Kit Malthouse has been making headlines this week, but – in keeping with his tenure as Housing Minister so far - it had absolutely nothing to do with property.
The 52-year old MP for North West Hampshire might hold the title of Housing Minister, but you’d be hard pushed to find any evidence to back this up.
You could probably count on one hand the number of statements, announcements and comments Malthouse has made on housing and the property industry at large since replacing Dominic Raab in a government reshuffle in July 2018. But Malthouse, a former right-hand man of Boris Johnson during his days as London Mayor, has been in the news of late thanks to what is being dubbed as the Malthouse Compromise.
The Brexit compromise plan was brokered by Malthouse, who encouraged Tory Brexiteers and Remainers to conduct peace talks and unite behind a proposal to break the current Brexit deadlock.
It seems, like his predecessor Raab, Mr Malthouse is more interested in Brexit than doing his actual day job. In his absence, it’s been Heather Wheeler – the MP for South Derbyshire since 2010 – who has been picking up the slack and offering regular support to Housing Secretary James Brokenshire when it comes to announcing the government’s latest plans for housing.
A former Assistant Whip and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, her official title is Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, although she is often labelled as a Housing Minister or Housing and Homelessness Minister in government press releases and news stories.
It is nearly always her, and not Malthouse, who is offering comment on the government’s various housing policies, initiatives and consultations. What Malthouse actually does on a day-to-day basis is much harder to fathom.
Would it not be best to officially name Wheeler as Housing Minister and allow Malthouse to operate elsewhere – acting as peace broker between the warring factions of the Tory party in an official capacity, perhaps?
Another of MHCLG’s unsung employees is Matt Prior (nope, not the former England cricketer!), who regularly does the rounds at various conferences and seminars and was recently in the news for explaining the latest situation with regards to referral fees at The Guild of Property Professionals conference.
Given the farcical recent history of Housing Ministers – with 17 different people in the role since 1998 and four new names since Theresa May took over as PM in July 2016 – it’s been easy to come to the conclusion that politicians have simply seen the role as a stepping stone to better things. But, just recently, the likes of Wheeler and Prior have been getting on with things quietly but effectively and there seems to have been better lines of communication between Westminster and the industry, if not always the policies and proposals that us property people want to see.
A Guild-star conference
Speaking of the Guild conference, held at the impressive QEII Centre in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, it was another excellent event with some fascinating take-homes.
Speakers included the aforementioned Prior, lettings expert Sally Lawson, CEO of Rummage4Property Anthony Codling, entrepreneur Royston Guest and Dorian Beresford of Guild New Homes.
Lawson delivered a stirring speech on the fees ban, detailing the challenges that lay ahead. She also urged agents to see the ban as an opportunity to ‘refocus’, to change perceptions of what they do, and to approach challenges in a positive light.
She said landlords need agents more than ever with awareness of legislation worryingly low, signing off with the upbeat message: “This year, agents will make more money than they ever have.”
Codling, meanwhile, mounted a passionate defence of the traditional model of agency, pointing out why property is different from other sectors that have slowly but surely moved online.
He argued online agents simply don’t have the applicant database to find the person who is willing to pay ‘top dollar’ for a home, which is why ‘proper estate agents’ are needed to match buyers with sellers.
His outlook for 2019 was a tad sombre, saying that the year ahead has all the makings of a perfect storm – with the fees ban, driving down of sales fees and lower transactions. That said, he insisted the market will continue to operate and that tough markets are more likely to lead to average fee growth.
Perhaps the most revealing speech was made by Prior, who said the government is looking at ways of reducing the worryingly high fall-through rate of property transactions (estimated to be 25-33% of all transactions, costing consumers up to £270 million in lost fees per year), with the possibility of reservation agreements being introduced to bind buyers and sellers together early on.
He also discussed the regulation of estate agents – providing an update on Lord Best’s working group, which is set to file its report this summer.
Also coming at some point this year are ‘How to Buy’ and ‘How to Sell’ guides, aiming to help consumers to be better prepared for the moving process.
There was also a panel session of industry experts, chaired by our very own Graham Norwood. The panel was made up by Prior, COO of PayProp UK Neil Cobbold, Property Ombudsman Katrine Sporle and compliance guru Paul Offley.
Topics included qualifications for agents, the piecemeal nature of PRS legislative changes, the possibility of a database for rogue tenants, and whether or not agents have now become too reliant on technology.
The day also included The Guild Awards, presented by Countdown’s Rachel Riley, and an after-party at Tattershall Castle – a floating pub, bar and restaurant moored on the Victoria Embankment – sponsored by Simon Whale’s consultancy Kerfuffle.
As ever, a great event with plenty of networking opportunities as hundreds of agents and suppliers came together.
The very next day, at the same venue, was Fine & Country’s annual conference - I should have stayed the night! A day of ‘inspiring speeches’, networking and F&C’s annual awards, followed by a black-tie Gala evening with plenty of food and dancing.
Speakers included former rugby player Matt Dawson, Ian Springett, Christopher Watkin, Anthony Codling (busy man!) and entrepreneur Daniel Priestley.
Suffice to say, an excellent, well-run day and evening by one of the country’s most prestigious agency brands.
That’s that from me…until next time.
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.