Some years ago, I attended a stand-up comedy gig in Dublin during which the comedian began picking on different members of the audience.
Upon selecting one well-scrubbed youngster who looked like his mother had knitted him, the comic asked: "So what do you do, sir?"
He replied: "I'm an estate agent actually."
Upon hearing this, the audience simply erupted - into loud booing and hissing at a genuinely heated level. The cacophony of abject hostility rattled both the poor young lad and his tormentor on stage.
For a variety of reasons, Ireland doesn't like estate agents. And we're not alone. A survey last year in the UK showed that the most universally unpopular jobs were (predictably), No 1 most hated - politicians, No 2 most hated - journalists! and in the No 3 most hated spot came estate agents... ahead of bankers, lawyers, taxi drivers, car clampers, bouncers and debt collectors.
A long serving Dublin-based estate agent in his 40s said: "The hardest part of the job is the almost universally held perception that you are some sort of crook, no matter what. There's also the idea that your profession is to blame for property prices being high. There's also a lot of misunderstanding about what we actually do. So when you go to the pub on a Saturday and someone asks you what you do, you will spend the next three hours being verbally lynched. I have to admit that I often lie about my job in order to have a peaceful night out."
That's why your average estate agent sometimes tells you they're "in computers" rather than reveal what they really do.
Property, particularly if you are selling your own home or trying to buy one, is an emotive issue. This serves to heighten and personalise the feelings experienced by those involved as both buyers and vendors. And when emotion collides with the myriad misconceptions that hover around the profession of estate agency, the mix can be an unfortunate one for the incumbent.
First up comes the fact that those viewing a house for sale almost always forget that the estate agent showing them the property does not actually work for them. He or she is employed by the vendor of the house and their job is to get the highest price they can on behalf of their client. They are not put site to cater for the needs of the home viewer, although they will help when they can.
Then comes the skewed idea that houses 'sell themselves' and that the estate agent on the scene does nothing more than smile and open and close the door to let you in and out. But the agent is also there to gauge your kudos as a house buyer - how serious you are and whether you have your financial affairs in order, whether your current house is soundly sold or not and, generally, if all your ducks are in a row. Because once again, the estate agent is working solely for the vendor. Assessing individual viewers and buyers and selecting the best option from them is a particular skill set that goes largely unrecognised by both vendor and buyer. The agent must also negotiate and go back and forth to generate a deal, and later (people forget) keep it alive. The estate agent spends more than half of his or her time patching together deals which have already been agreed. Diplomatic skills are paramount.
And lately, the age thing has come into it.
Many vendors are particularly irked when a young chap in a suit turns up to show their house. In a profession that has seen its ranks decimated after the property crash, it has become increasingly difficult for estate agencies to get staff. While entrants to the profession must latterly have a relevant third level qualification, they also get paid a hell of a lot less than they did in the boom years.
Back then, a successful junior could make €40,000 per annum plus 3pc commission. Today, they enter their trade at €12,000 per annum for the first six or 12 months. If they're any good, they might end up on a €25,000 basic for the first few years with commission of 10pc on the agency's earning from the sale. It's not a whole lot of money if you're planning to buy a home of your own and raise a family.
For this money, most estate agents work six 12-hour days per week. Because Saturday is a big viewing day, they will also work it and, if they sell new homes, then they're on site on Sundays as well. They must deal with emotionally charged and paranoid potential buyers who think they're the baddie out to swindle them.
Another estate agent I know says: "A difficult part of the job is to let bidders go. You will know why they are being ruled out and you know why the rival is presenting a superior package. But often confidentiality rules which govern the profession mean you can't tell people what's going on behind the scenes. They simply assume you have shafted them."
Agents spend hours in traffic - a big issue if you are relying on commission to pay your bills. They must be immaculately turned out every day. Most agencies are now understaffed so staff must cover more viewings. And most of all, they must keep smiling - whatever we think of them.