Category Archives: Leadership

Purplebricks – and the case of the regulators who won’t.

 

This article follows on from related articles
PURPLEBRICKS – WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON?
ATTEMPTED INTIMIDATION BY A PLC OR FAIR COMMENT?
IS MY AGENT, LOCAL, AN EXPERT OR EVEN LEGAL?! HOW DO I CHECK?

In the last few weeks and almost immediately after their last trading statement, Purplebricks listing numbers showed an incredible number of listing anomalies, with thousands of properties suddenly disappearing from the website over the period of a few hours and days and, a significant number of duplicate and quadruplicate listings with differing unique identifier numbers being identified by individuals and public source data from Zoopla/ Rightmove etc.

It is impossible to say with certainty whether this anomalous activity is innocent or an attempt to manipulate figures although the company  have previously admitted to having to ‘audit’ their listings when questioned about re and multiple listings by The Times)

Since my last blog, I have been trying to ascertain why the regulators appear reluctant to do their job. There appears to be an embarrassing game of pass the legislative parcel and a wall of silence between The Property Ombudsman Scheme (TPOS), The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT – who oversee the property redress schemes) and the National Association of Estate Agents/ Propertymark (NAEA) who are an estate agency membership organisation and one of the Nationally recognised awarding bodies for the NVQ qualifications in estate agency.

If you want to work as an estate agent in the UK running your own business, even as a franchisee, the law says you must (amongst other things):

  1. Belong to a recognised Government redress scheme as approved by NTSEAT
  2. Be registered for Anti Money Laundering with Her Majestys Revenue and Customs (HMRC – Section 1.9)
  3. Be registered as a Data Controller with The Information Commissioners Office (ICO)**

Failing to comply with numbers two and three are a criminal offence. Failing to be a member of a redress scheme is a civil offence under the 1979 Estate Agents Act.

As previously revealed, Purplebricks PLC failed to register any of their franchisees with an approved redress scheme until June 2016. The Law states that Agents must register with an approved redress scheme, not that consumers must have access to redress however, neither NTSEAT seem keen to take any action despite this apparently clear breach of the 1979 Estate Agents Act and, TPOS were more than happy to take a large number of lucrative registration fees (they are a commercial company, not a government organisation) despite knowing that none of these firms had previously been trading unlawfully and, had no ICO or AML registration.

Now here’s the first very odd bit.

  • Purplebricks make it clear that all of their franchisees are self-employed.
  • The franchisees are all registered separately at Companies house as independent limited companies (Ltd.)
  • The NAEA compliance team (who take advice from Warwickshire Trading Standards as Primary Authority on such matters) regard all these franchisees as self-employed and, to have individual redress, AML and ICO registration
  • TPOS require all franchisees to register with them as independent companies (as many legitimate franchise firms do)
  • NTSEAT, however, take the formal view that the franchisees are ’employed’ and thus, do not require to be registered for ICO or AML.

NTSEAT, as part of Powys Council, who bid for the taxpayer funded role, initially appeared to be strongly in support of taking action against portal juggling, (rightly) invoking the Fraud Act, Consumer Protection Regulations and Businesss Protection Regulations Act in various press releases and at conferences.

However, after a year with an immense amount of independent data and yet without a single prosecutions and an apparently isolated and unique view on the status of Purplebricks Franchisees (all other franchise firms such as Northwood PLC etc. are all individually registered) it seems that NTSEAT, as part of Powys Coucil do not want to take action against a company that is well-known for flexing expensive litigious muscles.

The NAEA too, are acting rather oddly. Despite having clear rules on membership and transparency etc. they are refusing to answer some rather simple questions or make clear statements about trading legally. They are also very reticent about their relationship with Purplebricks who their MD, Mark Hayward recently publicly praised for their transparency, despite PB PLC being serial offenders on the ASA naughty step and appearing on BBC consumer programs Watchdog, Moneybox and You and Yours for all the wrong reasons. Read more

Is my agent, local, an expert or even legal?! How do I check?

