Aug. 20, 2023
Luxury estate agents can earn huge commissions, but the pressure to make a sale can push some young people out of the industry.
"I could make a cheque that would change my life, but when is it going to come? Who knows?"
That was the dilemma for Vanesa Tonova, a young estate agent working in the exclusive world of multi-million-pound property.
Vanesa and Krish Mistry are two of the brokers who have tried to make it in the hyper-competitive market - and the pair took part in the BBC's Crazy Rich Agents: Selling Dream Homes.
Although the industry might seem glamorous from the outside - thanks to popular, glitzy TV shows like Selling Sunset and Million Dollar Listing - the brokers soon find out that winning luxury listings and charming millionaire and billionaire clients is harder than it looks.
Working for the London branch of an international estate agent firm, the duo gave up the security of earning a salary and instead only got paid if they made a sale.
"It's totally high-risk, high-reward," says 23-year-old Krish, who lives in Milton Keynes. "But for me, it's fascinating to walk into something like an £8m or £10m house to see how the other half live. This whole world of luxury real estate, it takes you back a little bit."
For Vanesa and Krish, the possibility of earning large commissions - possibly more from a single sale than most make in a year - was a big draw, even though it can take some brokers years to make their first sale.
"Obviously the money was a big motivation for me," says 25-year-old former model Vanesa, who lives in London. "Everyone that works in such target-driven, performance-driven jobs, for us money is a big thing."
And for Krish, the chance to earn enough money to help support his parents was a big driver.
"My parents sacrificed a lot and they deserve so much more than what they have right now," he says.
But despite selling houses to millionaires and billionaires, Krish - who now works full time in the commission-only, high-end property world - still lives with his parents.
He can't currently buy a home for himself, he says, "because the house prices are just absolutely ridiculous".
"One thing I've taken away from all these multi-millionaires and billionaires is you've got to see how you can potentially add value to a house and, at the moment where I live, I just don't see any value in a lot of the properties out there.
"It's weird selling houses and yet you can't really afford to buy one yourself. Would I like to have my own place sometime soon? Absolutely."
'No guarantee you'll make a sale'
Both Vanesa and Krish agree that despite the glamorous facade, the industry can be brutal.
"People don't see the hard work that goes behind it," Krish says.
Vanesa spent a year trying to succeed in the commission-only industry during her time on Crazy Rich Agents, relying on her mum to support her financially and topping up her income with babysitting in her spare time.
She successfully brought in high-end listings - like a luxury villa in the Caribbean and a mountain-side mansion in Monaco - but she struggled to make any sales.
"It's all about your network, so you need to really hustle to find not only sellers but then to find buyers - and finding buyers for £10m or £15m houses is not an easy task. It's very, very hard.
"You need to be out all the time, you need to be speaking to people, you need to find creative ways to get to that buyer or to get to that seller. It's a tough one."
While trying to sell the Monaco mansion, for example, Vanesa roamed the streets looking for high-value buyers, even approaching people on their boats in the marina.
When stepping into the high-end luxury market as an agent, she argues, you need to be fully prepared and to have significant financial backing.
"Otherwise you can't really survive," she says, "and there is no guarantee you're going to make a sale.
"It's just not viable if you don't have a pile of cash saved up to get you through."
Struggling to make a sale left Vanesa stressed, she says, but she didn't reveal any of her anxiety to potential buyers and sellers.
"Ultra-high-worth individuals probably wouldn't want to work with you if you're stressed," she says. "You need to be really on top of your game all the time."
In the end, after her mum gave her a deadline, Vanesa decided to get a job with a corporate property agency, based in South Kensington, that offered a regular salary with commission on top.
'Not intimidated by anybody's money'
Nathan Emerson, chief executive of Propertymark - the professional body for the property industry - says commission-based models of working have become more common in recent years.
"Working for a commission does provide agents with an additional drive," he says. "However, agencies that implement this compensation structure may experience high turnover as sales team members leave to find more security during inevitable seasonal dry spells, which could cause implications for the agency and in turn their clients."
Krish, who is currently listing a property development in London's Chelsea Harbour with apartments selling for more than £6m, says he's never been nervous working with very rich sellers and buyers.
"I'm never really intimidated by anybody's money," he says, adding that he's comfortable selling to the very rich in ripped jeans and a T-shirt.
"I don't really care whether they've got gates outside their house or they live in a massive mansion."