I am delighted to introduce as my NPP this week, Ian Potter FARLA, Operations Manager of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (known as ARLA). Here is his story.
1. Please introduce yourself. Say a bit about yourself and your company
I am the Operations Manager for The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA). ARLA has approximately 5500 letting agent members across the UK.
We endeavour to sets standards within the agency market through our members who have to have consumer protection through Client Money Protection, Independent redress through a requirement to belong to an approved Ombudsman Scheme.
Anyone wishing to join will also require to hold an appropriate relevant qualification in the industry and as such offer a Technical Award in Residential Lettings at an NVQ Level 3. I personally am a qualified agent member having spent 17 years working as an agent before becoming a full time employee, having previously been a Director of the Association from 1993.
2. How did you first become involved in property?
I first became involved in property in a previous life. I spent over 20 years working in banking and became involved in mortgage lending and indeed mortgage approvals. This gave me an interest in the market and when I decided to have a change of career an opportunity arose to work with a letting agent, principally with a remit to look after the client accounting and management accounts.
The portfolio was small with about 150 properties and within 2 years I became a partner in the business and it was developed to a portfolio of over 1000 let properties.
In 2000 I made the change from an independent agent to the corporate agent. Having a basic legal knowledge through banking I found I had a real appetite to understand the legal implications of the PRS and study the legal necessities both in Scotland where I had been based and England and Wales.
3. What do you think is your greatest achievement so far?
This is a difficult question for me, but on reflection it has probably been to give others the benefit of my knowledge and experience. This started with training of agents to enable them to achieve a pass in the ARLA exams as operated between 1997 and 2007.
I still enjoy doing some training, particularly with agents looking at their obligation for the Non-Resident landlords Tax Scheme and in meeting the Association’s Client Accounting Requirements.
I also enjoy working with other stakeholders in the Industry to help raise consumer awareness. So many landlords and tenants are having a poor experience in the sector through lack of awareness and education.
4. Do you or your company have any exciting plans for the future?
ARLA continues to lobby for effective, fair regulation of the sector to improve the consumer experience through the use of an agent where they have a route to redress should errors be made.
We introduced a licensing scheme for our agent members and will continue to expand and develop that in the future. We are also looking at how we can expand benefits of membership to encourage other agents to join us.
On a personal basis I say to anyone who will listen that I will retire in Dec 2013, however that does not mean that I am working to survive till retirement and I would really like to assist in achieving several things before I get to that point. 1) A properly regulated sector 2) The PRS being a real choice of tenure 3) Successful control over clients funds and appropriate action against those who do not do so.
5. What do you think are the greatest problems facing the private rented sector today?
The PRS faces several challenges today including getting sufficient investment from landlords. There are opportunities for both private landlords to invest as well as the Government’s hoped for Institutional Investment.
Lack of mortgage funds are currently being blamed, however that is only a side effect, in my opinion. The bigger problem is a total lack of property in the UK either to buy, sell or rent. Developers cannot get funds to build, are nervous of where a purchaser, either owner occupier or investor landlord is going to come from and thus strangling the market.
It would be terrific if a landlord with a single property or a small portfolio was to be treated as a business for tax purposes encouraging improvement in the quality of the 750,000 properties which are alleged not to meet the decent homes standard.
6. What do you think are the greatest opportunities?
The greatest opportunities today are to create a sector to be proud of, not one where people actually find all sorts of methods of denying what they do for a living.
The public generally do not have a good impression of either landlords or their agents. This gets so many tenancies off to a bad start and the situation is often not recovered. A poor experience is spread amongst many and quickly, a good experience takes longer.
There is a real lack of appreciation that tenants are customers and for an agent a landlord is also a customer. Rarely is the question asked “Would I accept that level of service myself?”
7. We have a new government. What would you like them to do for the private rented sector?
At the present point in time we have little real indication of where they are trying to take the PRS and some very mixed messages are being received.
It is clear that there is a desire to cut the budget for housing subsidy in the form of HB or LHA. That can be understood, but why then do the local authorities continue to spend millions on benefits to tenants where the landlord is not providing a safe decent home?
How can the proposal to extend the remit of the local authority under the localism agenda improve matters when the local authorities are having budgets cut and further responsibilities passed to them.
Government needs to look at the crazy situation around HMO’s with the ability of each planning authority to have their own adaption, whilst wanting the Institution Investor to support the market. On discovering that authority A has different requirements to authorities B, C, and D there is a real risk that investment will not spread across the country, and in fact they may become totally disillusioned.
8. Do you use social media (blogs, twitter, LinkedIn etc)? What place do you think it has in the future of the property industry?
I do but probably not as much as I could or should. The same can possibly be said of ARLA, although these are areas of communication that we continue to look at the best way of using.
I blog but as far as I know my identity for blogging has not been discovered. This suits me as it does allow me to try to correct some of the errors contained in blog posts, a lot are good some are downright dangerous and do nothing for the sector.
Twitter is not one of my media communication methods although I do use LinkedIn. I quite like the more controlled features which it has. It does require a bit of effort to get the contact list built up and again I need to spend more time on that. (Secret objective to get to more contacts than Peter Bolton King). I do use it though to make contact with people that I have not met or that I have had no strong working with.
9. What is the most important lesson you have learned during your time in property?
To take nothing at face value. It is a sector where many people ask advice or opinions but only give you half the story, when you dig a little deeper or speak to the other side you get a totally different perspective to the problem.
I try very hard to assist but it can come back and bite you in the future. It never fails to amaze me how many people hear what they want to hear and not actually what you said.
Part of my role for the association is to speak to the media and you quickly need to know who you can say what to and never to speak “off the record” unless you are happy for it to be quoted. I actually know of someone who uses the “off the record” comment to get the real message over!
10. What advice would you have to someone thinking of entering the property industry today?
I would advise them to take it seriously as a career. You are dealing with a clients most valuable investment in many ways.
Join a company which has a defined training programme or who will assist you in identifying an appropriate means of learning whilst working on the job. If an employer is a member of a professional organisation and attempting to achieve an acceptable set standard you are more likely to get a good foundation.
It is an interesting job working with the general public, it is a service industry and if you are a good verbal communicator as well then you are more likely to be successful. It is often a confrontational industry and again good personal communication skills will help.
It is an industry with a high turnover where many do not get through the first couple of years, but there are also many who have like me “been around a long time”
Many thanks for your thoughtful answers Ian. I too hope that the letting industry can become regulated (as should have happened years ago) as the ‘bad boys’ unfairly affect the reputation of the ‘good guys’.