Sim Sekhon: Regulate the lettings industry to build trust

In the 2018 Ipsos MORI survey, only 30% of 1000 British adults trusted the estate agency profession. I’m taking that as a positive. In 2017, the figure was 26%. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m an optimist and that’s definitely an improvement.

The figures quoted relate to estate agents, rather than property agents in general or letting agents in particular, but I’m willing to bet that the figures wouldn’t change much. The profession remains one that the public find hard to trust. It’s a problem shared with many roles where sales is a key part of the service and where transactions can be highly emotive, but it’s a problem the industry needs to tackle.

Imagine asking a school leaver which career they plan to pursue. They might not have the answer, but they’d probably come up with a list of things including progression, responsibility, working with people and variety. They might well be interested in something they could create a business from, in time, when they’d built skills and experience. Despite property offering all this potential, I don’t think many school leavers would think of it. And that’s despite the massive interest the general public has in property.

New rules are under discussion that I’m all in favour of. The proposed regulation of property agents makes sense to me. It’s more than an exercise in administration. It’s a way to build professional standards in the same way that other professions do. By insisting on minimum educational standards and qualifications, property agents can prove to politicians, housing campaigners and the public that the industry is serious, responsible, forward-thinking and crucially, that it cares for its customers.

In addition, the proposed regulations will give those considering a choice of career, a clear view of the steps they’ll need to take if they want to advance. They will know, at the outset, that they will be continuing to learn, committing to a programme of continuing development that will make their long-term ambitions far more achievable. It should, in my opinion, make the profession a far more attractive proposition.

But the move to regulation has to be well managed. Standards within this industry vary widely. There’s already complexity and differing views from the biggest businesses and trade bodies. Across the UK, each of the four nations has a different arrangement. With the fees ban, agencies are adjusting to a more challenging landscape and the influx of new legislation continues. Throwing a new regulatory framework on top of everything else has to be done with consideration. Arrangements must be put in place which allow the industry’s existing agents and their teams to comply within reasonable timescales and without excessive costs.

If regulation is rushed in, without due consultation and handled badly it will serve to alienate an already beleaguered industry. If it’s handled well, I believe it will provide the platform on which much-needed consumer trust can be built.