Agents have reasons to be cheerful – ARLA Propertymark conference round-up
While the Tenant Fee Ban and GDPR – which could mean lettings agents losing their contact databases – were big news at ARLA’s conference earlier this month, visitors were also encouraged to be positive.
Former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King said the industry shouldn’t be so downbeat – and gave five reasons why they should be cheerful. He told delegates that
- population growth
- demographic changes
- supply being constrained
- and a cultural change to renting –
all mean that agents will need to be around for a long time.
He added that a letting agent’s main service is to obtain good tenants for their landlords – so their service should be directed towards tenants.
ARLA Propertymark chief executive David Cox urged members to remind their MPs to keep up with the Draft Tenant Fees Bill as it moves through Parliament, at last week’s annual conference.
He said the ban was coming whether anyone likes it or not by in April 2019, but members must help oppose those who want to make it stricter.
He said: “It remains vital that each and every MP understands the implications, issues and unintended consequences of this ban.”
He added that ARLA Propertymark had already secured some concessions in the legislation such as allowing change of sharer fees and holding deposits.
He also said he was pleased MPs were taking time to reflect and hoped that when changes do come in, they take note of ARLA’s recommendations.
Three new tools to help members navigate upcoming changes in the sector were unveiled at the prestigious event, which was held at ExCel London, on Tuesday 17 April, and saw hundreds of letting agents and property professionals come together.
President Sally Lawson said ARLA will launch a tenancy builder to let members create tenancy agreements online, as well as a licensing database and an employment helpline. She encouraged agents to embrace technology to increase the efficiency of their operations.
She said: “We have all got to change our businesses. We have to change the way we market, recruit, and deal with lettings and software. We have a lot of work on our hands.
“We need to clarify what we do for our money to our customers and make compliance our number one focus.”
Meanwhile, Anne Frost, lead for the private rented sector policy at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said the Government still needs to respond to the recent select committee report on the Draft Tenant Fees Bill before it is introduced in Parliament, debated by the House of Commons and the Lords and receives Royal Assent.
She said: “Our aim is to introduce the ban early next year. We are currently saying not before April 2019, but will keep people informed. There is still quite a long process to go through before we are there.”
Housing minister Heather Wheeler MP told delegates that the Government’s response to recommendations from MPs on the Communities and Local Government committee “will be happening quickly in parliamentary terms.”
She also told the conference that the Government would review the working of its blacklist of rogue landlords after 12 months and could then consider making it public.
She said this would require primary legislation, for which there was little time in the Parliamentary timetable because of Brexit.
The minister blundered however, when she recommended that agents check out the new rogue landlord database, as it is only available to Local Authorities.
In a panel discussion, Katrine Sporle made it clear that The Property Ombudsman would be taking complaints from tenants, despite the fact that after the fee ban they will not, legally, be their clients.
She said: “Complaints are rising. They are not going down. I’m not going out looking for complaints – they are rising because the size of the market is rising and people are more savvy. They expect a better service.
“Any agent who thinks you don’t have a duty of care to your tenant and therefore a tenant won’t complain under the ban, we won’t go there with you. We will be taking complaints from tenants.”
A different view was offered by RLA’s Douglas Haig (Residential Landlords Association) however, who told the audience that their clients were landlords, and they needed to think of tenants as their client’s clients.
He told conference-goers the relationship between landlords, agents and tenants needed to be rebalanced – and suggested agents ask landlords what they think agents should do to replace tenant fees.
Former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, was also at the conference. He revealed that the government is far more disorganised than we imagine.
He argued that The Press have far more influence than they should, pointing out that immigration policy was partly formed in response to the media calls for something to be ‘done’, whereas they are now complaining about the effect of this on the Windrush children.
He had a mixed reaction from the audience, but got approval for saying the he would not welcome a Corbyn government – and adding that both the Conservatives and Labour main were backwards-looking when it came to property and housing.
Richard Truman, Head of Operations at Maras, said: “The ARLA conference was a mixed bag of industry concerns and positive messages about change and potential for growth.
“It was great to hear so much from government-insiders about what’s happening next on some key issues, and from ARLA Propertymark about their lobbying work.
“Agents are clearly adapting to changes within the industry – and building their businesses to weather change.”