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By Graham Norwood

Editor, EAT & LAT

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Regulation - is there a better way of becoming a better industry?

If a week is a long time in politics (an old phrase, for younger readers), then a year is a very long time in the agency industry, especially if it includes a life-changing pandemic.

So perhaps it’s not such a surprise that a year ago, when the Regulation of Property Agents working party came out with 30-plus recommendations to transform the estate agency industry once and for all, there was a fairly broad consensus welcoming its proposals for licensing, training and beefed-up regulation.

And now, as its recommendations begin to be acted upon, there’s much less enthusiasm.

Although some criticism comes from people who oppose almost everything and anything, I’ve been struck at how many of those less shrill voices, once in favour of more transparent regulation, have become distinctly lukewarm.

Their disenchantment appears to have five strands.

Firstly, difficult timing: the current uncertainty in the housing market and wider economy almost defy description, and it’s difficult to imagine any stability in the next 12 months. The end of furlough, the end of the Brexit transition process, a deep recession and the start of a possible second wave of Coronavirus combine to be more than enough for our industry to worry about, many say. 

Secondly, bad process: veteran former agent Ed Mead may have hit the nail on the head when, in a Twitter video, he expressed concern that the cast list deciding on RoPA’s new code of conduct was too large. It runs to 18 individuals plus an unspecified number of civil servants. Mead said he’d prefer two or three people making decisions, and it’s hard to deny that such a streamlined process would be quicker and more decisive.

Thirdly, too much consultation: for too long this has long been the response of governments when there’s a problem - to consult rather than act. Although the latest consultation, on the code of conduct, is only six weeks long, is it really going to provide more insight than the two years of talks at the Regulation of Property Agents working party? And how long will consultation take on training? And then on agent licensing? And after that, on the scope of a new regulator?

Fourth, poor resources: one journalist claims to have seen evidence that the number of civil servants working on some housing issues at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been reduced from 30 to three, with the rest switched to issues surrounding Coronavirus. Little wonder, then, that it’s taken a year since the RoPA report to even reach this stage, of the first of its recommendations being acted upon. How long will the rest of the RoPA reforms take to even be discussed, let alone implemented?

And fifth, wrong people: the relationship between ‘leaders’ and the rank and file is almost inevitably difficult in every industry, even at periods of great stability. So in these more tumultuous times, it’s unsurprising that many agents (privately, if not publicly) are critical about several of the individuals and groups involved in the code of conduct deliberations. Many of the names seem to be permanent committee members on one subject or another.

And yet, and yet. Something has to be done.

It’s worth remembering that in perhaps a year’s time, when Coronavirus subsides further and more mundane issues return to prominence, it’s highly likely that the public’s critical view of estate agents will gain traction once more.

In other words, the issues identified 12 months ago in the RoPA report won’t have gone away for good, even if they seem less important today.

How should the industry address those problems? What would be quicker and more efficient than the fortnighly-meetings-with-biscuits that appear to be planned?

There has to be a better way: but what is it?

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn

  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    Where to start.

    Not with ROPA, headed by no doubt a great mind, but Baron Best was born just after WWII, and the person heading the present committee is a sprightly 70 years young. So, 145 years of knowledge between the two of them, not so great if half the global population is 26 years old or younger.

    The disconnect about how this young consumer wants, and does transact business, and will be transacting and is transacting real estate in all its verticals is a shocker.

    Omni-channel customer experience powered by AI and ML, the problems around data, ethics etc, and the vast explosion of proptech in the UK since 2017, when most of the phalanx of new tech companies started up, is not even on the ROPA agenda, hopefully for NAEA Propertymark avoidance of VAT is not there either.

    My view and who cares what my view is, I have only personally dealt with 18,000 sales in the past three decades, met 240 proptech CEO's and leads in the past two years, advised a huge swathe of the top performing CEO's in the corporate and non-corporate sectors, and I am working on about a dozen initiatives in and around - geospatial, digital-logbooks, ID, digitizing conveyancing, automating the whole of residential agency, as well as looking after Zara my very demanding co-director who needs two walks a day, so what do I know.

    Well I know a lot, and that is the rub, as Graham Norwood who himself has great insight being privy to many confidential situations knows.

    The wrong people are sitting in the right chairs, the chairs of power or latent power, the small concentrations of people making huge decisions based on bad data.

    Time to start again, and start with this thought - real estate - all verticals built and non built - what does the consumer of the 2030's look like, how will they be 'buying and renting' things, and what cradle should any organisation that has regulatory powers be constructing to ensure the growth of this sector.

    Real estate is a tech and data business ... get used to it - get a grip on it and help it along its way, maybe get some people on committees who are 18 to 25 years of age, and ask them how they are going to consume things in the future - everything else is irrelevant, committees; - a camel is a horse designed by a committee we do well to remember that.

  • Angelo  Piccirillo CEO AVRillo

    As you say does everyone meet for tea and biscuits (and pretty much give up for 2 or 3 years) or is something going to be done. I’ve become a bit cynical over my 30 years running both estate agency and conveyancing legal firm. People are tired, fed up, and will go for the least resistance and opt to dunk their biscuits into their cosy cup of tea. But yet, if we don’t change digital savvy, more demanding consumers will force change on us. So let’s take the lead. Let’s stay in business. Be more successful by doing the right thing. Stand out and your standards will be followed. People follow success. Take that lead now. Be the change!

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    No it is not a tech business it is a people to people business. Most people under 26 are not those who are buying a house anyway.
    I do not need a committee to seel anything.
    My company uses IT but the most important thing we ever do is pick up a phone and talk to people.
    When I interview anyone I tell them that much of their job will not be looking at a screen it will be talking to people like an adult. That does scare some off, others join and have to leave as they do not like that aspect and want to push a keyboard all day.
    That is communication - sending a e mail is not communication.
    I do not want people who can use excel or word I want sales people who can build relationships.

    Algarve  Investor

    Surely it's both in the modern world? To get by in the 21st century, you need the Excel, Word and social media skills. You need to know to communicate via email, WhatsApp and phone, as well as possibly Instagram and Facebook.

    You also need to know how to build relationships.

    The two aren't mutually exclusive in my book. You need both to thrive and function in today's agency world.

    So much of the work surrounding property is now done and achieved online - and that is only going to accelerate as a result of Covid. People who don't get with the times and embrace tech will, I'm afraid, be left behind.

     
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