There was a time when the mere mention of the financial services industry brought with it scorn and mistrust.
The issues arising from poor regulation have taken 10 years to resolve, but I would say that the sector has now got its house in order and the days of rogue mortgage advisors are long gone.
Customers now trust the financial services sector and are consequently happy to pay fees for quality advice.
And it’s exactly this which I believe is needed in the property sector. Indeed, I don’t just believe it’s needed, I believe it’s going to happen – and soon!
Sure, there’ll be agents who moan about greater regulation but that’s simply symptomatic of change. At the time it can feel unsettling, but more often than not, positive things come out of it and that will be the case here too.
At the heart of everything that we do as agents, there should be a commitment to customer service and regulation is the simplest way to ensure the protection of those customers. At the same time, regulation would potentially remove rogue agents and signal an end to the sector’s image as the least trustworthy of all professions as is so often the case.
And why shouldn’t we embrace a level of change that would instil in our customers the reassurance that the most important transaction they’re likely to enter in to is being managed by a safe pair of hands. Let’s face it, the government is already focused on consumer protection across numerous other sectors and in many respects, it’s staggering that an industry as significant as property has been neglected in this way.
But just because I argue that greater regulation would be a good thing, that surely doesn’t mean it’s inevitable, does it?
The reality is that we’re already part way there: the original Estate Agents Act has always had a provision for regulation, but it’s simply not been enacted. I believe we’re now much closer to that changing and when it’s not dealing with the ‘B’ word, government has made suggestions that it’s certainly giving it much greater consideration.
So, assuming that regulation is inevitable, how is it likely to be implemented? Here, I return to the example of the financial services sector.
What the Financial Conduct Authority has achieved, is what property also requires: a single regulator, a single Ombudsman and a license for practitioners within the sector – something that will ensure those in property are people that customers can trust.
Indeed, in my view that’s probably the greatest impact that regulation would bring: the assurance that property agents with direct customer contact have a recognised, professional qualification.
Drafted properly, industry regulation would force behavioural change that would result in the end of sharp practice and a lack of confidence in property agents.
Of course, right now it feels like the nation is consumed with all-things Brexit, but one day we will be out on the other side (or at least, I sincerely hope we will be!) and then the government will return to other issues. Amongst those, I believe, will be further property regulation. But rather than wait until then, our industry should be shouting louder about our skills and professionalism.
Ensuring our teams are properly skilled and qualified; always striving to go the extra mile; shouting about successes and improvement. And above all else, being proud of what it is we do – that way, when regulation does get introduced, I can assure you you’ll barely notice as it’ll already be a familiar way of working.
Wouldn’t it be great to work in an industry where customers’ perception of agents was based on trust, openness and transparency?
*David Westgate is Group Chief Executive of Andrews Property Group