To many purchasers or tenants, transparency means fairness. The more open and honest an agent is, the less likely they are to waste the time of clients. But while most agents do a sterling job, ensuring that property transactions go as smoothly as possible, there remains a lack of trust in agents caused partly by poor practices by some agents and a handful of unscrupulous firms, giving the industry a bad reputation.
This ‘bad reputation’ can be frustrating for professional agents who always strive to do things properly. Andrew Ellinas, Sandfords
“Estate agents have unfortunately always had a bit of a bad reputation due to a handful of unethical individuals and companies operating in the field,” said Andrew Ellinas, Director, Sandfords. “It can be frustrating for professional agents, who always strive to do things properly, working to the highest levels of service for their clients and adhere to standards outlined by industry bodies.”
Ellinas highlights “accreditation” as something which is becoming “increasingly important” within the property sector as the battle for high standards in the industry continues. But while governing bodies do exist and there is an estate agent code of practice to be followed – the fact that it is not mandatory means that some agents are able to get away with offering a substandard service.
A lack of regulation in the estate agency sector to ensure that people are adequately qualified to sell and let property is one of the main reasons that the industry is vulnerable to both inexperienced and unscrupulous firms and individuals, according to some property professionals and trade associations.
“The issue is the lack of regulation in the industry as well as the public’s lack of perception in what these organisations stand,” said Neil Woodhead, Founder of Ready Rentals.
The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is one of a number of trade bodies that has long called for compulsory regulation in the property industry to offer consumers better protection and would like to see agents forced to sign up to a professional regulation scheme that provides better safeguards for consumers.
ARLA particularly wants to see greater regulation introduced in the private rental sector to stop rogue agents from doing things like charging over-the-odds tenant fees.
We want to see tenants paying a fair price for the service they receive, regulated agents’ fees aren’t excessive. David Cox, ARLA
While acknowledging that tenant fees are needed to cover the cost of essential items during the lettings agreement process such as reference checks, the drafting of the tenancy agreement, and the management of tenancy extension or renewal, ARLA’s David Cox pointed out that “there are some landlords and agents that do take advantage of the cost of tenant fees [by overcharging]”.
“This is where better regulation is needed in the private rental sector to ensure consumers are not taken advantage of. We want to see tenants paying a fair price for the service they receive. Regulated agents don’t charge excessive fees.”
Cox points to ARLA’s recent report on tenant fees found that ARLA Licensed agents charge a reasonable £213 on average in tenant fees to cover the lettings process as an example of why a strict code of conduct is required in the agency sector.
He added, “By choosing an ARLA Licensed agent, tenants are reassured that members follow a strict code of conduct which puts the tenant first. This not only ensures a fair fee structure, client money protection – which means their deposit will be reimbursed if their agent goes bust – but also that they will be dealt with in a professional way by a qualified agent to receive the best advice when renting a property.”
The ability to seek industry-recognised credible knowledge from a trade body is crucial as it can offer consumers greater assurances, according to Rob Clifford, Chief Executive of Century 21 UK.
He commented, “ARLA delivers consistent and credible advice, provided by very knowledgeable, highly-trained staff. Our employees get training and accreditation of the best quality while as a Group we benefit from a very high level of service from the ARLA team whenever we make contact with them.”
In an attempt to distance themselves from rogue agents and promote professionalism and better standards of service, many agents are signed up to various industry bodies that offer professional guidance and self regulation, in order to offer consumers greater confidence and protection, as well as sharpen up their own industry knowledge and specialist skills.
Clifford added, “Our membership [of RICS and ARLA] delivers greater confidence to clients that we are working to industry best-practice guidelines in what is still a non-regulated industry. Clients can also take a great deal of comfort from the fact they are dealing with an agent of integrity.”
Rosalind Florence, Head of Lettings at Glentree Estates, agreed, “Belonging to these professional bodies gives landlords and tenants confidence in using an agent.”
SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS
The core benefits of membership to one of the main professional industry associations is that they reinforce your credibility in being a qualified and experienced professional by displaying their logo on both your own marketing material and website as well as on some external websites such as Zoopla and PrimeLocation, both part of Zoopla Property Group (ZPG).
ZPG members can activate the display of logos of their affiliations on all relevant agent directory pages, property details pages and professional reports across the ZPG platform.
