Who actually is the protection protecting?

Those who know me will be aware of my intense dislike for self-regulatory clubs; with the exception of Slimming World where the weekly humiliation of standing up and saying, “Hello, I’m Gareth and I’m a fat b”£$ard” does have the desired effect. Which is why the founders of  all diets clubs that have been syndicated across the globe are now lying beside their pool in their penthouse in Monte Carlo, where the size of their girth is in direct proportion to the size of their bank balance and the size of the bosom of the honey lying beside them. That said, when I succeed in returning to my usual Adonis-like self, the ladies love me even more than they did before.  The clubs that I am referring to-and I use the term, ‘club’ deliberately- are those that purport to provide some sort of protection against rogue elements of a particular industry.  Mmm.  In my profession, not one that is known for being held high in public esteem, many industry professionals use regulation and codes of conduct as a shield to rip people off in a manner that would make Derek Edward Trotter blush.

Many years ago in my father’s time, one did business on a handshake and giving your word, something that I try to follow.  There were no such things as compliance officers, regulatory forms, checkers of the regulatory forms or checkers of the checkers of the regulatory forms. This week, I have come across a case where a couple who are selling a house and have completed all such regulatory forms and their ilk have, through this process been royally taken to the cleaners in a horse and carriage by one of the corporate agents who do business in the Cwmbran area.  Having looked at their situation from valuation to instruction and now to marketing, it is blatantly apparent that aside from the aforementioned coach and horse, an entire armoured division has crashed through the Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice.  The same code that was created to protect the interests of Joe Public (and his family, estranged or otherwise).  Having shown Mr and Mrs Property Owner the pretty sticker that demonstrates that they are members of the scheme, they then proceeded to tell the hapless couple that their property is worth at least £20k more than its true value, at a fee of 2%, to then, a fortnight into the 6-month contract to tell them that they have to reduce by £20k as the price is why there has been no interest.  Nothing new there then but they keep on doing it. Why? Because they can.  Why?  Because what and where is the code of practice that is in place to check whether agents are playing by the rules?  In Wales, we now have the Housing Act (Wales) 2014, which having waded through the  blurb, means that we, as estate agents have to be “licensed” by Autumn 2015.  For starters, ‘Autumn’ is sufficiently vague to be open to all sorts of inspired interpretation.  Fear not, all those who are worried about the stipulation (a considerable bunch, on a par size-wise with those who support Lord Sewel…), we have been given until 2016 to test the scheme and if there are any complaints from the industry, there will be no fines during the trial year. Well that’s alright boys and girls, carry on as you were.  £$%* me sideways!  If you are going to bring in a rule, then bring it in and make those who need to abide by the rule aware of the consequences if they fail in their responsibility.  An agent has to apply to join and must pass the “fit and proper” test.  Mmmm x infinity. That will be entertaining.  Agents will also have to undertake local authority training but if they have passed their Landlord Accreditation Test-as Cheshire & Co did over three years ago-that will be accepted.  Everyone’s protected then: the local authority, the people who are doing the checking to see whether all the paperwork has been completed as per the guidelines and last, but most certainly not least, the agents.  The hapless soul looking to engage in a contract with the agents to use their expertise and professionalism?  Ah well, mmmm…

My advice to anyone who is thinking of selling or renting a property is to ask about as to who has a good reputation in the local community.  By that, I do not mean an agent who has sponsored a painting competition at the local primary school.  If there is an agent’s board up in your street, then ask your neighbour what they think of the service provided by the agent and would they recommend them.  Please do not just call out one agent.  We appreciate that we all are part of a beauty parade.  Finally, please people, do not believe everything that you are told, make the agent justify their advice/recommendation with hard facts.  After all, what can’t speak, can’t lie.