“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to go”. So said the cat to Alice in Wonderland. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s fantasy tale of literary nonsense is often used as an allegory for the real world and come 9 June many people will be asking how they came to be in a crumpled heap at the bottom of a rabbit hole or sharing a beverage at some mad tea party. We all have the freedom to choose and come this particular Thursday in June, approximately 30% of our populace will choose not to get off their posteriors and exercise their democratic right. Call me cynical (moi?), but I bet this same 30% are the most ardent of keyboard warriors when it comes to complaining about the actions of whoever is voted in by the majority of the populace. And remember, a majority is a majority, however small. It either is or it isn’t. There is no middle ground option, just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant/dead. Aside from deciding who is going to have the choice of what colour to paint the downstairs ‘ loo in 10 Downing Street, many of us now have another choice to make and that is full service or DIY. (I am not referring to services that are allegedly offered in establishments known as  gentlemen’s clubs). The choice that homeowners now have to make when selling their property is no longer to decide between a high street or non-high street agent; that particular horse bolted long ago and is probably now in a ready meal lasagne. The ongoing dilemma is whether they go for DIY approaches offered by the ‘onliners’ or whether to employ the services of a property selling professional based either in the town centre or a nearby village. The exact location in the area no longer matters as the property will be displayed in the same online portals as any DIY service. What does matter is the service provided by whoever has been chosen to sell the property. This begins with booking the valuation, how the valuation is evinced with suitable comparable evidence and continues throughout the whole sales process being brought to a successful conclusion. Said success is borne out of the service provided. Of course some people will go down the DIY route and have the desired outcome. Well done them. Many will start and will swiftly regret their choice. This is evidenced by the number of properties in the NP postcode coming from agents who are solely online and have got absolutely nowhere for their client-the vendor.

Stories frequently appear in the news of people who chose to go to Uzbekistan for their face lift/boob job. Why? Because it was cheap. They return, realise that they are bordering on appearing as Newport’s answer to the Bride of Wildenstein and book an appointment with a Harley Street based surgeon and $%£ the cost. Something that perhaps they should have done at the get go.

The availability of choice is, I believe, having a detrimental effect on those of us deemed to be traditional agents. Why? Because they are forgetting who their competition is. Agents who provide an excellent service at a reasonable fee should not feel threatened by the onliners, The latter are not the competition, other traditional agents are the competition. The competition to onliners is other onliners; let them fight to provide the cheapest service. Let me explain.

If a home owner is minded to use an agent based wholly online, then come what May (geddit?), they are going to use that type of service. Putting aside the fee, they are comparing apples with pears when comparing the service provided with that of a traditional agent based in an office in the locale. These type of vendors like the fact that they are ‘in charge’, primarily because their agent who is selling their property in Ty Canol is based in an office in Milton Keynes- an office that they will never, ever leave. All of  us have encountered said clients; they know better than the professional whom they have rung to value their property, they feell that they are best qualified to carry out viewings etc. Well let them carry on with the responsibility as there in now an outlet for their enthusiasm and it is online. What the traditional boys and girls must not do is join the race to the bottom. There are now an increasing number of agents in the NP post code who are hurtling down the side of the cliff with tag lines with the theme of “we will never be beaten on fees” or “sell your house for nothing”. At the risk of offending my fellow agents, cutting fees is the lazy way to get instructions. ‘Using’ other agents’ photos and watermarking them as your own-yes, fellow NP based agent, you know who you are-or making derogatory comments about a competitor-yes, another fellow NP based agent, you also know who you are-is not the way forward. The moral high ground is notably free of property professionals-myself  an the Candy brothers included- but we are in a results driven industry and spending more time cutting the throat of another agent than letting the service that you provide do the talking, will only have one outcome. Just ask the dormouse, the march hare or the Mad Hatter and feel free to knock the smirking cat out of the tree, particularly if he is holding a Purple Bricks sign….

Come now, John-Boy….

As dawn broke earlier this week over another bank holiday morning-if we are not careful, we will soon have another four-I awoke to Sky News reporting how the Shadow Housing Minister and MP for Wentworth and Dean, the Rt Hon John Healey MP was detailing how the next Labour government would bring about a consumer rights revolution in the private rental market. Actually, ‘detailing’ is something of an exaggeration; to use a phrase from my days in fatigues, it was rather, ‘big hand, small map’ in its narration. But as events subsequent proved, Jezza’s lot aren’t that big on detail; isn’t that right Diane? The general gist was that those in the red corner would help/assist all private rental tenants in the battle against impious, usurious landlords. Quite tight too, and not dissimilar to the pledge on private rentals and landlords made by those sitting in the blue corner not so long ago…

In a piece published in the The Huffington Post on the same day, John-Boy wrote how. “the next Labour government would call time on bad landlords”, introducing “clear, enforceable minimum standards, so that no renter has to suffer problems like unsafe wiring or appliances, problem damp and serious vermin infestations”.  As has been stated several time in our blogs, all rental properties should reach a minimum standard. That is a given. But it in’t a one-way street. What about protection for landlords who have tenants who fail to reach a minimum standard in their behaviour towards the property that they are renting? Trashing the place, Colombia-on-Severn and my particular favourite; having the heating on full blast, with all windows closed and a house full of washing, then three weeks later calling Environmental Heath to complain that their house is full of damp? Believe me Mr Healey, these type of tenants have plenty of protection under the law. If doubting this, please join me the next time that I go to court for a possession hearing under a Section 21 or Section 8 and watch the platoon of lawyers who are there to protect the rights of the tenant; invariably provided by a charity that is being funded by us, the tax-paying members of society.

To the theme tune of Citizen Smith, John-Boy announced that Labour would “empower tenants to take matters into their own hands with new consumer rights” (as a side-note, I almost felt empowered to go and buy a Che Guevara T-shirt, but then I played safe and went for the Turnbull and Asser number). The need for empowerment is because private tenants have less consumer rights than those who have bought a fridge-freezer. And there is the nub of the problem; people who have bought i.e. paid for something with hard cash, thereby under law making them the owner. Check your contract law John-Boy, particularly the paragraph with the heading ‘consideration’. The reason that I point this out is because a tenant signs a contract to say that they will pay a specified amount of rent per month to enable them to remain living in the property that they do not own. If they fail to make payment on the designated date, are their consumer rights diminished? No, they are able to continue living in accommodation that they have knowingly and deliberately not paid for. Try that in The Celtic Manor next time. Who then protects the landlord?Undoubtedly there are rogue landlords out there, just as there are career rent-dodgers and house wreckers. Of course there should be a minimum set of standards that all landlords have to meet. Equally, there should be strict measures introduced to counter the behaviour of tenants who willfully break the terms of their contract.