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OTHER FEATURES

So much bleating, I thought a goat had got in!

It was interesting to see the report on Estate Agent Today about the meeting between London estate agents, NAEA, and HMRC.

No, I’m not saying I’ve never been involved in a sub-agency sale but I do believe it should not be the core of agency business.

It was amazing to sit through the meeting, as I did, and hear the Frankie Howerd-like cry of “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!” from agents who were complaining about HMRC insisting they should do their due diligence on the vendor. That, like actually seeing the property physically and not just on LonRes, is a vital part of what we should do as estate agents.

Physically seeing it allows you to get to know the property as well as discovering the background of the vendor and the bona fides that you need to ascertain.

Maybe money laundering and other concerns weren’t such an issue when agents were only dealing with properties from a well-known few from the London underclass but these days legitimising crime proceeds is an international industry and we all have a duty to be aware, if only for our self respect, to make sure we don’t get caught up in anything unsavoury.

It may be that I’m just some country hick as I only work in a large south coast metropolis but I also deal with expensive houses and operate in an area where international travel is easy and those with the knowledge can slip in and out of the country unnoticed while undertaking their nefarious activities. Being aware of money laundering is not exactly a London agency speciality, in fact we semi-rural agents need to be finely tuned to its possibilities while, listening to the London agents at their meeting, it almost seems not worrying up in the smoke is de rigueur.

Agents don’t need to be protected from scrutiny as they go about their normal business when they operate in London, as the tone of the meeting seems to imply. If anything, the stories (anecdotal, possibly, but still there nonetheless) you hear mean they should be more vigilant and not sitting around waiting for a sub agency sale.

Instead of poking around on their cursor keys and mouse buttons as they search LonRes, maybe they should be poking around into the background of clients to establish just who they are and where their money comes from.

There’s another aspect to this. Houses largely sell themselves if you select the right buyer for the property. For that, of course, you have to know the house other than by getting only as intimate with it as anyone else who can flick through a website.

Agency is possibly more about selling yourself, both to the vendor and the potential buyer, than it is about selling the house. That bit, of course, is difficult if you cultivate the calluses on your backside by sitting at a desk all day rather than cultivating your clients by getting to know them.

As the London market slows, estate agents on that hallowed ground may soon find they need to revive their old and traditional skills to survive. They’ll also find that while they’ve been sitting around, those of us outside the M25 coral have picked up quite a few new skills to help us comply with the ever burgeoning regulations. Happy Days!

*Colin Shairp is director of Fine and Country Southern Hampshire

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    Colin,

    An interesting blog. I too was at the meeting in question however I fear you may have missed the real concerns of the London agents. The issue is not whether an agent should carry out AML checks on their client, that is accepted. It is the requirement for a sub agent to carry out checks on a head agent and the head agents client PRIOR to inspecting a property for, or with, an applicant. I am sure you will agree that to expect a lead agent to hand over the details of their client to a sub agent before they have viewed the property, showed an interest or made an offer is unworkable. Sadly neither HMRC nor NAEA seemed able to offer any guidance which was surely the idea of the seminar. Far from bleating the agents simply sought clarification so as to avoid falling foul of the regulations, unfortunately none was forthcoming. Here at LonRes we have provided all our subscribers with guidance notes which have been created in association with Eversheds and I am happy to provide a copy to any agent that would like a copy. In addition we are currently devising a system that we believe will allow agents to continue to work together and will ensure that they remain on the right side of HMRC, certainly as far as the AML regulations are concerned.

    I would like to finish on one point that we can agree upon and that is the return of 'old and traditional skills'. Having started in estate agency in 1985 I remember when agents spent time getting to know both their clients and also their applicants, they spent time understanding the needs of the buyer and matching those to a suitable property. Certainly the internet has eroded many of these old fashioned skills but with the market slowing, certainly in central London, I suspect it is those that offer this level of service that will benefit.

    Regards

    Anthony Payne
    LonRes

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