Would you entrust your health to a doctor that was not qualified? Or the writing of your Will to someone that just yesterday was driving a truck for a living?

The Office of Fair Trading have just unveiled their latest report on the estate agency industry, some six years after their last probe.

The crux of their findings is that they believe that the industry should not be regulated by way of licensing or compulsory qualification.

This is in rather stark contrast to their standpoint on loans, investments and the like and somewhat surprising given that property transactions involve large sums of money and therefore court the temptation of impropriety. Indeed the OFT strap line is ‘Making Markets Work Well For Consumers’.

Aside from scrutinising the dodgy dealings which go on in estate agency offices across the UK, there is a compelling reason to introduce a form of licensing or qualification to those wishing to carry out estate agency work. That reason is one of ignorance.

When an industry allows it’s own to flip between being say, a builder or a car salesman one day and an estate agent the next, without any entry qualifications or oversight at all, no wonder the result is often an ignorance of the rules and appropriate procedures that form a legal background to property selling.

There is a trickle of legislation in place to ‘protect’ the house buyer and seller. The Property Misdescriptions Act (1991) and the Estate Agents Act (1979) are the main statutes. However it is a fact that many of those working in the industry have not a clue as to the difference between a ‘prescribed matter’ and a ‘connected person’.  The relatively recent Money Laundering Regulations and the provisions within the Housing Act (2004), in so far as Home Information Pack necessity, are also matters of utter bewilderment to the average sales negotiator. Even the largest of corporate estate agency entities have recently been caught out for misunderstanding the rules on HIPs.

Can it really be right to entrust transactions totalling billions of pounds to these thousands of people that know little or nothing about the laws that supposedly exist to keep the consumer protected from wrong doing? Or is it just a case of an OFT that either does not understand the gravity of such inadequacies or indeed, would rather not commit its resources to tackling the problem?

No matter what the OFT say, estate agents need to be subject to at least a basic entry level qualification. This should lead to a licence as the result of passing such a test and which is renewed periodically, on the same basis.

The housing market would be a more informed and more efficient place for it and the one million or so home buyers and sellers each year would be far better off.

Oh, and by the way. Just because an estate agent’s office is nestled between M and S and Starbucks in your local High Street, doesn’t mean that he is any more knowledgeable, qualified or credible than a company that is saving his clients money by being somewhere else, whose premises don’t look like a juice bar and where the rent is lower 😉

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