This is the only way public opinion of agency will ever be improved
BY Charlie Wright – CIELA Founder
Everything the industry does makes the problem worse
For as long as I can remember, nothing has improved public opinion of residential agency.
Every time new legislation is suggested, it reinforces the public impression that agents can’t be trusted and need more new laws to force them to behave.
None of the new legislation has been enforced. It has just created red tape and extra cost, and brings no benefit to the public. Meanwhile as many as one-third of agents ignore these minimum legal requirements.
In the media, stories of criminal agents and negative opinion from commentators abound.
The internet has made it easier for new agency businesses to open, with ever-lower standards of service, professionalism and competence (even from the good-intentioned), reflected by the ever falling fees. There are of course some exceptions and sometimes brilliant new agencies open up.
The NAEA and ARLA’s purpose is to promote their own members as trustworthy, with the implication that non-members cannot be trusted. This worsens the public view that there are indeed untrustworthy agents out there.
On its own, being a legally compliant NAEA/ARLA member is not a reason to be instructed.
Being an illegally-operating agent, however, definitely is a reason not to be instructed.
Therefore such divisive organisations who imply that non-members are not to be trusted, do not help inform the public on how to choose an agent. They simply perpetuate the message that the industry as a whole cannot be trusted.
Positive PR won’t solve the problem
Promoting positive stories of good agents does little to help change opinion, because people already know there are good agents. The problem is that ordinary members of the public do not know how to find them or identify them, nor how to avoid the rogues.
Conventional estate and lettings agency offers a “no deal, no fee” model, which no other major consumer service I know does. No client need pay unless they are happy and accept the deal. Agents do all the work up front with no guarantee of payment unless the client is happy.
Yet the public still does not trust agents.
Because the industry itself does absolutely nothing to stop the known illegally practicing agents and their failure to comply.
Why should the public trust our industry?
And by doing nothing to stop this bad practice, the industry is tacitly allowing it.
How can we expect the public to trust an industry that knowingly allows criminal agents to trade?
Every agent I have ever met wishes to promote themselves over other agents, for obvious competitive reasons. But perhaps there is an unintentional consequence of this, being that the public only ever witnesses this mud-slinging between agents, and everyone comes off as untrustworthy.
The industry’s received message to the public is “We know there are illegal operators, but we aren’t going to do anything about it.” The public is not interested in internal industry politics.
The industry has so far failed to combat and eliminate illegal practice. So the government imposes layer upon layer of unenforced legislation which has thus far achieved zero, in terms of improvement of industry conduct.
It is painfully naive to believe that positive PR about good agents will do anything to change public opinion on its own.
There is only one way this will ever change
For all these reasons, and having listened to every conceivable view, and accepting that Government legislation does nothing to help, there remains only one option: self-regulation, or in plain language, the naming, shaming and ousting of the rogues.
Only by the industry being seen to take positive action against all illegal operators is there any chance whatsoever of the public ever changing its view and starting to trust the industry.
Only by forcing the rogues out into the open, by allowing the public to know for sure that they are dealing with an agent they can at least trust to comply with basic laws, and only by giving the public the tools to confidently avoid the pitfalls of amateur, bucket-shop agency will we have a chance of turning our reputation around.
CIELA is building a free online compliance check for all
For that reason, in co-operation with the relevant organisations such as HMRC, Companies House, the ICO (Information Commissioners Office) and Redress Schemes, CIELA is now developing a free online facility that will allow anyone, agent or public, to instantly check the legality of any agency operation. The launch will be phased, allowing all agents the chance to confirm and prove their compliance (at no cost) before any lists are published.
We will publish a comprehensive public register of all known legal operators, as well as listing suspected illegal operators, once they have been confidentially notified and given a chance to rectify any compliance shortfalls.
In the course of researching the various approaches and methods of implementation, it became apparent that CIELA will be able to establish the legality of almost all agents’ operations even without their direct cooperation, (in the case of incorporated companies, but not yet sole traders). This means that the launch of this facility will happen regardless of any opposition. As yet, we have not heard a single reason why this is not in the interests of the industry as a whole and the public.
That’s not all we’re doing – and it’s now time to join us
It is by no means the only objective CIELA has, but it is the best place to start. We will also continue to act when we see or hear of major instances of industry-damaging and illegal behaviour, in the absence of anyone else doing so.
CIELA does not ever see itself as a regulator, but as the facilitator of self-regulation.
We continue to invite independent agents to join CIELA as a fully paid up member to support our efforts and accelerate our progress in our mission to change public opinion. If you have not yet done so, please join us here.