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Six Things We’ve Learned From The Referendum

It’s over. A win is a win, whichever side you backed. It’s true that everyone seems a lot less happy than they were a short while ago, but one has to hope the heat will give way to light - perhaps soon it will be time to move on and look to the (admittedly uncertain) future.

But wait just a moment. What have we learned as an industry from a four month campaign, from an unexpected result, and from the extraordinary volatile aftermath?

Such lessons are inevitably subjective, perhaps like the ‘facts’ that fuelled the referendum debate, but by my calculation there are six things we know now that we didn’t before.

1. The Industry Is Out Of Sync With The Public: This isn’t a problem - just a fact.  Surveys from sources as varied as RICS to Carter Jonas to the Property Industry Eye blog, and from a string of business and economic consultancies, all made it clear that a very substantial majority of estate agents and property professionals were pro-Remain. A small but nonetheless clear majority of the public were of a different opinion.

2. For Our Industry, The Economy Is Paramount: The public took immigration to be the biggest issue while we felt it was economics - at least judging from the responses to those many industry surveys and analyses. Maybe it was self-interest, maybe as an industry we’re more outward looking, or maybe we’re more sceptical of politicians who talk of migrant problems - both real and mythical. Either way, property people were pro-migration with few disputing that construction relies heavily on EU labour and many saying that inward migration was positively good for the lettings sector.

3. Housing Supply Wasn’t A Big Issue: Unlike the 2015 general election, when housing supply was a hot topic, there was little debate on it this time with the exception of those making a point about immigration. A wider view of housing - quality of life, where you live, waiting lists, prices - played some part, especially in poorer areas of the country where the public felt there were too many people chasing too few homes. Some Leave politicians addressed this but very few Remainers did, and perhaps if politicians of all hues took the lack of supply seriously, the result may have been different.

4. House Builders Are More ‘Transparent’ Than Major Agencies: Well, maybe. Perhaps because many more volume house builders are quoted on the stock market they felt obliged to speak out (and several did, almost all saying a Brexit would be bad for their business). Few corporate estate agencies did the same: most followed the lead of Countrywide at the start of the year which said it was not an issue it felt comfortable talking about. They were probably proven right by the result as all agents now have to sell vendors’ houses and make the best of a difficult economic landscape.

5. Central London Is Even More Investor-Led Than We Thought: We knew it in principle but the degree to which central London relies on foreign buyers was brought home when even the relatively few agents who ‘came out’ for a Brexit then ferociously tried to curry favour with global investors. They did this during the campaign by making a point of saying the fall in the Pound had an upside in bringing in foreign investors - it’s up to them how they try to reconcile that with “getting back their country.”

6. The NAEA and ARLA Really Can Do Research: As a journalist I’ve often wondered why these bodies typically generate such poor research (rarely a patch on business consultancies or some estate agencies). But the NAEA and ARLA’s EU report in May, drawn up with the Centre for Economic and Business Research, was as good as any during the debate. It was level-headed, balanced, insisted there were no easy answers - with plenty of data to back up each of its assertions. More research like this please, once the industry has got over the biggest political and economic shock in a generation.

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

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