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.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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