Dedicated to ‘Cyberduck’

Most people buying or selling a home assume that the agent they are dealing with probably has to be qualified or licensed in some way, knows the local area and has some experience of the local market and the job they do (especially if that agent describes themselves as an expert, local, property professional or, a ‘maven‘).

Sadly, many people are badly mistaken in this view. There are very few legal barriers to entry as an estate agent and absolutely no requirement to have any formal qualifications (though they certainly exist and many agents choose to take them)

To visit someones’ home or property investment as an employed agent to provide marketing and pricing advice, to (possibly) conduct viewings, actively try to sell that property, conduct negotiations on your behalf which may run into the millions of pounds and, then, to successfully coax it through the archaic and combative English conveyancing system (and equally bad Scottish system) requires no legal checks, no qualifications and no experience. No wonder there are some horror stories out there. There is no definitive legal definition of an expert or ‘local’ (though the ASA is currently looking at whether or not such claims by some agents may be misleading)

robot football fail gif

The Crown Prosecution Service says this about what defines an ‘expert’:

It is a matter for the court to rule upon in each case. However for the purposes of this guidance, an expert is defined as: “a person whose evidence is intended to be tendered before a court and who has relevant skill or knowledge achieved through research, experience or professional application within a specific field sufficient to entitle them to give evidence of their opinion and upon which the court may require independent, impartial assistance”.


However, I would argue that LinkedIn profiles showing someone was working in the fitness and entertainment business one week and describing themselves as a property expert the next, does not classify them as an ‘expert’.

As a self employed agent, franchisee, or as a sole trader, there is greater protection for consumers but, few know where or how to check. This post aims to show the reader how and where to look.

The following list is not exhaustive but covers the basic requirements that a customer should be able to expect from an estate agency business or franchise/ licensee.

“if carrying out estate agency work by way of business then you must register with HMRC under the Money Laundering Regulations” – HMRC Money Laundering Team. May 2017

  • Agents must, by law, be members of an approved redress scheme such as The Property Ombudsman (TPOS)
  • Agents must register with HMRC to help prevent money laundering
  • Agents must (usually*) be registered with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) for data protection “failure to register is a criminal offence”
  • Agents must have suitable public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance (TPOS)

How do I check my agent is local and legal?

  1. To search the TPOS website find a member section enter the name of the company and area (e.g. for my loyal reader Cyberduck from Twitter, I’ll  use the example of Purplebricks – Cornwall) – If they are registered you should also check how long have they been trading/ been a member by contacting TPOS
  2. To check if your personal data will be held and processed correctly, you need to check the ICO website (you’ll only need the postcode from ‘1’ above to check).
  3. If there are more than one company listed at that address, you can check which one by looking on companies house here (make sure you also try the registered office postcode as well as the address in ‘1’ above). This will also enable you to see how long that business has been trading and compare the commencement of trading dates with membership of TPOS in ‘1’, ICO registration in ‘2’ and HMRC registration in ‘4’.
  4. To check if the company in question is complying with HMRC money laundering regulations for registration, click here 
  5. Not a legal requirement but, a good place to start is to check to see if the agent is a licensed and protected Propertymark agent

Propertmark logos before and after v4 JF

MAKE A COMPLAINT TO THE ICO

*Dependent on how they process personal data. Here is an example of the ICOs’ reference guide for a typical franchised agent.Registration self assessment ICO

List to sold 01.01.14 to 04.05.18

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You’re talking to a person first, customer second

How often do you get exasperated with a customer? They just don’t seem to understand what you are on about. They don’t GET the situation that faces them. They’re not unintelligent people but they seem to have recently taken a sound thrashing with the stupid stick. But who’s the real fool?

In most industries, but in service industries like estate agency especially, it is too easy to forget that we are dealing with people; not customers. Yes they may be customers as well, but, they are people with needs, fears and expectations first and foremost.

In estate agency, we are dealing with people who are making one of the largest emotional commitments in life; often due to another life-changing change in personal circumstances – job, divorce, death, pregnancy etc. It is a hard fact that the stresses and emotions involved can cause mood changes and depression so it’s hardly surprising that the business of buying or selling a property is an emotionally charged minefield; for them and us.

