Do you know who you're dealing with when you move house?

Time to look again at the way homes are bought, sold and let.

It is fair to say that most people would not allow their children to be taught by an unqualified teacher or get a filling from a dentist with no formal training. Why, then, when buying, selling or renting a home do many still seem happy to use an agent with no formal qualifications or training?

We have been campaigning for a long time to see greater regulation in the residential market and to ensure agents are working to properly enforced standards. Those who sell and let homes have for far too long been allowed to operate without the necessary training or knowledge to properly serve their clients and provide the sort of professional advice and guidance that people need when taking such a big step. All in all, we have a bit of a problem on our hands.

There are two issues at play here. One is that of agents selling property; the other is agents letting property.

Firstly, let’s look at the sales side of things. Although all agents are obliged to offer a redress scheme for customer complaints should anything go awry, those who are not members of a professional body, such as RICS, are not forced to meet professional competency standards. Why is this important? Well, it could mean that when buying or selling a house, people are potentially dealing with an agent who, while technically abiding by legislation, doesn’t necessarily understand or follow all the processes involved. Selling property is no easy business and agents who are not subject to the educational and regulatory requirements of a professional body could even be providing inaccurate advice. All this at a time when people need all the help they can get.

Significantly, with the property market turning a corner and confidence returning, the need for compulsory standards is greater than ever. The government has established schemes such as Help to Buy and Funding for Lending to help buyers and sellers. However, one thing the government hasn’t addressed is those responsible for the transactions - the agents. What we need is legislation ensuring all agents meet minimum professional standards before they start trading. Both this and existing legislation on property sales need to be tightened. And, importantly, there need to be consequences for all those agents who don’t abide by the law.  

A similar approach is needed in the lettings sector to protect both tenants and landlords. Until a recent amendment was passed in the House of Lords, agents who let property and weren’t a member of a professional body such as RICS could operate completely unchecked. There was no comeback for consumers if things went wrong. After a long campaign industry campaign, including RICS, the government finally agreed to introduce compulsory redress schemes for all agents. However, this is not enough to properly protect the consumer, as redress only tackles problems once they arise. Tenants and landlords will still be left exposed as long as agents can continue to operate without any formal qualifications or training.

All told, with the worst of the housing crisis now behind us, the time is right to look again at the way homes are bought, sold and let. Standards are everything. They make sure agents understand current law and legislation, that ethical principles are followed and observed, and that offer consumers have the peace of mind that they are dealing with a competent, skilled professional. So, next time you are moving, make sure you know exactly who you are dealing with before you sign on the dotted line.

Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Walley is Regional Managing Director of RICS EMEA.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.