The legal status of lettings agents is to be debated in Parliament, after Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town put forward a motion to have letting agents classified under the law as estate agents and so bound by the same quality control and trading standards rules and regulations including the Estate Agents Act 1979.
This sounds like a good idea on the face of it, but for the fact that the OFT recently concluded a study on the UK housing industry and suggested that letting agents should be freed of "red tape" in order to increase choice and competition in the field by encouraging new business models such as passive online agents.
Hayter wants to tighten up the Estate Agents Act 1979 by having letting and managing agents treated as estate agents under the law, meaning they would have to join an ombudsman and be regulated by the OFT. It makes sense in one way: currently if an estate agent acts wrongly it can be banned by the OFT from practising as an estate agent, but allowed to continue acting as a lettings agent. If Hayter gets her way they would be banned from both sides.
Unfortunately it seems that both parties in this debate are equally correct; maybe lettings agents should be regulated by law, but the industry does need more competition and new business models would certainly help, just as online estate agents helped with home selling. Let us hope the combined wisdom and intelligence of the UK Parliament can find some workable middle ground in this debate.
- Wednesday 16 January 2013