Fixing our broken housing market

Propertymark: Are we finally breaking the code? – view from Sean Hooker

Acronyms. As we all know, the property industry is riddled with these minefields. In my mind, our industry suffered as a consequence. The main offenders are, in most cases, the professional organisations and associations. This has, in my view, led to the impression the property industry lacks an understanding that they need to speak the language of the people they represent.

Alphabet Spaghetti

I always remember the famous Two Ronnies sketch on how to learn Swedish where the entire subtitles consisted of single letters that somehow formed a meaningful sentence in a heavily stilled Scandinavian accent! The humour of Ronnie C ordering a meal with F U N E M N X is still a classic but it illustrates the constant frustration of acronyms and initials especially when these are used in organisations.

As soon as an organisation sets up to try and deliver standards or accreditation, some bright spark gets to work to come up with a catchy initialism. This inevitably turns out to be an acronym or worse still, form a new word that they vainly hope will be accepted by future editions of the Oxford English Dictionary (or should I say the O.E.D).

Unfair? Let’s look at the evidence. When I first came over to the lettings industry (admittedly from the insurance sector – no angels themselves when it comes to this habit), I was confronted with a string of initials representing a whole host of bodies, organisations and groups. All of them were eager to include in their nomenclature what they did but in order to avoid long unwieldy names they all initialised them down to a handful of letters.

OMG! The problem was that it all became totally confusing. Everyone wanted certain keywords in their name, then obviously said letters were needed in the acronym. So when I worked in Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP), one approved scheme took on the letters DPS, one TDS and we had TDSL, ‘T’ could mean Tenant or The, the ‘D’ Dispute or Deposit and god knows what the ‘L’ stood for in my company! It got worse! I had to negotiate the difference between the NLA and NALS, and that was before TPO and NFOPP pushed me right over the edge.

Towards a Simpler Property Industry?

It was around about this time that they corporately decided to rebrand as mydeposits. A stroke of genius as it can’t be initialised and as Ronson Paints claim, “it does what it says on the tin”.  We were joined in the name game by SafeAgent, an umbrella brand for all the Agents who have client money protection (CMP).  OK, now we can say that the property industry supports CMP but as far as the consumer is concerned they just want to understand the choices and to make an informed decision.

Now I suppose this may seem bleeding obvious and other parts of the industry should have learned the lesson, but old habits die hard. After much brainstorming, we at the PRS plumbed for an acronym ourselves, albeit one that resonates with the sector. It is important to find a name that conveys a message that is clear to the public and is easily recognised and short of euphemisms and Orwellian doublespeak. Establishing a brand that achieves these objectives is a tough gig. Get it wrong and you have an uphill battle. For example, my original suggestion, ‘The Property Referee’ firmly got the red card by the team!

It is clear that the property industry wants clarity and direction. As well as confidence in the people who ensure that it operates to the highest standards and professionalism. The component parts are there and it would not be a huge step to bring it all together and present a united front.

The Launch of Propertymark

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to be invited to attend an event on the 24th floor of the Shard in London by ARLA and NAEA for a big announcement. In the presence of practically every key organisation in the sector, the two autonomous but linked organisations announced that they would be operating under a single unified name Propertymark. At last a recognition that what may (or often not) makes sense to us as professionals, does not extend into the public realm to convey the messages we intend.

This initiative is an attempt to do this and establish the concept of protection and assurance in the public consciousness. There is, however, a long way to go for the project and it faces challenges. To start with the organisations will, for the time being, remain separate organisations with their own structures and governance, they will continue their loose confederation but now under a single umbrella that they can both promote. Ultimately, however, they will need to consider what structure they want to adopt and what works for their agents and their customers.

They also need to remember that they are only part of the sector and that other organisations exist with the same ethos and objectives as them. They do not and will not have a monopoly and as many successful agents can testify and demonstrate by example, you can run a professional and consumer safe business without being part of a trade body. The appetite and prospects for a single regulator or body are not there at the moment and the market thrives on choice and competition.

Ultimately, this move must be applauded and in an era where the property industry is faced with more and more scrutiny and compliance. This is a welcome transitional move to raise standards, quality and professionalism.

Still, as the Bard said, “What’s in a name?” Will it be a tale of star-crossed lovers or a tragedy of unrequited love in a fractious and feuding world? Only time will tell!

 

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