The Drive to Improve Professional Standards
July 17, 2012
My year as ARLA president has been among the most challenging and rewarding of my career. While touring ARLA’s 29 regions I have seen at first hand the challenges that letting agents face. In doing so it has really hit home just how critical regulation is to the future of the industry.
For example, unlike the National Association of Estate Agents, ARLA members have an imperative to meet regularly on a roundtable basis as letting agents across the country are looking to learn from each other and help to set the best standards for the industry. With our approach to membership ARLA has become the best platform by which agents are able to achieve this goal. All the member agents I have spoken to during my time as president share our ambition, including Neil and his fantastic team at Young Group. I believe that this is one of the reasons why ARLA has grown so rapidly over the past 12 months.
While I was travelling across the UK to attend ARLA’s regional meetings I discovered just how highly localised the lettings market really is and was able to witness first hand these regional differences and the challenges they created. When talking to various individuals within the industry I came across one common theme, and that was the issue of mandatory licensing. Letting agents want it but sadly it is looking like the government is unlikely to deliver anything on it in the near future.
There is such demand for robust industry representation that ARLA introduced mandatory licensing for all members to improve consumer protection. We now represent the concerns of 7,000 letting agents, making ARLA the largest organisation of its kind in the UK. ARLA’s growing membership numbers are a clear indicator that the licensing campaign is a good step forward for the industry.
This past year at ARLA has made me recall the early inspiration in my lettings career – Judienne Wood, the esteemed Lettings Director at KFH (and now a Non-Executive Director at Young Group). Judienne was chairman of ARLA for six years and has been a National Council Member since 1983.
She gave me many pieces of commercial advice, the best example of which was “never do anything for free.” Sage words that I continue to follow to this day and happily share with any young agent out there! Along with these words she impressed upon me the need for compliance within the lettings industry and how ARLA was integral to bringing this about. Compliance is critical to our businesses, so meeting as a group to discuss best practice is essential to improving the compliance process.
Judienne also informed me that, as an industry, we should keep an eye on the future generation. She was adamant that it is important to keep them inspired so as to avoid losing them to the lure of sales. One way to generate this inspiration is to make sure that they keep learning and pushing for the highest possible standards. At it’s heart this is what ARLA is striving for.
Over this past year my view of ARLA and the lettings market has been re-shaped by my role as President. In the London market, where I have always been based, I am used to selling a very distinct product to a specific audience, but over the last 10 years this market has started to change significantly. Many more tenants are now looking for long term lets with hotel style accommodation. Demand is slowly shifting towards a European model of renting.
Since my time as a lettings director at Foxtons I have observed the volatility of the middle to the top end of the market. The correlation between top end rentals and the bonuses of corporate executives is an obvious one and so, unfortunately, whenever the market goes belly up the top end of the lettings market always takes a hit.
At ARLA we are always looking to the future and during my tenure as President we have outlined the organisation’s three year strategy for marketing, member engagement, future direction and board composition. Jane Ingram, my counterpart at Savills, succeeds me as ARLA President and will forge ahead with this strategy. The organisation is in very good hands and I think we can really increase the organisation’s public profile as the sole source of regulated industry representation.
ARLA will attempt to play the key role in improving consumer understanding of the workings of the rental market. It will also continue to try to persuade the government of the need to ensure that consumers are protected through a UK-wide licensing scheme. To me it is simply inconceivable that a market which is responsible for the homes of so many of the UK’s population is entirely unregulated.
ARLA will try to ensure that consumers understand their rights, and that landlords and agents understand their responsibilities. The days of sharp practice must be put well behind us, as this new generation of consumers will not tolerate a lack of corporate transparency – a new mind-set that is being borne out by the public reaction to the banks and, most recently, the Barclays’ LIBOR scandal.
As we continue to move towards the European model of long term tenancies over purchasing there will most likely be an increase in the number of agencies entering the market as well as a continuation of the ongoing trend of sales agents switching to lettings. With all the new market entrants the industry must be compelled to maintain the high standards that the majority of current agents aspire to.
To conclude, I would ask all agents to recognise the need for a commitment to promote best practices. No one is asking you to do anything for free – Judienne, for one, would not tolerate this! – but to try to set the highest possible standards. Obtaining an ARLA membership and pushing more governmental oversight will hold long term value to all of us working in the PRS. The market and consumer has changed in the last few years and most likely it will continue to change in the future. Agents must recognise this, work hard to take advantage of the opportunities this represents and represent the industry to the best of their ability.