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QUALIFIED PROFESSIONALS SET TO EDGE OUT
LETTINGS NEWCOMERS IN THE RENTAL WAR

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A new set of rules will soon regulate the capital’s growing rental market. Tim Harrison learns why everyone will soon have to have initials after their names

The lettings market in central London is about to undergo a transformation as Boris Johnson prepares to introduce a pack of rules and regulations to sort the sheep from the goats.

And the reaction from Kensington’s estate agents? Bring it on!

A quarter of all Londoners currently rent, and experts predict that figure will reach 37 per cent by 2025.

Picture: Zoe Rose, head of London residential lettings at Strutt & Parker

Every few days another rental website appears, keen to cash in on the boom by offering flat-fee deals to landlords and registration discounts to tenants.

Meanwhile, the capital’s army of professional estate agents continue to swot for their Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) qualifications, which look likely to be the benchmark for the required level of expertise in future.

Later this year, after a consultation process which ends on February 15, the Greater London Authority will introduce a set of standards to govern the rental industry, regulating deals between landlords, tenants and letting agents.

It will cover protection of deposits, repair response times, fee transparency, training, complaints procedures, property conditions and contracts.

“The majority of the capital’s landlords provide a highly professional service, but with a vast array of accreditation schemes there is a strong case for landlords and letting agents to get round the table to agree a set of standards,” said the mayor.

Tellingly, the boom in new letting agents coincides with a 44 per cent rise in formal complaints to the property ombudsman since 2008, with around 145 landlord/tenant disputes lodged every week.

Choosing the right accreditation body is like selecting membership of a group to fight the Romans in Life of Brian. Should you line up with the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Popular Front of Judea or the People’s Front of Judea? Or should you go out on a limb and back the Campaign for a Free Galilee?

There’s the National Landlords’ Association, the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, the National Approved Lettings Scheme, the Association of Residential Lettings Agents, the Residential Landlords’ Association, the British Property Federation…

Erin van Tuil, head of lettings at Knight Frank, Hyde Park (020 7871 5072) told MoveTo that ARLA membership was something the firm strongly supported (indeed Knight Frank partner Tim Hyatt was, until last year, the association president), with negotiators working towards National Federation of Property Professionals qualifications.

“We absolutely encourage all our negotiators to do the qualifications,” she said. “We believe in that.”

Knight Frank's number-crunchers recently declared that although rents in prime central London areas such as Notting Hill, Marylebone and Kensington had been gently slipping because of financial sector uncertainty, the number of newly agreed tenancies has rocketed 36 per cent in a year – underlining why so many new websites have sprung up.

Zoe Rose, head of London residential lettings at Strutt & Parker (020 7589 9966), said everyone involved in lettings in the firm was ARLA-qualified.

Strutt & Parker is pro-regulation, and we’re happy with ARLA,” she said, adding, however, that she was against rules being so complicated that they risked stifling initiative.

She detected the first real surge in new online lettings businesses at the time of the London Olympics, with endless attempts by newcomer websites to charge S&P to feature on their pages.

“Serious agents attract serious landlords,” she said, summing up the company’s enthusiasm for industry qualifications and high-standard regulation of the industry as a whole.

Estate agent accreditation bodies have, understandably, been the first to welcome a London Rental Standard.

Richard Lambert, of the National Landlords’ Association, said: “Building on existing accreditation schemes is the most effective way of establishing minimum management standards.”

One thing is certain. By the end of 2013 the initials after lettings agents’ names will mean a lot more to a lot more people.

TIM HARRISON

moveto.co.uk

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