Media Spotlight: Mary Portas: Secret Shopper

Channel 4, February 9, 9pm

When it comes to the most trusted professions, estate agents do not generally rank high on most people’s list, rating only slightly above politicians, which isn’t saying a lot.

With this in mind it is not surprising that retail guru Mary Portas set her sights on the estate agency world in her Secret Shopper series last week.

The estate agency sector is no stranger to so-called exposés and is considered by some to be notorious for offering bad service, which is why Portas promises to “revolutionise the world of estate agents”.

There are plenty of horror stories about dealings with estate agencies, so it shouldn’t have been difficult for Portas to dig out some underhand practices in the sector – or so you would think.

In the opening scenes we see her posing as a customer in one agency business in a bid to expose bad customer service.

But instead of pinpointing your average estate agent Portas opts for one that has won awards for its good service – perhaps not the best place to visit to uncover wrongdoings.

She hooks up with north London chain Martyn Gerrard and persuades boss Simon Gerrard to make his sales force more customer focused.

But instead of finding any jaw dropping incidents of misconduct or seedy practices, Portas focuses on incidents such as agents failing to smile at clients and not pointing out the cracks in the walls of properties when trying to sell them.

Although important points she comes across as petty and aggressive.

Anyone hoping to see a real exposé on estate agents was probably disappointed.

In a bid to improve the so-called bad service Portas takes the sales team to a stately home to compare its tour guide’s knowledge of the property with the team’s knowledge of the homes they sell.

She then tries to get the agents to be more honest about the properties by pointing out their negative aspects.

This works well and noticeably improves the agents’ selling skills and customer service. But it is not a radical transformation as the estate agent featured in the programme already offers an acceptable service.

If she had widened her scope and looked at more estate agents that were actually offering shoddy service, the programme may have been more insightful.

But Portas decides to focus on snapshots of the stereotypical views of estate agents by featuring several interviews with people in the street relaying their bad experiences. But she fails to either confirm or disprove these views with the evidence she finds.

The lack of investigation and visits to other estate agents hits its credibility and turns what could have been an opportunity to expose some real wrongdoing into a fluffy programme that doesn’t really uncover anything.

Portas gives the impression that even before she goes into the estate agency businesses she is going to find bad practice at whatever cost.

When she fails she puts too much emphasis on the small irregularities she does discover.

After 45 minutes of estate agency bashing, with no shocking practices actually uncovered, it became frustrating and uncomfortable to watch.

Unfortunately the programme made you want to switch off Portas rather than avoid your local estate agency.