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For a while now the government has talked about its desire to reform and improve the home buying and selling process in the UK, and it recently announced measures to ‘professionalise’ house buying and the estate agency business as a whole.
In a statement released on Sunday April 8, a number of proposals on how to improve and regulate the industry were put forward.
This included plans to crack down on gazumping and sales falling through, as well as strengthening enforcement to root out rogue agents.
What are the new measures?
Sales and letting agents will be required to hold a professional qualification and be transparent about the fees they get for referring clients to solicitors, surveyors and mortgage brokers. The government will also set a timeline for local authority searches to allow buyers to secure the information they need within 10 days.
What’s more, guides will be published on ‘How to Buy’ and ‘How to Sell’ to make sure consumers are more aware of the process and have a better understanding of the questions they should be asking.
The government will also work closely with consumer groups and the industry to create ‘a consistent set of performance metrics for conveyancers’. This, in turn, will enable customers to make a more informed choice when it comes to the legal side of the buying or selling process.
Furthermore, the government will encourage the use of voluntary reservation agreements, designed to stop sales falling through and limit the unpopular and controversial practice of gazumping. And it will also seek to strengthen the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team to enable them to carry out a higher level of enforcement activity, including the banning of rogue agents.
How many agents will be affected?
Well, the government predicts that there are currently around 20,000 estate agent businesses operating in the UK, with anyone – regardless of qualifications or experience – able to practice.
The government says its proposals will change that, professionalising the sector, upping standards and creating a ‘more trustworthy and reliable’ industry who will be held accountable in a far better and more thorough manner.
More than one million homes are bought and sold in England each year, according to government data, with delays and complications during the process causing undue financial and emotional stress to customers. The uncertainty this causes can then, understandably, lead to hesitancy, confusion and delayed decisions – a big part of the reason why approximately a quarter of house sales fall through every year.
House sales falling through is bad news for everyone – the industry, the economy, buyers, sellers, agents, etc – and 25% is certainly a worryingly high number. The government is therefore keen to rectify this and make the whole process less stressful for all involved.
Recent research by the government shows how important reducing the hassle involved with a house sale is. With over six out of 10 buyers and sellers complaining of stress during the home buying and selling process, the need is there to find solutions.
What’s more, a quarter of sellers said they would use a different estate agent if they were to go through the selling process again, which suggests that certain agents are not living up to the standards that consumers demand.
Professionalising the industry across the board will help to drastically limit the number of rogue operators and root out those offering sub-standard service, while requiring every agent to have qualifications will give customers the confidence that they are dealing with someone who knows what they are doing and with the experience and credentials to back this up.
A positive reaction
While the majority of agents already offer a thoroughly professional and reliable service, there is clearly dissatisfaction with elements of the house buying and selling process. And, as with any industry, there is always room for improvement.
As such, the government’s measures were positively welcomed by agents and property professionals. Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA Propertymark, welcomed the commitment to further regulation, while others talked about how the industry had needed sharpening up for a long time.
Paula Higgins, chief executive of the HomeOwners Alliance, said of the proposals to professionalise the sector: “Estate agents play a vital role in the sale and purchase of one of the biggest assets we’re ever likely to own yet for too long they’ve had no prescriptive rule by which to operate. This announcement will give homeowners and buyers greater assurances when getting involved in the buying and selling process.”
The conveyancing industry, too, backed the government’s reforms of the home buying and selling process.
The announcements to professionalise and regulate the estate agency sector followed hot on the heels of proposed changes to the lettings sector, with a mandatory code of practice and the implementation of a nationally-recognised qualification.
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