A council in Wales has set up its own residential estate agency, thought to be the first time that a local authority has done so.
Property Bay Wales, launched by Neath Port Talbot Council, attempts to undercut other local agents by charging a fixed fee of £899.
The agency, which advertises itself as offering an “affordable alternative option”, also offers financial and mortgage advice and incorporates a lettings and property management business.
A spokeswoman for the council said the agency is specifically designed to generate revenue at a time of public spending cuts.
Borough council leader Ali Thomas said: “Neath Port Talbot Council is leading the way during this current financial climate by launching Property Bay Properties.
“This commercial self-funding company will build on its current success in the property market by providing a professional, accessible sales and lettings agency. With Neath Port Talbot Council support and expertise, Property Bay Wales will provide an excellent, affordable customer-focused service for the community and further afield.”
But not all agents are impressed. One said: “This beggars belief. I cannot believe Eric Pickles would allow something like this to continue – so much for the Tory party supporting the free market and small businesses.
“Whatever next? Perhaps local councils should open their own petrol filling stations and supermarkets?”
Although at least one local authority – Westminster – currently runs a letting agency, this is aimed at providing a service for landlords who own ex-council houses.
Steve Kidwell, managing director of Property Bay Wales, said: “We understand that this is the first local authority venture of its type in Wales, and possibly the UK.
“At a difficult financial time for local government, this innovative approach will use existing staff to generate new income. Profits will then be recycled to support local and regional services.
“Our aim is to apply the core principles of local authority, a truly customer-centred approach, and value for money.
“To do this we will make best use of our experienced and highly trained staff. We recognise it is a very competitive market, but believe that house sales and lettings customers are looking for this type of service.”
Kidwell said that Property Bay Wales would hold all the relevant recognised professional accreditations and memberships. Although as yet there are no NAEA or ARLA logos on its website, it does display the Ombudsman logo on both its sales and lettings sections.
The agency is a spin-off from an EPC business, Home Inspection Services, which the council set up three years ago as its first commercial venture.