Tuesday 25 July 2017

Is it time to ditch the positive thinking?

I'VE long secretly believed that the Bing Crosby classic "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" might well have prefaced the Irish Auctioneers & Valuers Practice Handbook. We all know the refrain, you've got to "eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative" and so forth.

Estate agents are singing a different tune nowadays. And about time too, if you reflect upon where all this positive thinking has landed us.

Largely shorn of the invincible optimism all too evident in the good old days, auctioneers, ravaged by the worst recession for decades, have dramatically changed their tune. In short, while many agents cling to the hope that the market is now finally at or near the bottom, they are under no illusions that the worst is over yet.

Despite the recent jobs haemorrhage in estate agency offices throughout the country, a sizeable percentage of practitioners are worried that there are still too many firms active in the industry at this juncture. And further reductions in the number of agents are feared over the coming year.

This state of affairs is seen by some auctioneering firms as an opportunity for mergers at local level within the industry, with the potential to reduce costs and ensure survival. To continue with the music hall metaphor, therefore, it looks as though estate agents will really have to sing for their supper from here on.

There has been no update on the IAVI/Society of Chartered Surveyors merger talks mooted last summer. But the provision of a broader range of professional services to clients now appears as the key growth opportunity over the coming months. Or, to put it another way, there will be much more to the auctioneering game than inertia selling and fat fees from here on.

By their own admission, practices will have to diversify their offering into areas including planning services, building surveying and asset management. Other fresh fields that will need to be tapped include advisory services on disputes, litigation and family wills. So it seems we can expect more of what might be described as "menu-driven" property services from here on, similar to the television pay-per-view model where clients select and pay for the services they require.

In short, the 'one-legged agent' will, it seems, be about as much in demand as the two-handed economist.

Adversity provides its own opportunities, of course, with silver linings to be found in even the darkest squalls. Thus (signs of the time), there should be plenty of examinership, receivership and valuation work over the coming months. NAMA will likewise pick up some of the slack. However, smaller and rural estate agencies are understandably concerned that the bigger firms will cherry-pick the bulk of this work.

All things considered, it's all a very far cry indeed from the easy pickings of the recent boom when eager homebuyers queued overnight and mortgage finance flowed with abandon.

A sudden dose of reality has been abruptly administered and the results are there for all to see.

The outlook on house prices and property transactions remains subdued, meantime. Despite indications that we may finally be getting to grips with the worst of our Exchequer problems, budgetary claims that we have turned the corner to economic recovery ring hollow indeed. All the more so in the wake of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's medical bombshell, widespread flooding and administrative shortcomings on all sides.

And to put the hard hat on it all, Construction Industry Federation supremo Tom Parlon punctures a lung and breaks ribs in an icy fall -- providing the ultimate metaphor for the hole we have fallen into.

At which point, it occurs to me that a recent publication called 'Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America & The World' by Barbara Ehrenreich is timely indeed. The author, a 68-year-old New York journalist, had her first-run in with positive thinking when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Told by all and sundry that she had a bad attitude towards recovery, Ehrenreich survived -- her cynicism intact. She soon found herself challenging the credentials of the thinking vogue spreading amoeba-like across America and elsewhere head on. With sub-prime mortgages backfiring worldwide and global banks on the brink, the mindset that presented property as a sure-fire bet to riches beyond avarice was duly well and truly exposed.

The limitations of 'The Secret' and blandishments of countless motivational speakers, life coaches, career coaches peddling DVDs and CDS teaching you how to become an instant millionaire is now plain for all to see. Maybe the IAVI might consider including Ehrenreich's book as a basic text for one of its CPD programmes!

Irish Independent

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