Tuesday I attended the main Arla Conference in London. It was a very splendid affair and was, we were told, sold out with over 1,000 delegates in attendance. They are obviously doing something right!
The Good News on CMP
There were two excellent headline speakers, but perhaps the best thing was the news that came in the afternoon. Last year Brandon Lewis had made it clear that Client Money Protection was not going to become mandatory. This year, however, the welcome news was that it IS going to be mandatory.
I know that David Cox and the ARLA team have campaigned for this for a long time, so it must have been very gratifying for David to be able to make the announcement in the afternoon.
As Baroness Hayter pointed out during the morning debate – this is politics. People change their ground if a good enough case is made out. Nothing is really set in stone.
Apart from Brexit of course. Both the headline speakers spoke at some length on this.
The morning speaker was Robert Peston who gave a very interesting talk on economics and the economy, his theme being that we are in an age of uncertainty.
People have been voting in unexpected ways at the ballot box driven by their dissatisfaction wth globalism. Brexit is going to be very difficult and probably it will only be possible to complete the negotiations within the two year period if we have a hard Brexit.
Also, our economy is not in a good place as there is massive personal and government debt plus we also depend a lot on the foreigners who own a chunky percentage of our economy.
He mentioned ‘the truth that dare not say its name’ which is that if Le Pen gets in, in France, this could actually be good for us and the Brexit negotiations. However, Trump’s border taxes would be less good particularly if they set off a tit for tat border tax imposition with, for example, the EU – which would be bad for us as a small economy outside.
Overall he does not think that we are headed for disaster – and the lettings industry, in particular, may be safe as their jobs are not ones which can easily be done by robots – the next big problem for workers.
After the morning break
We first had an update from the man from Rightmove, who had some interesting messages for the room. One was that business is now done less by phone and more by email (especially if you are dealing with ‘millennials’). So agents who want to do well need to be in the 30% who answer emails promptly rather than in the 40% who apparently do not.
He also said that agents have one year to sort out their business to prepare for the tenant fees ban. As it’s almost certainly coming. A message continued later.
There was then a video of a short message from the Housing Minister – who apparently was too busy to attend in person. Or perhaps, was reluctant to attend in person. There was no applause.
Debate – life after letting fees
A lively debate then followed on the letting fees ban. Baroness Hayter and the lady from the FT were in favour of the ban with everyone else (including most delegates in the room) being against.
Baroness Hayter made the point that agents act for the landlord, not tenants so they should not be charging tenants fees. Various others on the panel and in the room though made the point that agents do a lot of work for tenants when negotiating the tenancy for which they need to be paid.
But, countered Baroness Hayter, they should not be acting for tenants – this is a conflict of interest. Tenants should represent themselves. Which raised a huge hollow laugh from the audience.
The main message from the Baroness (who ought to know and who was right on CMP) is that the tenant fee ban is coming and that this is not a battle agents can win. They should concentrate on other issues. It was clear from the feeling in the room, though, that this is not a message the profession is ready to accept. David Cox valiantly said that they would be ‘fighting hard’ but the message coming through is that it is largely a done deal.
Lunch (which was delicious) was an opportunity to talk to colleagues and whip round the exhibition.
I also promised my friend on Camden Trading Standards that I would mention that the case referred to by one of the speakers – about an agent who had displayed his fees correctly save for the colour of the notice for which he was fined – was NOT a Camden case.
If indeed it was a case at all. It sounds unlikely.
Mr Hague, or rather the Rt Hon Lord William Hague of Richmond, had the ‘graveyard slot’ just after lunch. However he is an exceedingly good speaker, witness the fact that despite having had a good lunch, I had no desire to drift off to sleep.
Hague was more optimistic about Brexit than Robert Peston and felt that Mrs May was up to the job. However, he did not think that Brexit was the biggest thing on the horizon. Long term, the EU is unsustainable, even more so the Euro, and it all may well break up over the next 10-20 years.
We need to have more ‘long term thinking’ he told us. Something that is probably easier for him now he is in the Lords, where he no longer has to worry about short term elections.
A very good day for ARLA, the timely announcement about CMP being the icing on the cake.
The day finished with ‘Right to Rent on Trial’ which looked interesting, but having been up very early the prospect of rush hour traffic was unbearable so I slipped away early.
I came home with a long list of issues to consider on this blog, which will give me something to think and write about over the coming weeks.
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