In earlier blogs, I have often stressed the need to ask questions, find out information and to listen more than you talk and to manage expectations and they are all key to making your job easier and, more importantly, your customers experience a positive one.

In estate agency, I often find we play many roles apart from salesperson and often, chief of these is that of a counsellor. By asking the right questions, finding out WHY someone is moving, WHY they need to be in quickly, WHY they have a certain aversion to an area (in one case I know of, the customer’s very unpleasant ex in-laws lived around the corner). Crack the ‘why’ and everything else is plain sailing.

It’s only once you have found out someone’s motivation for moving and the reasons behind and surrounding it that you can really begin to offer a truly helpful and personal service and understand just why this apparently otherwise intelligent person has taken temporary leave of their senses…..It’s quite possible that due to the stress of everything going on in their lives at the moment; they really have. Be nice 😉

Chris

I welcome feedback so please feel free to leave constructive criticisms or ask questions below. If you could also take a second to rate my blog and pass it on to others who you think may find it interesting that would be great. Thanks.

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 Klout LinkedIn Ecademy Facebook and Twitter Married to Amanda, he lives in Penzance with their children who are slowly flying the nest, his two dogs and his elderly Uncle. In his spare time; Chris likes to keep fit and is a long-standing member of the Territorial Army. In 2010 he mobilised for a tour of duty in Afghanistan with 1 Rifles as part of 3 Commando Brigade.

Are you good to work for?

So many bosses of all levels of management seem to think that holding a position of power entitles them to act like a lower colonic sphincter and, that by doing so, they will get better results from their subordinates. However, are you more likely to go the extra mile for someone you respect or someone you hate? Ensure work is a pleasure ‘though, and you will see a marked difference in productivity and lowering of absenteeism rates.

Whilst Machiavelli concluded it was, in general, better for a prince to be feared rather than loved, he also extolled the results to be gained by being held close to the heart of his subjects. That’s not to say you should be a pushover, you shouldn’t; people need and want to someone to guide and motivate them. They want you to be a leader, just not Genghis Khan*.

There is a time and a place for blind obedience and barked orders but those are the times when people understand that there is an imminent threat of some sort and there is no time for debate. For the rest of the time, in my experience, people work far harder, give better results and take less time off, when they have someone they enjoy working for.

When was the last time you made a cup of tea/ coffee for your team; brought them buns, took a genuine interest in their life/ problems? Have you ever rewarded someone with a ‘Hollwood lunch break/ lie in/ finish’ (extra time off at lunch for a really leisurely lunch/ a late start on a Monday morning/ early finish on a Friday)? Knowing that a colleague has a childs or partners birthday coming up and offering some extra time off before it is asked for can be a massive tick in the goodwill box the next time you need some flexibility in return; chances are, if you get it right; they will see the need and offer their time before you even ask for it.

It’s not easy being a good boss and we all make mistakes but, aiming to be a leader who is liked, is a good start. Good luck.

There are numerous books about management skills and I don’t intend to write another one in this blog however, I’ve read some great ones and this is one of my personal favourites

*I’ve used Genghis Khan as he is always portrayed as a terrible and brutal leader. However, the truth is somewhat different. In the context of his time, he was no worse than many other leaders of the day. In fact, unlike teh Romans for example, he placed a high value and tolerance on other cultures, encouraging assimilation with the people of the kingdoms he conquered; rather than annihilation.

I welcome feedback so please feel free to leave constructive criticisms or ask questions below. If you could also take a second to rate my blog and pass it on to others who you think may find it interesting that would be great. Thanks.

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 Klout LinkedIn Ecademy Facebook and Twitter Married to Amanda, he lives in Penzance with their children who are slowly flying the nest, his two dogs and his elderly Uncle. In his spare time; Chris likes to keep fit and is a long-standing member of the Territorial Army. In 2010 he mobilised for a tour of duty in Afghanistan with 1 Rifles as part of 3 Commando Brigade.