A very quiet yet potentially explosive consultation to amend the Estate Agents Act 1979 has been under way and ends this Friday. If it goes through, as seems likely, it would actively encourage consumers to bypass traditional agents completely.
The proposal, by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, is that businesses such as online sites that act simply as 'passive intermediaries offering a limited, low-risk service' to buyers and sellers should be outside the scope of the Act.
Passive businesses are defined as those that for example, allow for exchange of information about properties for sale between sellers and prospective buyers and provide a means for them to communicate with one another.
But the proposal has sent alarm bells ringing among the very few people who knew about the consultation, which was never apparently notified to any of the trade press, and certainly not to EAT, despite much having been made of the Government's red tape challenge.
If it goes through, then a model for non-traditional agents able to operate outside the scope of legislation would, say the critics, put thousands of industry jobs in danger and, more importantly, also put consumers at risk.
It would also open the door for supermarkets such as Tesco to enter the fray, as it did before with a £199 cut-price model that was at that time judged to have to comply with the Estate Agents Act.
Indeed, the stated intention of the proposal is to open up the estate agency market to new business models.
Interested bodies and individuals are being asked to submit their views but have only until Friday this week to do it.
Among the questions being asked is whether there would be any beneficial or detrimental effects on consumers, and whether there could be any unintended consequences. This is obviously a vital issue for the whole industry and we ask you to post your comments below.
Views can be emailed to: email@example.com
The consultation can be seen here link here