Like many other seasoned property professional’s I am sure, I have been reading with great interest about the rebranding and re-launch of NFoPP as “Propertymark” at the NAEA conference of last week. If you were not aware of this or did not attend, let me pass on some quotes that I have unashamedly “lifted” from the reporting of this lavish event by Property Industry Eyes’ Rosalind Renshaw;

“Propertymark will be a new stamp of approval which will alter the emphasis from industry facing licensing to consumer protection”

“Having listened to our members, and given the significant challenges the industry is facing, it is clear, now more than ever before, the public needs a far better understanding of how to choose a property agent that has the consumers’ interests at heart”

David Cox, ARLA “Propertymark” chief executive, and Mark Hayward, NAEA Propertymark chief executive, said: “Having a home is the most important issue for consumers, and our members are there to protect and guide people with their property transactions. At present, customers don’t know where to go for advice or can’t be sure if they are dealing with a professional – so we are changing this”.

“Propertymark” Protected agents have opted for regulation in an unregulated sector, and provide reassurance for consumers as well as protection against rogue operators”.

Now I should confess that I was not present myself, but I must admit to feeling a touch of scepticism in reading about the NAEA & ARLA’s intentions to rebrand? I really have no desire to sound unduly negative, as it is hard to argue that NFoPP has little visibility amongst the public – so to this end a rebranding exercise is necessary. But this exercise really needs to be more than window dressing and so in the spirit of an open debate, I would like you to consider the following points;

  1. Firstly, the most elementary question of all, should be – what is the NAEA for?

Clearly, I have been on a different planet for the past 30 + years, as I was under the distinct impression that the NAEA was created to a) represent its estate agency members, and b) seek to maintain professional standards within the industry by offering training and support to its members.

Well, I would argue that on the one hand the industry has suffered from a serious lack of overall leadership in recent years, particularly with the onslaught of internet entrants to the market. Although, on the other, both ARLA and the NAEA have continued to support their members with their longstanding commitment to staff training. However, in my humble view both bodies have been very short sighted in never (as far as I am aware) extending their support remit by offering both guidance and general advice to self- employed agency owners who are in need.

I make this point, as for those of you that don’t know, my colleagues and I are both business consultants and brokers (as well as ex estate agents), and on our collective travels around the country we have on occasion witnessed great hardship and personal financial difficulty amongst potential clients who have called us in.

Now whilst I cannot deny that a degree of this “hardship” has been self- inflicted in part, increased competition, changing trading practices and government legislation have left this significant minority ill equipped to cope. Moreover, in our experience NPoPP (even by its own curiously low key standards) has been conspicuously absent in advising/assisting its membership in moments of need or practical difficulty.

Also, in the wider scheme of things, up until this last conference – were any of you aware of where your professional body stood on the hotly debated issues of today, currently being contested with great guile and vigour (and by many NPoPP members no doubt) in the industry press? Well if you weren’t aware, you are not alone. So, my question is, does a professional body such as “Propertymark” still have relevance? Or as the industry fractures into independents, corporates, hybrids, and low cost internet operators, dare I suggest that they each have their own professional body or professional code of conduct?

  1. As a “card carrying” member of the public myself, I have absolutely no problem at all with the public being able to get advice on property matters from a central professional body (in addition to their solicitor, The Citizens Advice Bureau, Consumer Magazines etc)– but isn’t that what the Property Ombudsman’s Office should be for? So, that bodies such as “Propertymark” can stop appearing to act in the best interests of everyone (an impossible task of course), and focus on what it was set up to do, which is to act in the best interests of its members.
  2. If it really is the case that “Propertymark” are now to become more consumer focused, then doesn’t this leave a vacancy for a new professional body or bodies to represent the interests of estate agents up and down this land of ours? So, step up the Charter for Independent Estate and Letting Agents (www.ceila.co.uk) or indeed anybody else for that matter to represent their own sector of the industry?
  3. If by rebranding as “Propertymark” the NAEA and ARLA think that they have for the moment at least “staved off” the prospect of licensing in favour of this half way house, I can’t help but feel that they are being incredibly naïve. As I suspect that this move will indeed prove to be the first step in introducing government licensing “through the back door”. In which case, Mark Hayward and David Cox should just be a little more grown up and honest about the government’s motives in this area.

As I have stated earlier in this article, I have no wish to sound negative, but it is an inconvenient truth that governing bodies (just like their membership) should modernise in order to stay relevant to the trading world as it is today, and I truly hope that “Propertymark” is a promising first step in the right direction. But NPoPP (and the NAEA/ARLA before them) are coming a little late to the party, and in my eyes at least have some ground to make up in terms of credibility when talking big about being progressive.

Lastly, all professional estate agents know that you can only act for one side in a transaction – so the irony of having a governing body for estate agents that appears (from the outside at least) to be falling into the trap of being all things to all people, and who seem to have lost touch with who it is acting for, is not lost on me – please believe me!