The future of estate agency? (Part one)
After the recent cabinet re-shuffle, it would seem as though yet another government is placing housing relatively low on its agenda. When it seemed as though a new housing minister was not going to be appointed, I half-jokingly Tweeted my services. As, clearly, this offer wasn’t acted upon by Mr Cameron, and as I am arrogant enough to think I could make a difference, I thought I would put down what I would like to see… ‘COME THE REVOLUTION’.I was initially going to write this as one post but, as I started to write, it became clear that I needed to break my revolutionary zeal down into a number of smaller, bite-size, chunks. So here is part one of my vision for the future of estate agency in England and Wales.
TPOS (The Property Ombudsman Scheme)*
The TPO has evolved hugely since it first sprang into life and is now a major force for good. The assurance that all agents are now bound by a more standardised code of practice is reassuring to those of us who remember when many agents simply flouted estate agency law and, were rarely prosecuted. True, there were professional bodies such as the NAEA and RICS but, the majority of selling agents were not members and membership was not compulsory as it is now for one of the two Ombudsman schemes. That said it is also clear that many firms are not aware of, or choose to ignore, the rules they are all bound by. There is also strong circumstantial evidence that many employees of these firms are not taught the rules they are bound by, despite assurances to the contrary from their employers.
To counter these problems and raise standards generally for consumers, one of the areas I believe the TPO could improve its service is by increasing both its range and scope of services and powers. Little known and, contrary to what it says on its website and terms of reference the TPO does, in fact, offer a mediation service between agents (for a fee). This I believe offers an excellent route for agents who wish to avoid upsetting a valued client when a dispute is clearly brewing between agents – (who introduced the buyer being the most oft’ cited cause of dispute for example).
“Is it right that a anyone can set up to value and sell someone’s home without any training or supervision yet, if you want to sell someone a burger or kebab, you have to undergo local authority checks/ basic training in health and hygiene?”
I also believe that the TPO could and should expand its role into running unannounced compliance spot checks on agents. Much like local authority health & hygiene checks for food premises, this was an idea I suggested whilst I was at the NAEA and, whilst not widely popular in some quarters, was equally warmly welcomed by many others. Having been aware for some time of the fact that many agents, large and small, still pay lip service to compliance/ proper training (despite what head office might state), I believe that this would help raise standards for consumers across the board.
These spot checks would take the form of an initial, unannounced, visit after which only helpful recommendations could be made (to help the agents back onto the right path). Unless, of course, serious breaches of training or procedures were found, in which case, TPO membership might be temporarily suspended pending further action. Whilst this would be costly to implement, this could be paid for by increased membership fees or, via a small levy on Stamp duty. Additional income could also be achieved by charging for compliance training by TPO trained/ certified staff/ independent firms.
In my next blog, I offer my views on conveyancing.
*There are two Ombudsman schemes that operate but I deal here with the most popular scheme. The other scheme is operated by the RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors)
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About Chris Wood: Chris is an estate agent with over 25 years of property experience. His business, PDQ Estates Ltd is based in Penzance and Helston, West Cornwall. He has worked with all sizes and types of businesses from single office independents to the management team and board of RBS and Tesco. A former President Elect of the NAEA and board member of NFoPP until he resigned in 2009, Chris has always championed the highest professional standards for estate agents in the UK. No stranger to the media, he has appeared on various programs including BBC, News 24, ITV, independent and BBC radio and is a regular contributor to trade journals, local and national Newspapers. Chris is on KloutLinkedIn Ecademy Facebook and Twitter and lives in Penzance.