The way to drive up standards is to work together, says Property Ombudsman
And he adds that while a formal regulatory regime or new legislation may seem desirable, his experience shows such measures are not necessarily needed immediately to bring about better performance. However, if the market is opened up to new ways of selling houses, such as new internet services, there may be a need for fundamental change much sooner.
'The OFT wants the industry itself to drive improvement. Whilst that may be seen by some as impossible without some form of government intervention I would point to the impact the TPO Code of Practice has made over the past 20 years in driving up standards amongst sales agents,' adds Mr. Hamer.
'Until the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 was implemented membership of the Ombudsman scheme was voluntary. When CEARA came into effect on October 1, 2008, more than 90 per cent of residential sales offices in the UK were members of my scheme – the majority had already signed up and agreed to adhere to the standards in the Code before it became compulsory, a positive development bringing about greater professionalism and greater consumer protection.
'The Code is easily understandable for agents and consumers alike and following it means good business practice and control at little cost to the agent.
'A formal regulatory regime would have potentially significant costs for the industry – those costs end up with the consumer and perhaps inevitably would lead to higher charges which are already often a source of dissatisfaction with those who feel that agents do not offer an acceptable service.
'Many agents I have spoken to appear to be enthusiastic about some form of licensing. Such a regime can only be seen as a good thing giving sellers and buyers confidence that the person they are dealing with is properly trained and licensed by a competent authority. Again that does not have to involve government intervention – the industry can build on what currently exists within initiatives being pursued by the National Federation of Property Professionals and the steering group for the proposed Register of Property Agents.
'I recognise that the current political environment means there is unlikely to be any wholesale change to legislation relating to home buying and selling.
'The market, though, is developing in its approach, use of technology and so on. The existing legislation for sales agents ranges from a 30 year old law (the Estate Agents Act 1979) through to a set of disparate regulations about various aspects of an agent's business and operation. I would support and encourage a review of how relevant these laws are to today's marketplace and to consumer expectations and protection.
'Whilst the industry can be encouraged to ever greater improvements, the relevant authorities should focus on those firms who display less support for improvement during the period any review of the legislation is taking place.
'That can be achieved partly by greater use of information which is available about firms' performance. Subject to legal restrictions, I support bodies such as ourselves passing information to Trading Standards or OFT about firms who act in a way which is clearly detrimental to consumers so that a proper decision can be made on whether those firms should continue in business.
'What is needed is a concerted and consistent approach by all concerned in the property sector.'