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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The Nicholas Lezard guide to spending your book advance

It was quite wonderful, once again, to be able to do things such as go to restaurants, develop a fairly serious port habit and generally not scrounge.

Well, the good times had to end, as they always do, I suppose. I spent the last few months of 2016 experiencing the novel sensation of not being broke. You should try not being broke some time: it’s delightful. Then again, maybe you’re already not broke. We’ll come back to this later.

Anyway, the last time I had enough cash to be free of any kind of worry was back in, I think, 1989. I had an office job and was also getting regular work on the Sunday Correspondent. It wasn’t exactly two salaries but it was certainly at least one and a half.

One day, though, the good people at British Telecom – for that was where I was mostly employed – decided that I ought to be promoted. I didn’t like this idea, because it meant that I would have to start doing some actual work, rather than pottering around the place chatting to people and going for four-pint lunches. So I resigned. What could possibly go wrong? The Sunday Correspondent was a fine paper, and maybe one day I would be literary editor.

You may be wondering, if you are under 50, what the Sunday Correspondent is or was. Well, exactly. It was, as the keener among you will have worked out, a newspaper, a nice, liberal one, which appeared – the clue is in the name – on Sundays. And then one day it didn’t. So within a fairly short period of time I went from having two jobs to having none, and since then I have not troubled the bank by having more money than I know what to do with.

Oh, I get by. There are many, many others much, much worse off than I am. But it was quite wonderful, once again, to be able to do things such as go to restaurants, develop a fairly serious port habit and generally not scrounge.

My munificence to my children was lavish, for once. They’re not daft, though, and they knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t last, and when all those horrible bills that come at the beginning of the year came at the beginning of the year, the status quo ante reasserted itself, and I am going to have to rein things in once more. Rather fewer plates of eggs Benedict for breakfast at the posh eatery in Baker Street, and rather more bowls of Rice Krispies instead.

Or I could find a rich woman. This is the traditional lifeline for the indigent hack, or at least it used to be. Jeffrey Bernard, my sort-of predecessor, would just sit in the Coach and Horses, and sooner or later, after he had put out a distress call in his column, in would come another woman who saw romance in the life of the penniless barfly, and he would be OK again for a while. However, he was writing in the Spectator, which tends to circulate among people with money. I can’t pull the same trick off here, for obvious reasons.

I also wonder if something has changed in the nature of wealth. People who have the stuff these days generally don’t pass it on to people who don’t. The days of the patron are over. What they pass on instead is either impertinent and unwanted advice or simply a dirty look. (Naturally this does not include those kind souls who have been kind enough to help me out towards the end of awkward months in the past.)

But I had my time in the sun for a while, and very pleasant it was, too. I could have saved up the modest book advance for a rainy day but as far as I can see it’s always a rainy day around the Hovel, so what the heck, I thought. Also, it would be very much not in the spirit of the Prix Goncourt or the Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup, the terms of which dictate that the prize money must be spent in two weeks with nothing to show for it.

I was awarded the Jack Trevor Story prize last year – or possibly the year before that, it’s all a bit hazy – and I like to think that I maintain a standard of fecklessness whether I’m being rewarded for it or not. And the sum involved, I should add, is not big, and two-thirds of it is being withheld until the book is written, and then published.

It’s a fair deal, though, and I’m not grumbling. I have made my bed, and I must lie in it, although I didn’t realise that it would have so many Rice Krispies in it. You try eating cereal in bed without spilling any. The only real problem with doing so, it occurs to me, is that I don’t think there are many women, rich or not, who would be attracted by the prospect of sharing a bed with me and my breakfast. And I can’t say I blame them.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge