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By Graham Norwood

Editor, EAT, LAT & LLT

Graham Awards

OTHER FEATURES

Propertymark latest - “We have no further comment”

When it comes to communications, Propertymark could do with a lot fewer confidentiality agreements and a lot more transparency. And I bet the organisation would get more members that way, too.

Last week, it lurched from one senior resignation to another, contemptuously dismissing any attempt by a journalist trying to find out precisely why the departures took place.

It’s not as if the organisation is short of PR support or advice on how to communicate with the outside world. It uses what some say is one of the country’s (and possibly one of the world’s) most status organisations, Lansons, to handle its public relations.

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Lansons is so posh it doesn’t even call itself a PR firm but a “strategic reputation management consultancy."

Yet - whether the fault of Propertymark or Lansons - the entire PR effort seems focused on keeping secret what is going on, rather than the reverse.

A good example is the official note about the resignation of Tim Balcon, the now-you-see-him now-you-don’t former chief executive. The note bizarrely contained no reason for his departure, so unsurprisingly I asked Propertymark why: I guess members would want to know why, too.

The answer? Well it was short, it came from Lansons, and began: “We have no further comment.” This is corporate protection rather than public relations, and as “strategic reputation management” goes it was of course highly successful. It certainly confirmed the reputation Propertymark had built up in recent times that it was secret and dismissive.

So, what is to happen to this trade body to which so much of the trade doesn’t belong?

On Thursday, Estate Agent Today held an extremely unscientific poll posing four options.

1. Propertymark should get another chief executive and carry on; 2. The constituent bodies (NAEA, ARLA and smaller trade groups) should retain their own titles, ditch the Propertymark brand and operate individually; 3. There should be a separate and different trade body formed for agents; or 4. People should join The Guild instead.

Most votes (over 60 per cent) went for the ‘separate bodies’ and ‘new trade body’ options, suggesting that in this straw poll at least, there were few people happy with the status quo.

So should agents instead have something like a UK equivalent of the United States’ National Association of Realtors, which at first sight seems like the trade body that the NAEA and ARLA wish they could be?

Of course, the US estate agency business is hugely different to that of the UK but even so,  the structure and success of the NAR could have been a model for a UK operation.

The NAR is the United States’ largest single trade organisation for any trade, with 1.3 million members. Because of the size of the US - but mostly because of the success of the NAR - it has some 1,200 local branches and 54 state associations.

The REALTOR name is trademarked to the NAR and the organisation offers code of ethics training to members, as well as trade and skills training - a major reason, according to some, why agents are held in higher regard in the US than they are in the UK.

While the NAEA and ARLA generally react to agency industry activities in this country, the NAR effectively controls them in the US, and acts as a form of self-regulator.

Could it work here? Especially if the recommendations of the Regulation of Property Agents working group are eventually implemented?

Ideally yes but in reality not, for several reasons.

Firstly, the Guild already exists, siphoning off some potential members of an industry-wide body. Secondly (and judging from the reaction of comments left on The Negotiator and Estate Agent Today), disenchantment with any new trade body that in any way carried over the Propertymark baggage would be high, giving any new group an uphill task.

Thirdly, there remains public distrust of agents in the UK - this is perhaps less than before, but there’s still some distrust nonetheless, fuelled no doubt by the secrecy of groups like Propertymark and the recent adverse publicity surrounding the accountability of RICS.

So, what’s going to happen?

Few would put money on anything other than another head-hunting exercise, resulting in another appointment of another Propertymark CEO. I can’t be sure, of course, because when I asked what the process would be to find a replacement, I was told: “We have no further comment.”

And will we ever find out really what happened to result in the resignation of the NAEA President and the Propertymark CEO within five days of each other? Probably not - unless someone breaks their confidentiality agreement. One thing you can bet your membership fees on…if the truth does come out, it won’t be because Propertymark wanted it to.

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

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