You will perhaps have seen recently that the Government has decided to boost funding to the regulator, the National Trading Standards (NTS) Estate Agency Team – a move which we at the Conveyancing Association (CA) have been lobbying for over the last couple of years.
The increase to £500k a year may not seem like a market-changing figure – and I have already encountered some scepticism amongst agents in terms of what it will actually mean and/or achieve – but in my view it will help that team find more of those in the marketplace who are not meeting their responsibilities and who are not acting in their customer’s interests.
Our research amongst consumers has revealed a significant lack of compliance with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs), mostly in the form of the provision of upfront information being delivered to potential home purchasers.
Earlier this year, we conducted a ‘homebuyer experience’ survey and just 2% of the 1,100 respondents felt they had received sufficient information on their property prior to viewing it.
We have long championed the need for far greater upfront provision of information to ensure potential purchasers are much better informed before they make offers; for example, many of the problems that have arisen where new houses have been sold on leasehold terms may well have been avoided if the purchaser had received full disclosure on what they were actually purchasing.
Now, clearly when the money is given to the NTS ‘Estate Agency Team’ there is a tendency to think it’s purely an estate agency issue – if anything, our research has revealed that the lack of CPR compliance has been far more prevalent amongst housing developers, rather than agents, and it’s our view that the extra resources provided here should be put into ensuring CPR enforcement right across the board.
Let’s not believe that agents are the only ones being focused on here, because we would hope that a decade since the original regulations came in, the vast majority do comply with these regulations.
Last year, the regulator only enforced 16 prohibition orders – now you can believe this is because there were only 16 breaches of those regulations amongst the entire housing industry, or you can believe that the NTS team only had the resources to find and pursue 16 cases successfully.
Realistically what is the likely truth behind this? My view is that the latter is most likely and, a cynic might believe that a mere doubling of budget for the team is perhaps only going to result in a doubling of enforcement action.
Perhaps, the numbers of non-compliance are incredibly small? Or perhaps our homebuyer survey does reveal the true extent of the problem, and we will now have a team much more equipped to find, and deal with, those who are breaking the rules?
Either way we would hope that the increase in budget would be a wake-up call for those not complying. After all, there are far more opportunities provided by complying; the smart marketer will use it as an opportunity, in a buyer’s market, not only to demonstrate a higher level of transparency and certainty for buyers but for both buyers and sellers to show how they are reducing transaction times by producing as much information as possible when the property goes on the market, instead of waiting for it to be collected after an offer is accepted.
I’m sure it’s not lost on any of us that we only get paid at the end of the process so it is in everyone’s best interest to use CPRs to ensure that as much information is collected as soon as possible.
So, there could be a role here for both conveyancers and estate agents to work together to ensure the CPR responsibilities are met, and to get perhaps a sale-ready, conveyancer-checked property that has a much better chance of getting to that end point quicker.
Conveyancing firms are willing and able to support agents in meeting their CPR obligations in order that we can lower the number of transaction drop-outs and get a far quicker process in place, plus of course it will mean no visits from the NTS team and a much better all-round experience for your clients.
Our anticipation must be that a better-resourced team will deliver better results in this space and will, to a much larger extent, level the playing field. Agents and developers who do not meet their CPR responsibilities are now more likely to be found and dealt with – if the industry can work together in this area, then there are real positives for all, but perhaps most of all, real benefits to the clients we deal with day-in, day-out.
*Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)