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By Russell Quirk

Co-Founder, Properganda PR

OTHER FEATURES

It Might Not Be A Popular Opinion But…Licensing – Just For Dogs And Pigs?

How many of you are in favour of estate agents being licenced?

Would most agents rather not be overseen by a regulator that actually has the power to expel and suspend as opposed to the current rather benign NAEA and Property Ombudsman regimes? 

The former of which is a somewhat distant, toothless old uncle that may have seen better days; and the latter a more independent organisation that better benefits the consumer but, nonetheless, can only deal with the effect rather than the root cause of sector transgressions.

Are you of the view that we should all be left alone to hide from scrutiny?

Are those that favour licensing perhaps guilty of advocating a posse of turkeys scrambling for a seat at the Christmas dinner table?

Well, I rather think not. It’s a good thing and should be embraced as a route to higher quality and an enhanced image.

Because until now, estate agency has escaped much in the way of culpability. Yes, we have some regulations to govern us together with the aforementioned organisations but we’ve largely escaped the oversight that, say, the legal industry has or that the financial services sector seems to have endured.

The Estate Agents Act is so unimproved since it was drafted that it may as well be written on scrolls and the Consumer Protection Regs – well, they are overseen by three people in a council cupboard in Wales.

When you think of the things that are licensed versus a sector that’s entrusted with the sale of someone’s precious home, it’s rather surprising to note that in addition to requiring a licence to fish, we are also compelled to seek certification to transport pigs; to breed dogs; to sell fast food; to watch TV and, of course, to practice as an Art Therapist (whatever that is?).

The sale of scrap metal; putting a skip in the road and playing music in a public place – are all regulated by license and have been for many years. Perish the thought that you might be caught with more than three puppies in your house with BBC1 on in the background without a licence for either. Oh, the shame…

Yet, the business of valuing people’s homes, guiding them and advising them on a key life event and being entrusted to vet their prospective buyer’s integrity and ability, is not considered as important as ensuring that the carp in your local fishing lake are thrown back to their natural habitat once you’ve reeled them in.

So, consider the indisputable evidence as to how poorly the property industry as a whole conducts itself. But before the inevitable, anonymous comments pile in below, stating how great ‘your’ particular estate agency business is and how therefore the industry can’t possibly be in any way deficient by way of your straw-poll of one, the following are statistical facts as they apply to estate and lettings agents overall – it’s generic and paints an average picture across the sector.

Of course, there are good agents and bad agents but the evidence rather says that those that do a poor job are increasing.

TPOS Reports 2016 to 2018 (inc)

2016

2017

2018

Total increase

Consumer complaint enquiries

14,218

23,841

29,023

104.1%

Complaints upheld

3,553

3,658

4,246

19.5%

Compensation - Sales

£346,029

£360,178

£518,981

49.7%

Compensation - Lettings

£786,572

£931,092

£1,543,848

96.3%

Think the industry is ok and can self-regulate? With financial awards against estate agents up 49.7% and vs lettings agents nearly doubling in just three years, think again.

The fact is, there are now the same number of complaint enquiries to the Property Ombudsman each year as there are actual estate and letting agency branches.

And when you look at how things have fared over the last ten years, the growing problem of bad service, indiscretion, transgression, neglect and mis-communication is inescapable (and inexcusable) – compensation awarded is up by a colossal 528% (from £345,000 in 2008 to £2,170,000 in 2018).

We have a problem.

It’s clear from the foregoing that the current trade bodies are ineffective and that consigning the supervision of the estate agency industry and it’s 20,000 plus branches; hundreds of thousands of employees; and circa 1,000,000 annual transactions to an under-resourced Vicar of Dibleyesque town council in the Welsh valleys, was always bound to prove inadequate. Of course it was. And it has.

The only approach that will work in holding agents to account is one whereby they live in fear of their livelihood being taken away from them as a consequence of any major irresponsibility.

As any pupil of boarding schools gone by will tell you, a big stick tends to work quite decisively and certainly more so than supervision being left to someone snoring in the corner of the room.

Yes, the impending licensing regime needs to be tough. A high bar to entry, hoops to jump through, tough ongoing standards and a regime that applies to everyone that is customer facing - not just the one token certificate holder per business.

And, moreover, frequent knowledge tests that are more ‘how to ensure valuations are accurate and honest and offers adeptly qualified’ than ‘knowing where the first aid box is’. No, we should not just let anyone in.

The body tasked with oversight must have teeth and must use them. Its bite must be as robust as its bark and it must without fear or favour make public examples of those that refuse to comply with a rising tide of standards.

That means, whilst being fair and balanced in its investigations, dishing out suspensions and licence withdrawals where appropriate and publicising them. Putting a bit of stick about.

Which means it’s unlikely to end up being any of the current trade overlords notwithstanding that between the NAEA and the RICS their swift and gratuitous posturing for the job already is just cringeworthy.

The effect of a ‘tough love’ mantra? The consumer will benefit from resulting higher standards; better communication; a fairer approach; greater diligence; and an improved attitude. Accordingly, the industry will begin to be perceived in the positive light that it is capable of.

Licensing isn’t just good enough for pigs and dogs. It’s fit enough for estate agents too.

*Russell Quirk is Co-Founder of Properganda PR

  • icon

    Jesus. Who in gods name takes advice from this failed 'entrepreneur' ??

    I'd love to know who's using his agency, knowing what every person in the UK knows about him

    Russell Quirk

    Hey Joel, thanks for commenting.

    I'm not seeking to give advice, just opinion. Hope it's ok to still have one despite Emoov not working out after ten years of growth and effort.

    We do need to change our retarded attitude toward failure though. Those that try and fail more often go on to succeed because they learn from failing and from pushing boundaries and innovating.

    Whilst those that don't even try, running scared of the so called stigma of failure, never fulfil themselves really or amount to much. Better to have the courage to fail than not to have courage at all - and of course, one failure does not define a person as the many successes in history that previously failed are testimony to.

    But it's easy to be blinkered and cynical from the comfort of the back row I suppose.

     
  • Paul Barrett

    Despite the business failures of Mr Quirke what he has posted is ENTIRELY correct.

    The EA/LA participants should be rigorously licensed as solicitors are.
    The amounts of money involved are huge.
    Self-regulation is clearly inadequate.
    Fear of losing one's livelihood concentrates minds.
    The EA/LA profession needs to up it's game to be on a par with solicitors.
    Doing this will result in professional barriers to entry and ultimately result in a much reduced and leaner profession far better able to charge professional levels of fees like solicitors do.
    But solicitors are well regulated and there are robust and effective processes to deprive a solicitor of their livelihood if they ever transgress regulations.
    The public can have confidence in this Regulatory regime.
    EA and LA should be subject to a similar Regulatory regime.
    There are currently too many EA/LA in the industry.
    By professionalising the industry many will be winnowed out leaving behind a far more professional cadre of experienced and knowledgeable participants.
    They will be implicitly trusted by the general public which will have to accept that they may be paying far more for that service in future.
    But the days of self-regulation are over.
    Professionalisation is the key to staying in business.
    Industry incumbents need to recognise the new realties if they wish to continue in business.

  • Russell Quirk

    PS. It's failure, not failures :-)

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