In Conversation with… Ian Potter

Ian Potter

Image: Ian Potter

There’s a plethora of leading figures in the property, investment, finance and charity sectors who we’re regularly in conversation with, many of whom are guest authors for PRSupdate – and here we share more about them, their roles, priorities and backgrounds. If you would like to feature in this series, or to suggest someone who might, please get in touch through our contact us page or let us know on twitter.

Why not take a lucky dip into our In Conversation archives and discover:

Today we speak with Ian Potter, Managing Director of ARLA:

Can you tell us a little about your background? 

I started working life working in Scotland for the banking sector where I became a branch manager at the age of 24. I worked my way up the ladder carrying out a variety of functions and roles before deciding, in the mid-1980’s, that I wanted a career change. During my time in banking I worked for a short while as a mortgage underwriter where I got an appetite for property related matters.

I spent 3 years working in financial services before joining a letting agency in Glasgow where I had the responsibility for the accounting function for both businesses and clients. After 11 years, and having worked my way up to partner level, I decided it was time to move and so I spent 6 years working with a corporate letting agency before acquiring a full time position at ARLA in 2006.

I got involved with ARLA as the founding chairman of the Scottish branch and then as a member of the National Council. Currently I am responsible for Finance and the Client Accounting compliance of our members. 

In one sentence, could you sum up your role at ARLA?

As MD I have a mixed role, part of it is external facing but my prime responsibility is ensuring the development and growth of the membership as well as the business.

What advice does ARLA provide to help tenants avoid rogue agencies & landlords? 

ARLA produces press releases on the pitfalls of using an unregulated agent and the benefits provided by the client money protection scheme and Ombudsman membership. We also provide general tips about how tenants can protect themselves with Gas Safety etc.  It is a difficult message to engage consumers with when there is such a shortfall of property supply in many parts of the country and people are willing to compromise to get into a property.

However we do believe that education of the consumer is of paramount importance so that they can protect themselves and their money. Generally speaking the lower the fees the greater the risk. We have evidence to show that the really cheap service is where both landlords and tenants are at risk.

What changes have you seen within London’s Private Rented Sector since the credit crunch/financial crisis?

At the time of the crunch rents stopped rising as the city slowed down on recruiting and there was a reasonable balance of supply and demand. However, now that there is movement in the corporate market, and London property is seen as an investment for wealthy citizens of other countries, the property market is coming under pressure. This, coupled with the lack of social housing and the capping of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) tenants, means people are really struggling to find a good safe home.

The sales market has also been hugely impacted with the inability of many to raise mortgage finance, whether for a first time buy or to move to a bigger family home. Much has been said and written about the first time buyer but there are probably even bigger problems for young families looking to move into something bigger.

What is the biggest problem facing the Private Rented Sector at the moment?

Reputation is one of the big problems facing the sector. Many agents and landlords are failing to treat people correctly and this has a knock on effect on those agents that operate correctly. Bad experiences and press coverage makes it very difficult for people to consider the PRS as a tenure of choice. All of this goes hand in hand with a lack of stock at affordable prices for the average tenant.

How do you believe standards can be improved within the Private Rented Sector?

Local authorities have a huge role to play within this sphere. It was interesting to note recently that a local authority decided additional licensing was not the answer, but to use the existing powers to deal with the problem cases. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is vastly underused to deal with issues around property standards.

Complaints are made, tenants leave and a new tenant is put in without anything being done to improve the property and yet the state continues to subsidise the property and the landlord by paying benefits in many cases. 

Unjustifiable practices around fees which are charged where an applicant does not get the property could be dealt with by Local Trading Standards.

What are your thoughts on the recommendations laid out by the Montague Report?

They are wonderful in theory but in most cases I am not sure they can be delivered.

What steps should the government be taking to improve the supply within the London Private Rented Sector?

Encouraging the local authorities to release land for building. A local authority/private partnership could be the answer with local authorities looking at using their own pension funds to finance the development of the land in their ownership instead of expecting institutions to do it all for them.

What would you say is your most memorable moment or proudest achievement?

There are a lot of things that have made me very proud, becoming a father, then a grandfather, getting my current job – which I did not anticipate – but I would have to say that the two peer recognitions I have received during the years. I have been Elected to the College of Fellows within the Association and have also been awarded a Fellowship of RICS, both of which are achieved by on an election process.

Finally, do you have a favourite London landmark? 

 The London Eye as it provides a stunning view across London. I always spot somewhere I had not noticed on a previous visit reminding me what a magical city, with huge opportunities and challenges for all, it is.

 

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