The title may be unfamiliar but most agents know by now that in the corridors of Whitehall a working party exists with a remit to produce recommendations on how to reform estate agents and, indirectly, how homes and bought, sold, let and rented.
The Regulation of Property Agents, or RoPA, was established only last month (EAT covered it here) with a commitment from housing minister Heather Wheeler that it would look at the case for regulation of estate and letting agents and the introduction of mandatory qualifications for all property agents - and a possible independent regulator for good measure.
So far, the working party has met only once but I’ve been fortunate enough to discuss its activities to date with two of its key industry members - NAEA Propertymark chief executive Mark Hayward and ARLA Propertymark chief executive David Cox.
It’s fair to say they give it a five-star rating.
“I’ve never seen anything connected with government or the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government move so fast. It’s quite obvious that after Brexit and perhaps health, housing is the government’s major priority,” explains Hayward, who is one of a number of industry figures joining Whitehall civil servants on the group, which is chaired by crossbench peer Lord Best.
“MHCLG has a lot of staff working on the reforms, which has a high political profile. They want frequent public announcements to show the government is committed to change and on RoPA we’re having face to face or online contact with MHCLG people almost every day,” reveals Cox.
RoPA is charged with producing recommendations by the time MPs start their summer holidays in July next year; there will then be a period when politicians digest the ideas, and go through a consultation process which, ultimately, may end up with legislation.
Getting that legislation through both the Commons and the Lords (even with general cross-party support, as seems likely) will take up to a further year.
So, it’s likely to be near the end of this parliament - scheduled for spring 2022, unless a Brexit problem or other upheavals occur - before any measure become law. Even so, Hayward and Cox believe RoPA is a genuine attempt by the government to act on suggestions for regulation and training advocated by NAEA and ARLA Propertymark.
“There’s a general belief that there’s been too much piecemeal legislation about the housing industry - too much of throwing something against the wall and seeing if it sticks. Local licensing [of landlords] has been one example.”
“RoPA wants to be more joined up, although it will never be able to create a blanket with the same laws for the industry across the entire UK,” suggests Cox.
There will still be some ad-hoc announcements (expect, for example, the consultation results about a single industry-wide Ombudsman scheme to be revealed before Christmas, and the results of the consultation about referral fees shortly afterwards) but in general RoPA is emerging as the key body considering reform of the industry.
“Lord Best doesn’t want the recommendations to be dumbed down, and recognises they need to be genuinely enforceable with proper policing. It’s joined-up thinking by government and that’s what we’ve been calling for, for some time,” claims Hayward.
Of the many specific measures under consideration by the government, it’s only the letting agents’ fees ban that is clearly contrary to the policies of the NAEA and ARLA. “This is something of a golden period - there’s nothing we’re really worried about that’s in the pipeline from the government, we hope,” says Hayward.
In a period of unprecedented political and industry upheaval, these are perhaps unexpectedly ‘strong and stable’ words. Time will tell if they are justified.
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn