“Too many cowboys and no sheriff!” declares leading Herts property commentator Henry Pryor of today’s real estate practice

Henry Pryor

Henry Pryor - Credit: Archant

Property commentator of the year 2015 wants answers from the RICS - and he wants them now

Henry Pryor is a self-confessed thorn in the side of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

A seasoned player in the property world, Mr Pryor - who resides in Hertfordshire and has a background in country estate sales for Savills - took to Twitter on Wednesday to voice the “depressing” fact that “there is no effective policing of estate or letting agents in this country” and that there are “too many cowboys and no sheriff” on the real estate beat.

Mr Pryor - a regular pundit for BBC online, news, Radio 4 and dubbed “the BBC’s favourite property expert” by the corporation - made the headlines in 2007 when the Financial Times published his comments that we had “seen the top of the property market”. He now works as a buying agent, specialising in “buying for” rather than “selling to” high-end clients, whilst juggling his punditry engagements and serving on panels for the likes of the LSL Property Press Awards (the X Factor of the real estate industry).

Clearly a man with a lot to say, what prompted Wednesday’s tweet?

“There’s a cloud hanging over the profession and the consumer is none the wiser,” Mr Pryor said yesterday, speaking exclusively to the Herts Advertiser. “My beef is with the RICS’s investigations into the money laundering accusations surrounding the British property market.”

The investigation he refers to has been ongoing for more than 2 months and was launched off the back of the Prime Minister’s declaration that London was the money laundering capital of the world. It would seem that the industry is interspersed with loopholes that allow unsavoury conduct to occur. And Mr Pryor finds this unacceptable.

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“Estate agents are amongst the bottom three professions in popularity polls,” he continued. “There is a gap in confidence because of all the cowboy agents around giving the good guys a bad name. I call them boy scouts, because they like to show off their badges.”

Any agent can display one of the official looking property related organisations’ logos on their website, but there are only a few that hold particular credit such as the NAEA and ARLA (National Association of Estate Agents and Association of Residential Letting Agents respectively).

Despite the allegation that some agents might have a suspect approach to business, the Property Redress Scheme, authorised by the Department for Communities and Local Government, is in place. This allows agents to comply with the legal requirements of being a member of a government authorised consumer redress scheme. The Property Redress Ombudsman will mediate any complaint made by a consumer, if the agent cannot reach a resolution independently. In short, the scheme regulates the business of property transactions. But while all agents must join the scheme, other “property professionals” are “welcomed” but not obligated to.

“Despite the scheme’s existence, there are still those “professionals” who are running off with people’s deposits,” Pryor continued. “The RICS investigation is a little late in happening. The stable door has been shut but the horses are already across the fields and over the hedgerows. And the investigation is taking far too long too. There needs to be set rules as clear as the conduct set for those in the medical and legal professions.”

Moving house is a big deal for most, and is placed up there on a stress scale with divorce and dealing with a death. Mr Pryor’s concerns are very much with the house hunter who is dealing with a matter of money, law and relocation all at once.

“Emotions run high in a property transaction,” he said. “For many consumers this will be the biggest investment they’ll make. And some of the allegations recently involve millions, if not billions of pounds. And it’s not just in London. Out in Hertfordshire, you have just as much right to know whether your neighbour is a bonafide occupier.”

Mr Pryor’s tweet was an indirect question to the RICS, essentially asking them what they are doing.

In his opinion, they are the gatekeepers for anti-money laundering compliance and while they drag their feet there are estate agents who are allowed to re-establish themselves after a ban, only this time in the form of letting agents.

“In the industry, the lettings division is often thought of as the last part of the wild west. How is the consumer able to have confidence in their agent when there are no distinctions between the white hats and the black hats?”