“Our agents are proud of these associations and we are delighted to be able to help promote them to consumers,” said Jon Notley, the Zoopla Property Group Commercial Director.
Aside from showing clients that you have actually thought about the service you provide and the well-being of that client by signing up to a body with a redress procedures in place, demonstrating quality and also accountability, there are other considerable benefits of signing up to a professional industry association. These include first class training and nationally recognised exams, legal advice, networking, high standards of conduct with Professional Indemnity cover and client money protection as well as a vehicle to have your voice heard.
Mark Hayward, Managing Director, National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), commented, “As new legislation develops, particularly in the run up to the 2015 General Election when housing will be a political battleground, it is vital to be part of a leading industry body, lobbying and shaping the future for the sector.”
THE MAIN PROFESSIONAL INDUSTRY BODIES
National Association of Estate Agents
Established in 1962, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), of which Simon Gerrard of Martyn Gerrard estate agents’ is President, is a professional body, which forms part of the National Federation of Property Professionals (NFOPP) and provides practical support, training and networking opportunities for UK estate agents.
The NAEA’s licensing scheme aims to promote high ethical standard of competitive practice that offers consumer protection by safeguarding the general public against fraud, misrepresentation and malpractice.
The NAEA offers a student and a member/fellow grade membership fee. Current annual subscription for a student application is £90; for members/fellow it is £210 per annum.
Association of Residential Letting Agents
The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), formed in 1981, is a professional and regulatory body for those working in the residential property letting and management sector, and is also a part of NFOPP.
All ARLA members are required to follow a code of conduct, has its own complaints and disciplinary procedures, with suitable sanctions imposed on the member where necessary.
The current President of ARLA is Valerie Bannister, National Property Director at Your Move.
Like NAEA, the current annual subscription for a student application is £90; for members/fellow it is £210 per annum.
National Approved Letting Scheme
An independent licensing scheme for letting and management agents operating in the private rented sector, the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) was set up in 1999 with the remit of setting an overarching standard that all professional agents could meet to provide reassurance to landlords and tenants in using those agents bearing the NALS logo.
NALS, headed up by Chief Executive, Isobel Thomson, plays an important role in raising standards within the industry and protecting the consumer. NALS agents must be compliant in meeting defined standards of customer service, accounting, inclusion under a Client Money Protection Scheme, and be a member of an ombudsman scheme.
NALS charges new members a one-off administration fee of £175 plus VAT, plus an annual subscription for a single office firm of £135 plus VAT. In the case of multi-site offices, each additional office pays an annual fee of £67.50 plus VAT.
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
We all follow the footsteps of a surveyor who planned the city, mapped the route and built the houses. Louise Brooke Smith, RICS
Founded in 1868, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), led by Louise Brooke-Smith, the first ever female President at the organisation, is an independent, representative professional body which currently regulates about 100,000 property professionals and surveyors worldwide.
RICS also provides education and training standards, protects consumers with strict codes of practice and advises Governments and business. RICS provides expertise in matters involving fixed assets, including but not limited to land and property.
Brooke-Smith commented, “Whatever we do, wherever we go, we follow the footsteps of someone from the surveying fraternity who has mapped the route, planned the city, built the houses, valued the offices or managed that shopping centre.”
RICS membership costs: FRICS- £616, MRICS – £506, ASSOC – £278.
Guild of Letting & Management
The Guild of Letting & Management (GLM) aims to be the collective force influencing and shaping residential letting and management practitioners. It is dedicated to maintaining and raising standards of integrity, transparency and professionalism in the residential letting and management industry.
The Guild, led by CEO Susie Crolla, helps business development by supporting members through the advice line, ensuring members are kept up to date and providing them with many opportunities to build on existing knowledge.
GLM, which requires all its members to also be members of the Property Ombudsman Service, charges a one-o joining fee of £50 followed by £300 per year for membership and £240 per year for each additional office.
● Association of Residential Letting Agents www.arla.co.uk
● Association of Independent Inventory Clerks www.theaiic.co.uk
● Glentree Estates www.glentree.co.uk
● Guild of Letting & Management www.guild-let.co.uk
● National Approved Letting Scheme www.nalscheme.co.uk
● National Association of Estate Agents www.naea.co.uk
● Ready Rentals www.readyrentals.co.uk
● Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors www.rics.org/uk
● Sandfords www.sandfords.com
● Zoopla Property Group www.zpg.co.uk