The head of the new Trading Standards authority regulating estate agents says Online firms are treated exactly the same as High Street ones - even if some traditional agents suspect otherwise.
James Munro, in an exclusive interview with Estate Agent Today, admits that some online agencies have “sailed close to the wind” with some of their activities, but he says his team treats issues surrounding ‘disruptor’ agencies in exactly the same way as any other.
“I can understand that many regard online agencies as a threat to the status quo, with new ways of doing things. Some have sailed close to the wind but most, like Purplebricks, have put a lot of money, time and thought into what they do. People may not like them but what we have to judge is whether online services are breaking the law” says Munro.
He says he regularly reads the agency trade media and realises there is scepticism amongst some traditional agents about the way online rivals are dealt with across the board, from how and what they claim in advertisements to their employment processes and how they work minute-to-minute.
“One issue is that the Estate Agents Act is 40 years old and makes no provision for anything online” he adds, but he says his team has access to substantial amounts of information that are unavailable to the industry as a whole.
This includes data from Companies House, HM Revenue and Customs, anti-money laundering information and material from the Advertising Standards Authority.
“I don’t see the treatment of online agents as being in any way different to how we treat the rest of the industry. I don’t see it as an issue at all” says Munro, adding: “The problem we’re up against is people’s expectations and what they think is happening - which may be different to what is happening.”
The full interview between James Munro and EAT can be seen in the Features section: it’s wide-ranging covering the resources provided by government for Trading Standards, new measures which may be announced in the coming months for additional regulation and improving the sales process, plus details of the issues that form the bulk of his team’s work.
Munro’s team was, until just a few days ago, restricted to enforcing the regulation of estate agents across the UK; but a recent announcement by the government has seen it extended to cover lettings as well, across England - the nation where the lettings fee ban will apply from June 1.
His organisation is now called the National Trading Standards Estate & Letting Agency Team with a strict brief to act as the lead enforcement authority for the purposes of the Estate Agents Act 1979 and the Tenant Fees Act 2019.
The estate agency side will operate from Powys County Council and the lettings side from Bristol City Council. In total the team will consist of 14 different people - 12 members of staff plus two part-time contracted adjudicators - and a budget of £740,000 in addition to start-up and training costs.