Warm Welcome for Higher Standards in Property Agency
The Government seems to have taken to sudden Sunday announcements regarding the property industry, with the revelation of tougher standards for lettings agents on Easter Sunday and a follow-up a week later over estate agents’ standards and making the buying and selling process easier.
Many of us within the industry has been pressing for all this for years. In the past, the argument against compulsory membership of an ombudsman scheme. Or insisting on some type of professional qualification was always that such rules would limit customer choice by forcing some people out of the industry.
Limiting customer choice
It’s good that at last Government has woken up to the fact that limiting customer choice can also mean getting rid of rogues and restricting sharp practice. But the change in the property sales and lettings arena has moved at a glacial pace, with the industry at the back of the glacier doing its best to push forward. And the legislators at the front applying more force in the opposite direction.
Many colleagues in the industry have been calling for years for some sort of professional qualification and staff who work at my two property agency. Fine and Country Southern Hampshire and Town and Country Southern. Engage in professional training as a requirement of being employed by me. Even Saturday staff join in.
Continuing professional development
The Government also wants to see continuing professional development (CPD). But the difficulty with this is in both setting goals and then assuring they are achieved. It will be expecting the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team to do this, piling more work on a small group that has employed by a local council in Wales. To be taken seriously, this task needs to be subsumed back into the central Government’s control as it used to be with the now-defunct Department for Trade and Industry (DTI).
The Government is also suggesting that estate agents should disclose referral fees they receive from conveyances or mortgage providers. Which I don’t see as a problem as I already do it, and that buyers should get a Decision in Principle from a mortgage provider early in their property hunt. So they know exactly what they can afford and prevent the over-ambitious from wasting everyone else’s time.
System of reservation agreements
It wants local authorities to speed up the rate at which it handles search requests to a maximum period of 10 days while also suggesting a system of reservation agreements where once both buyer and seller have committed neither can back out property agency. It will, says Government, prevent gazumping, that odious practice frequently blamed on estate agents. But which has driven by greedy sellers suddenly upping their demands at the last minute.
Perhaps this ambition has driven by the oft-quoted system in Scotland, where once an offer has made it is binding on both parties. But “provisional offers” have made as a way to navigate around this commitment. So it’s difficult to see how this process will work.
However, any advance in standards that includes professional qualifications for both sales and lettings agents is to be welcome. That alone will end much of the bad practice, particularly among lettings agents who handle vast amounts of money in fees, deposits, and rents with no current obligatory safeguards that have easily enforced.