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Eel Fishing and Swine Herding

Monday June 13, 2022

After a hard day at the house face, I like to spend twenty minutes watching the evening news. Well, you can’t be happy all the time, can you? So, I need a TV license. Fair enough. The Solutions Architect and Change Management Lead at the BBC are not going to pay themselves.

Having become thoroughly glum at the state of the world I might decide to take up eel fishing as a little mindful relaxation. But in order to do so, I need a licence. OK, sticking with a rural theme I could learn to herd pigs. The fresh country air, snuffling snouts and a bad joke about bringing home the bacon. No, don’t tell me. I would need a licence.

I would also need a licence to tattoo people, train a racehorse or play background music in our family restaurant. It seems, as a nation, we are somewhat licence happy? With one glaring exception involving the largest single purchase most of us will make in our lifetime. Buying a house.

Last year around a million dwellings were sold with a value of around £300 billion, which equates to the GDP of Pakistan. And a licence is not required for the agency administering these transactions. It would appear pigs and eels have more protection.

This is not to say the estate agency sector is the Wild West. The vast majority of agencies self-regulate by joining a professional association, in our case, Propertymark. This provides guides, templates and documents to help us comply with current legislation. It requires that our staffs all hold relevant qualifications and conduct continuous professional development.

We do this because we aim to offer the best professional service to home buyers and home vendors, which is a no-brainer for business success. But it is our choice to do so. If we had a different business model, we could simply save ourselves the aggravation and make it up as we go along.

Which is precisely what a small minority of agents are currently doing. In the words of pioneering computer scientist Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, “the most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way’”. Yet there is nothing to stop an estate agent operating on rules they invented in nineteen-canteen. Or a week last Thursday.

Existing law is the Estate Agents Act 1979. Yes, the primary legislation in place to protect the biggest financial commitment for most people was written when Gloria Gaynor announced “I will survive”. If my limited experience of karaoke is anything to go by, Gloria is having more of an impact on our wellbeing than this fairly toothless act.

The estate agency sector is in dire need of regulation to remove the worst elements from the mix. This has been on the agenda of successive governments going back as far as I can remember. With our associates at Propertymark we will continue to lobby for regulation. Meanwhile my advice to buyers and vendors is twofold. Pick an agency that is a member of a professional association. And don’t herd pigs on your way to the eel fishing. They can nick you for it.

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