Warning for agents: don’t be lulled into complacency by delayed regulations

Even if the coronavirus pandemic significantly delays long-expected regulations of estate and letting agencies, the industry should continue to prepare for them.

The regulation in question – known as Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) – was intended to be introduced within two years of the RoPA Report being published last summer.

Due to the current focus on tackling Covid-19, RoPA has likely dropped down Parliament’s list of priorities. It could therefore take much longer than anticipated to be implemented – but according to automated payments service PayProp, agencies should not slip into a false sense of security.

Regulation likely to be delayed

The RoPA report, published in the summer of 2019, includes recommendations for the creation of a new independent regulator, licensing for all agents, a new code of practice and mandatory qualifications.

In early March, the Chair of the RoPA Working Group, Lord Richard Best, confirmed that the measures were awaiting ministerial approval. He also told the BBC that ministers needed to get their heads around the proposals and ‘get on with it’.

Since Lord Best’s remarks, the coronavirus pandemic has worsened, resulting in a nationwide lockdown. The government has subsequently focused on introducing a range of emergency property market measures, including mortgage payment holidays and an extension to the notice period for evictions.

“It’s understandable that politicians and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have been prioritising the fight against coronavirus. This means, however, that measures like RoPA are likely to be significantly delayed,” says Neil Cobbold, Chief Sales Officer at PayProp.

“Still, we mustn’t think it will go away.”

Transparency will be key in post-virus market

As the industry prepares to resume full operations following the government’s first step towards reducing lockdown measures and reopening the market, building trust with consumers through higher standards will take on even greater importance, Cobbold says.

“Even if regulation and qualifications are not made mandatory for a few more years, the industry could still benefit by championing transparency and education voluntarily. Landlords and tenants will want to know that agencies are operating safely and following government advice,” he says.

“As the market moves into a new era and the pent-up lockdown demand is released, competition for business will be high. During this time, being transparent and communicating effectively will help agencies to stand out as the first choice for consumers.”

“Consumers are likely to remember the way agents have responded to the crisis for a long time and those that have acted to the highest professional standards will be best-placed to succeed,” adds Cobbold.

Why should agents continue to prepare for regulation?

Although the RoPA measures look likely to be delayed for the foreseeable future, many agencies will already have started working towards meeting mandatory qualifications.

“It would be a waste of time and resources to throw away any work that has already been carried out,” Cobbold explains.

“Well-trained employees and high professional standards are only going to improve an agency’s quality of service and reputation with consumers.”

“In the post-lockdown market, consumers will increasingly be looking to work with professional, respected agencies with the right qualifications as these firms are more likely to have the necessary safety precautions and social distancing measures in place,” he says.

“Agencies that continue to work towards meeting the RoPA requirements will therefore be able to increase their appeal during a time when trust and perception will be more important than ever.”

Cobbold adds that spreading preparations over the next few years will make for a more seamless transition for agencies when the RoPA measures finally come into force.