Last week the shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook tabled an opportunistic amendment to the government’s Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill. This would require the government to closely regulate all estate agents selling leasehold properties or properties carrying management or service charges (in essence flats, or houses on managed estates).
There is a lot that is wrong with this idea. It derives from a 2019 report by a committee chaired by the crossbench peer and social housing campaigner Lord Richard Best. Featuring among its demands were a proposed licensing regime of enormous complexity more appropriate to lawyers or doctors and a dedicated governmental regulator. The committee also recommended multi-tier rules and codes, the considerable expense of which would be borne by, and hence added indirectly to the fees of, estate agents everywhere – with doubtful benefits to their customers.
But one element particularly stands out in this bureaucrat’s blueprint. Following Lord Best, Pennycook wants to prohibit anyone from working as an estate agent without at least one A-level, or managing an agency unless qualified to degree level. Even existing practitioners would not escape: unless qualified, back to night school or university they need to go, or leave the profession. This needs to set us thinking seriously.
We can start with the obvious. This idea is so eye-poppingly silly, and the arguments against it so obvious, that it is hard to understand anyone putting it forward with a straight face.
Left school without A-levels, interested in property and want to learn on the job? Sorry, not allowed: you’re unqualified. But if you scraped an E in Art or Physical Education on the retake? That makes all the difference: welcome aboard the real estate gravy train.