Question: Would you like to See an Improvement in the Overall Standard of Service in UK Estate Agency?

Answer: Then it Could Be Time to Get Radical and Make Your Voice Heard.

I read an article quite recently in The Daily Telegraph that publicised The Property Ombudsman, Katrine Sporle’s call for UK estate agents to “raise their standards”, in the light of the most recent figures (2015) – confirming a 32 per cent increase in upheld complaints against estate agents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Furthermore, the same article also went on to confirm that estate agency firms paid out an eye watering £800,000 in compensation awards to complainants in the very same calendar year (with the total showing an upward trend year upon year). So, I guess the question we should be asking is – are such compensation payments merely an “occupational hazard” for an industry that, in general terms at least, has a reputation for questionable ethics – or are standards of behaviour genuinely worsening?

In my view, if we are serious about getting to the bottom of this question, then it is the information that the Ombudsman has chosen NOT to release that is the real barrier to progress. For example, would it not be helpful to know the areas of the business where disputes most commonly arise? Or for that matter, have statistics available that confirm the names of firms or agency groups that serially offend?

Surely, such information would be much more helpful in giving us all better understanding as to the areas/issues/firms that require urgent attention within our industry, and more importantly ensure that punitive punishments are only handed out to those firms that consistently fall short of the TPO’s code of practice.

However, I do believe that the Ombudsman’s figures adequately illustrate that the POS (Property Ombudsman Scheme) does work in achieving some measure of redress for clients who feel that have been “wronged”. But year upon year, it would appear to me that we as an industry seem to learn little from the very statistics that would help us to make improvements to the way in which business is conducted in the UK.

So, can more be done within the industry by NFOP (National Federation of Property Professionals) and its affiliates to change member firm behaviour? Or is the policing of estate agency simply the role of the Ombudsman? Well, whether you would personally prefer your professional bodies to behave as a watchdog or a lapdog, if substantive change is to come about without government interference (which means mandatory licensing in some shape or form), then we could do well to learn from the travel industry, and the website “TripAdvisor”in particular.

Now I know that we already have websites such as “allAgents” and “rateragent” etc, but these web sites (and others like them) all suffer from the same major fundamental failing – that agent participation is voluntary. So by definition, all feedback/comment/complaint is limited to only those firms who have sought to willingly participate.

What is the answer I hear you ask? Well, please indulge me for a moment, and imagine a world with only one officially endorsed “TripAdvisor” style website for the property industry. But, the key differences would be :- A) Compulsory membership/participation for ALL estate agents, B) The full endorsement of national government, Trading standards etc and C) The site being run and managed by a “beefed up” Property Ombudsman’s office – funded through the mandatory subscriptions of all trading businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that fall under an agreed definition of “estate agency services”.

In addition, let’s say that every tenant, landlord, buyer and seller were invited by each and every estate agent to review the service they received at the conclusion of their dealings – wouldn’t this feedback, rating score, and the industry data that would naturally accompany it, allow a) the Ombudsman’s office to monitor trends and statistics, and take action against serially offending agents, b) Make the industry completely transparent to the public at large, allowing prospective sellers and landlords to select their agent on the basis of the reviews and score received (a la TripAdvisor), and c) Force consistently poor performing estate agents to improve or leave the business altogether?

Complete transparency it’s a scary thought isn’t it? But one way or another believe me, it is coming. So I believe that our governing bodies should not wait for the government (under consumer pressure) to force it upon us – but take the initiative and demonstrate some leadership and start lobbying now. That way, there is the chance of some measure of industry wide input as to how it will operate. More importantly perhaps, it would ensure effective self-regulation, and stave off the threat of mandatory government licensing (as proposed by “agent provocateur” Russell Quirk of e-moov).

So readers, if you agree with me, the revolution as they say, starts right here and right now – by you sharing this article with your own twitter followers and/or LinkedIn group and/or lobbying your MD or professional body. Then maybe, just maybe, we can create enough pressure for a major change in culture from within the industry, rather than waiting for the inevitable – and us all consequently moan about it, and maintain that we didn’t see it coming.

The author of this article is Peter Nicholls CEO of ideology consulting. For more information, go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk

Peter Nicholls

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