Licensing is no guarantee of expertise

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Shouldn’t estate agents have to be licensed?

Here in the UK, you don’t need a licence in order to practise as an estate agent. Indeed, you couldn’t get one, even if you wanted one. They simply don’t exist.

Not surprisingly, licensing is often seen as a panacea for most of the problems and perceived abuses routinely laid at the door of estate agents – and in fact it has long been promoted by the industry’s principal professional body, the National Association of Estate Agents.

But then again, there are others in the industry who simply see this as something akin to a power-grab by the Association, which would dearly love to be appointed as the licensing body.

The real problem is that licensing alone is no guarantee of professional performance. You only have to think about some of the driving you see on our roads to realise that! In any case, one of the main arguments in favour of a licensing system – that the threat of disqualification would discourage bad practices – is rendered more or less redundant by the fact that sanctions of this kind already exist.

The fact is, an agent found guilty of serious professional misconduct can already be banned from practising under the provisions of the Estate Agents Act 1979 - or drummed out of the Property Ombudsman scheme, which amounts to pretty much the same thing. The trouble is, neither of these sanctions is used often enough to make people take them seriously.

All in all then, licensing is not the silver bullet that so many would like it to be.

So, what’s the real answer? Needless to say, I don’t think there is a quick fix. What is needed, I would suggest, is a combination of things. And first and foremost is more effective and consistent policing of the legislation that already exists. After that, in an ideal world, you could add mandatory training leading to recognised professional qualifications.

Many of the best and most reputable estate agents want the industry to be licensed.  It may be the way to go, but for now, a visit to an office and a proper discussion with an agent should alert you to whether or not you want to entrust your home sale to them.