Alongside hundreds of agents and suppliers, I recently attended the Guild of Property Professionals’ annual conference.
As ever, it was a great day with plenty of opportunities to learn, catch up with industry colleagues and meet new people.
This year's event was held at the QEII Centre in Westminster. There was a full programme of industry speakers and sessions, focusing on topics ranging from government housing policy to the power of social media.
For those who couldn't make it on the day, here are just three of my key takeaways from the event:
Defining services is key to landlord satisfaction
One of the day's early speakers was the ever-impressive and boundlessly energetic Sally Lawson, chief executive of Concentric Lettings, founder of the Agent Rainmaker training group and former ARLA Propertymark president.
Sally's session focused on how agents can combat the effect of the tenant fees ban, which is set to come into force from 1st June 2019.
A key argument made by Sally is that letting agents are failing to clearly define the range of services they provide, instead opting for the vague all-encompassing term 'property management'.
The point here is that by detailing every individual service you provide as part of your property management package, not only are you managing client expectations, but also reminding landlords of the value for money you offer.
This puts you in a stronger position when landlords try to negotiate your fees.
Sally urged agents to 'dazzle landlords with their knowledge' as 'they don't know what they don't know'.
Thanks to increased regulation and the enforcement pressures that come with it, a letting agency's professional service is exceedingly valuable to landlords in today's market. The problem, according to Sally, is that as an industry we don't do enough to remind landlords about the value, expertise and protection gained by working with a professional letting agency.
Mandatory qualifications will improve the industry
I was lucky enough to be invited to sit on a panel of industry experts including Katrine Sporle, the Property Ombudsman, Matt Prior, a representative of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Paul Offley, the Guild's compliance officer.
One of the questions we were asked by the session moderator – well-known property journalist Graham Norwood – centred on property industry regulation and the government's plans to introduce mandatory qualifications for agents.
We all agreed that qualifications and a regulatory body for the industry would be beneficial for everyone involved.
I argued that letting agents should know all 170 pieces of rental market legislation (cited by Sally Lawson in her earlier presentation) and that qualifications are a good way of ensuring agents can prove their knowledge.
Paul Offley added that industry regulation and qualifications could encourage more professionals to join our industry and benefit from a more defined career path with prospects for progression.
Matt Prior then provided a bit of background on when these measures could be introduced. He said there will be a warning for agents ahead of qualifications being implemented and that
it wouldn’t happen overnight. He added that there will also be a transition period and urged agents to ‘gear up’ for changes.
Agents can find value in a tough market
In his 'it's all about the numbers' presentation, Anthony Codling – former stock market analyst and current chief executive of challenger portal Rummage4 – discussed the key trends and events which could influence the property market this year.
Interestingly, Codling explained why despite challenges such as Brexit and the fees ban, 2019 could be a profitable year for service-led high street estate and letting agents.
He said that tough market conditions mean consumers are more likely to value quality services, adding that during difficult periods average fees tend to tick up, not down.
Codling used the example of 700,000+ annual transactions being recorded at the height of the credit crunch in the noughties.
His presentation provided a timely reminder to us all that agents who prioritise their customers and maximise the service they offer will continue to be successful, no matter the market conditions.
All in all, it was a fantastic day and I'm already looking forward to next year's conference. Congratulations to the Guild and thanks to Iain McKenzie for putting on a great show!
*Neil Cobbold is chief operating officer of PayProp UK