Having recently launched in the UAE, international real estate agency Fine & Country explains why it is offering independent agencies the chance to join its ever-expanding network.
Independent real estate agencies dot almost every corner of Dubai, between them showcasing row-upon-row of homes and offices for potential buyers, though with examinations being implemented by the Land Department for industry employees, how many of these will be left in the market?
Perhaps more importantly, how will those allowed to continue operating set themselves apart in times where many investors are less willing to part with their cash?
Many [agents] were freelancers, unlicensed and working from no fixed abode, and encouraged quite frankly by developers who would take a reservation form from a camel.
"The real estate market in the Middle East could best be described as the Wild West," says Phil Sheridan, Chairman of Fine & Country in the UAE. A real estate agency with increasing international reach, Fine & Country specialises in the sale of high-end properties and currently operates from over 300 offices around the world.
Having recently made its debut in the UAE, the company has brought with it an intriguing proposal for independent agencies. Fine & Country is offering a maximum of 50 agencies the chance to join its network of operations through a licensing agreement, granting access to some of the benefits enjoyed by international companies.
"Say you own a real estate brokerage company called ABC, and your market presence and brand is, quite frankly, weak. We will give you as a real estate agent an elevated position in the market, with a full suite of marketing services from this base here to support it," explains Sheridan.
Buying into the brand
Through the agreement, independent companies pay a monthly fee to Fine & Country in order to use the brand name, though each will still be registered with the Land Department under its original operating title.
"Our agreement between us and our licensees is purely licensing our trademark for them to be able to trade under our brand," says Malcolm Lindley, CEO of Fine & Country International.
After paying a one-off joining fee and a fixed monthly membership fee, licensees will have access to a range of services provided by the company, including a world-class marketing studio, ongoing website training, presence at international exhibitions and access to worldwide markets at a fraction of the normal cost.
One such example is Elite Dome, a Dubai-based real estate agency which has recently become a licensee of Fine & Country, having sought-out the company as a desirable brand, according to Naji Zeitouni, general manager of the agency.
"Since joining the real estate industry in 2007, I felt the need to be associated with a professional network to stand out from the clutter in the market," he says.
Zeitouni reveals Elite Dome will specialise in selling real estate in Jumeirah Lake Towers, in line with Fine & Country's proposal to have each of its licensees focus on a particular area.
Franchise vs licensee
Although these agreements may seem similar to franchising, Lindley puts heavy emphasis on the fact Fine & Country does not class its operations as such.
"We're not colouring-by-numbers for estate agents, we're not inviting new entrants into the market and giving them a manual and saying ‘this is how you become an estate agent.' We're a licensed organisation and we license our trademark to very select, experienced estate agents."
In the case of many franchise operations, Lindley notes each branch is usually restricted to its own territory, though he claims any licensee of Fine & Country within the UAE would be free to operate wherever they like within country.
Cecilia Reinaldo, CEO of Fine & Country in the UAE is keen to point out another difference between a franchise and a licensee,
"We don't take commission like a franchise would do, taking a piece of your action" she says. The only money to be handed over regularly, she stresses, is the monthly fee.
Though the benefits for licensees are clear, how does Fine & Country stand to gain?
"The benefit for us as a licensed business is that it's more profit for shareholders," says Lindley. Although, this is not the sole benefit for Fine & Country as an organisation,
"We are developing an international network of estate agencies working together. In terms of individual agencies, we have access to different specialisations and the use of a broad range of facilities," he explains.
One thing Fine & Country and Elite Dome appear to agree on is the importance of the new training course and exam which must be sat by brokers.
"All agents of registered companies through the Land Department must pass a module one examination. It's a two-day course, and indeed all the sponsors of those must also attend and pass this mandatory, although simplistic, exam," explains Sheridan. Those who do not pass the exam will no longer be allowed to operate in Dubai's property business.
"Each of our agents is clearly going to have to be a RERA registered, authorised estate agency, well a) they won't be in business if they're not, and b) we wouldn't dream of working with them if they weren't of that standard," he says.