“I’ve got 47 years of experience as an agent. Do I still have to get a qualification?” asked one attendee at a webinar on regulation this week.
It was one of many queries on the vexed subject of the mandatory training of agents, likely to happen in 2022 or 2023, providing Brexit and Coronavirus are sorted by then and the politicians can turn their attention to something else.
Giving the answers at the webinar was Mark Hayward, outgoing chief executive of NAEA Propertymark and someone with probably approaching that level of experience himself.
His starring role in the webinar was down less to his decades of experience, however, but more to his membership of the Regulation of Property Agents working party, which is setting the agenda for qualifications and training within the industry.
Like anyone would, Hayward expressed sympathy with the sentiment behind the question - few people like change, especially if they’re already good at how things are right now.
But dutifully the NAEA boss said ‘Yes’ - the agent would still have to be trained and secure a qualification when the time came.
“Look at it this way. If you went to the dentist and thought he’d been trained 47 years earlier, you might not like it” suggested Hayward.
Well, up to a point. Having 47 years of experience doesn’t mean all learning stopped in 1973, presumably.
The agent asking the question (no names were given at the webinar) would almost certainly have had to keep himself up to date with the Estate Agents Act, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, the Consumer, Estate Agents and Redress Act, AML, Right to Rent, deposit protection schemes, and a host of other acronyms, regulations and legislative changes in the past 47 years.
So that anonymous question raises the issue - how much is experience worth in the agency industry?
According to the Regulation of Property Agents recommendations (and I’ll assume you know roughly what they are if you’ve got this far), experience isn’t worth a lot in itself.
To meet modern expectations of accountability and transparency, there has to be a highly visible and respected qualification plus a system of redress: it isn’t just a case of actually knowing the right stuff yourself, it’s being seen by consumers as knowing it. And the theory insists that there must be a regulator because…well, there must be regulations.
This isn’t a sceptical view as there’s plenty of evidence in other parts of our lives to suggest RoPA might well be right: I bet we all think more of our plumbers, ambulance medics and AA roadside repair crews these days than we would have done half a century ago, when they could have been completely unskilled at their respective disciplines?
Yet there is a niggling thought that there will be unexpected casualties of RoPA - experienced agents who may simply not be cut out for learning and examinations in the 2020s.
There probably won’t be many, but will those be the victims that RoPA didn’t mean to hurt? In other words, agents who are good, honest, skilled but just awful at doing a test?
My guess is that there will be plenty of wriggle-room when RoPA is eventually remembered by politicians and slowly but surely becomes law.
It may well be that the currently inflexible qualifications-are-all approach might be softened.
So is there a way of ‘counting’ experience as part way to a qualification? Or is that automatically unfair to those who work hard and train for a formal qualification too?
What’s your view?
*Editor of Estate Agent Today, Letting Agent Today and now Landlord Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn