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It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it

‘Respect’ is the new mantra for politicians: whether it’s about street gang leaders, social media trolls or those on either side of the Brexit debate, political leaders urge us all to show more respect to those with contrary views.

How odd, then, that some politicians appear to have such little respect for agents.

I put to you Exhibit A - the comments back in 2013 by Labour MP Clive Betts, who said at the time that the lettings sector suffers from ‘cowboy’ agents who ‘rip off’ landlords and tenants. Betts - then as now, chair of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee - said at the time that the sector was ‘the property industry's Wild West’, adding that those acting improperly needed to ‘play by new rules or get out of the sector’.

Or how about Exhibit B - comments by Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake who in 2013 put a petition to the then-housing minister Gavin Barwell saying, amongst other things, that “Renters in England are being shaken down by arbitrary and unfair letting agency fees. Letting agencies are a law unto themselves.”

There are plenty of other examples, from more recent times and from all political parties, not just the two mentioned here. 

The irony, of course, is that both Betts and Brake are completely correct in their principles - some letting agents are ripping off the public - but the emphasis here is on ‘some’, and by all accounts the rogues are a very small minority.

What I find unacceptable is the branding of an entire profession as ‘rip off’ or ‘a law unto themselves’ when even a cursory understanding of the issues would demonstrate otherwise (and MPs should have more than a cursory understanding...)

In 2017 Ed Phillips, managing director of lettings at Foxtons, chronicled that in the previous five years there had been no fewer than 145 new pieces of legislation impacting landlords or the lettings market in the previous five years.

On top of that, the welcome given in the trade press by agents to the government’s recent announcements on qualifications and further regulation should prove that the substantial majority of the industry as a whole is ‘up’ for greater transparency.

The overwhelming verdict on the government announcements was ‘at last’, with individual agents and industry organisations welcoming the measures with open arms.

Even those relatively few agents who were critical of the announcements came from the viewpoint that the same objectives could have been achieved years ago through the use of existing legislation rather than requiring the lengthy creation of new laws.

And yet many of our legislators at council and parliamentary level see estate agency, letting agency and landlord investors as a whole as untrustworthy and disreputable: while government ministers are scrupulously careful in saying it’s always a ‘minority’ who are the problem, other politicians often brand the entire industry as ‘rogue’.

They not only do themselves a disservice with such blanket criticism: they undermine the legislation being introduced by government, and they open themselves to the inevitable and justified derision. After all, it’s politicians’ collective failure to ensure homes were built in sufficient numbers that has led to high values, property shortages and rationing-by-price in both the sales and rental sectors.

So how about more measured attitudes from our elected representatives when it comes to estate agents, letting agents and the rest of our industry?

By all means call out the offenders and the unreasonable - but don’t judge an entire industry by the worst examples.

After all, we don’t judge MPs only and wholly by those who spend too much time in the Commons’ bars or who were named and shamed in the expenses scandal...do we?

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

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