraging its staff to ditch their ties and ‘dress down’ at work, it prompted much industry debate about what attire agents ‘should and should not’ wear.

The most common debate was this: are suits still appropriate for customers who, themselves, increasingly favour less formal attire? And are agents who profess to be ‘customer focused’ presenting as ‘out of touch’ by wearing suits and ties?

Lee Pendelton, CEO at James Pendleton says he was overwhelmed by the number of people who engaged with the debate and that most were supportive of the move.

Pendleton states that the initiative has received a warm response from customers.

“It had been coming for some time and we realised that, although we are sales people, our job is really to be a consultant to our customers, and they rarely meet us in suits these days,” says Lee.

“We have to evolve, and — in my book — if we’re not evolving we are eventually going to become dinosaurs.”

James Pendleton wants to give its staff more autonomy and make ditching their ties their choice.
“Staff need to be smart; but not having a tie at the very least breaks down that formal barrier between them and their clients,” says Lee.

Business casual

Laura Johnstone of buying agent Greengrass Property goes further. She says her firm’s clients actively prefer not to see men in suits and women in heels taking them on viewings.

Building a personal connection is intrinsic to the role of a buying agent

The client is embarking on a journey of finding a home, a decision not made lightly. There are many methods of building a rapport however Laura believes that suits look look incongruous in today’s dress-down society and therefore are out of place in a profession that plays such a great role in what is a life milestone for many. “A lot of our customers are young first-time buyers who find it odd when an agent turns up to a viewing in a suit while they’re wearing jeans and t-shirt.”

Stick to suits

But not all agents are gunning for business casual.

Paul Mahoney of property advisory firm Nova Financial says the industry should ‘stick with the suits’ to gain credibility with clients — something that can otherwise prove difficult. “There are industries where a suit isn’t appropriate but property is certainly one where it remains relevant,” he says.

Tech influence

The more relaxed attitude to workwear is, in part, down to the arrival of technology within the industry. The proptech sector has largely rejected business suits — and none more so than asset management platform, Rentify.

“We dress smartly when we need to but not in suits,” says its head of agency, Lucy Jones.

“Very few of our clients wear suits and we find they are more comfortable with us if we match their dress code.”

In the industry today smart casual is viewed as just as professional and more relevant than a business suit

Ben Babington, founder of land and new homes agency Trilogy claims it’s the big, established estate agencies who are sticking to traditional attire, while smaller independent and specialist agents tend to take a more casual approach.

But like it or not, almost all of the agents who contributed to this article agreed it will not be long until ‘dress down’ will be the new industry norm.

Author: Nigel Lewis, property journalist