In Conversation With… Susan Fitz-Gibbon
August 12, 2013
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:
- Stuart Corbyn, Chairman of Qatari Diar Delancey, East Village Operations
- Lesley-Anne Avis, National Chairman of the Association of Women in Property
- Mark Weedon, Head of Residential and UK Alternative Real Estate at IPD (Investment Property Databank)
Today we speak with Susan Fitz-Gibbon, President of ARLA.
Susan, can you tell us a little about your background?
In 1988 I founded Fitz-Gibbon after making my move into residential lettings earlier that decade. Originally I started out in commercial lettings, but felt the right opportunity was presented to me and I went to work in Central London. Since then, I’ve never looked back. Setting up Fitz-Gibbon was one of the biggest decisions I had to make and I have learnt a lot in the process. We now cover a huge area of South and South West London. As an agency, we focus exclusively on lettings to both the corporate market and Private Rented Sector (PRS).
I became a member of ARLA in 1989. I realised I had a duty to ensure I was providing the best service to my clients and ARLA helped me start off with the highest professional standards. Being a member of ARLA also provided me with opportunities to network and build the reputation of my business by association.
For those who may not know, can you briefly explain what ARLA does?
ARLA is a professional membership and regulatory body for letting agents and agencies in the UK. ARLA’s job is to make sure that consumers receive a professional and transparent service from our member agents. Lettings is an unregulated industry and there is nothing to stop unscrupulous letting agents taking advantage of both tenants and landlords. That is why ARLA has a robust licensing system in place designed to protect consumers.
All licensed ARLA member letting agents must be covered by a Client Money Protection scheme and hold professional indemnity insurance. This ensures that consumers are fully protected if things do go wrong. ARLA agents must also adhere to a strict code of conduct and we have a system in place to protect tenants if they feel an ARLA agent has not behaved appropriately.
What are the benefits, to lettings agents, of ARLA membership?
There are a number of benefits that an agent can expect to receive once they have become an ARLA member. Membership of ARLA can potentially drive footfall and sales and helps to boost the credibility of your business by providing quality assurance to prospective clients. Affiliation will also increase brand awareness and exposure for your business and the use of the ARLA logos can enhance agents’ marketing activities.
Membership of ARLA also provides access to training and networking opportunities with peer companies and other organisations. Members have access to exclusive insight, research and opinion on issues and developments relevant to the market and access to a Client Money Protection scheme, fulfilling a legal obligation.
What is the biggest challenge ARLA currently faces?
Confronting the often negative perception of the industry is one of the biggest challenges for ARLA. Changing perceptions isn’t easy, and shifting them to something that is truly reflective of the industry requires a huge amount of work. Rogue agents acting irresponsibly who take advantage of individuals and offer a sub-standard service to their clients often undermine the hard work we do.
ARLA has been pushing for regulation in the lettings industry for many years now and has been successful in getting it higher up in the political agenda. We want there to be a level of professionalism that is enforced by law, this will help weed out those who offer sub-standard services to their clients.
What steps should be taken to improve standards within the Private Rented Sector?
There are a few steps that can be taken which will improve the PRS for the better. I strongly believe that professional standards are important in improving the PRS. Professional standards should be consistently high. Ensuring this will enable agents to provide the best service they can to tenants and landlords. The best way to do this is by training and educating your staff. I believe all agents should be knowledgeable about the industry they operate in and this is why ARLA offers a range of market-leading training services to our members.
Offering routes to redress is equally as important. We are dealing with people’s homes and lives here and there needs to be structures in place so that complaints can be dealt with efficiently and effectively.
Following a set code of conduct will also help improve the PRS because it would ensure agents have to provide a certain level of service to their clients. It also allows agents to benchmark their standards and improve them when they fall short of expectation.
Finally, do you have a favourite London landmark?
The Globe is truly a wonderful place to visit and one of my favourite landmarks in London. The traditional architecture transports you back in time and the location is beautiful.
Susan will be the Featured Article contributor for next months edition of PRSupdate.