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Over the next five years, let’s talk - but not to ourselves

So, a sigh of relief. 

Most agents will be pleased with the election result - even if they are not Tory supporters personally - because stability is likely to see a surge in homes on sale over the rest of the spring and summer, and because there will be no radical overhaul of the lettings sector.

Yet although the Conservatives are in power, it’s a very slim majority indeed. 

When the immediate post-election euphoria wears off, people will realise that there may be a struggle to last five years in office.

So although unwanted reform of the lettings sector and a mansion tax are off the agenda for now, it would be foolish to think the battle is won forever. 

And if there is a lesson to learn from the past few months, it is surely that the agency industry needs to talk more - but to the general public, and not just itself and MPs.

I say this because there have been endless papers on mansion tax, numerous lobbies of parliament about the side effects of rent controls, many learned treatises on the difficulties caused by planning restrictions, and countless dire warnings about the problems that may be caused by three-year tenancies.

But the problem is that most of these lobbies, documents and seminars have been conducted by the industry and for the industry - what’s been missing is one key thing: any attempt by the industry to convince the public.

At a series of conferences, award ceremonies and annual meetings of industry bodies in recent months, there’s been speech after speech berating politicians’ policies.

And during last autumn’s party political conference season you could hardly move for lobbyists from the residential sector trying to schmooze MPs with receptions and briefings. 

Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are necessary. But they’re not enough. 

With an election around the corner, as soon as those MPs left their party conferences and got to their weekly surgeries back in their constituencies, what happened? 

That’s right. They were assaulted with various comments from voters complaining about lazy landlords, fee-charging letting agents, rich land-banking developers, or the simple fact that house prices are just too bloody high. 

And because that was a pre-election period, and because those complaints came from voters, the MPs sat up and took notice. 

Little wonder, then, that a plethora of policies were introduced in the build up to the election which raised eyebrows, and shackles, in the agency industry.

But those MPs were simply being logical. 

They were hearing of apparent problems and consequently introduced policies which (in their eyes) would ‘solve’ those problems, and win them some votes in the process. That is despite the fact that a ‘suit’ from our industry may well have spent an hour lobbying the same MP against that very same policy at the party conference a few months earlier.

So where do we go from here?

The answer, I believe, is for the groups and associations that have spent so much time and energy telling others within the industry about the problem with some politicians’ policies, to instead dedicate as much effort and commitment to informing the public.

Why not set up public meetings? How about taking out online and TV advertisements? Will agents stand in shopping centres on Saturday mornings and talk to the people?

The benefits of a consumer-facing campaign would be immense.

After all, if a layperson unconnected with the industry goes into an MP’s surgery and argues against rent controls, wouldn’t that be more effective than a dozen receptions and briefing documents from landlords’ and letting agents’ associations? 

The answer is yes, because that layperson can vote for the MP in question. And the MP knows that.

So we can sit back for a few days and relax in the knowledge that unwanted reform is not on the way.

But next time we want to complain about politicians, remember that we should let the public know and get them on side.

It’s time to stop talking just to ourselves.

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

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