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Sean Hooker's Blog - It's No Laughing Matter

Well, I suppose when a mainstream television channel decides that your world is interesting enough to commission a sitcom based on it, then you must be high up in the public conscience. So when Channel 4 aired the first episode of Stath Lets Flats, they evidently thought there were sufficient laughs to be had at the expense of the industry. This is not the first time the channel has used the property world as the butt of the joke, as they aired a single series of Estate Agents back in 2002 concentrating on the sales side and exploiting the, then, stereotypic wide boy image of agents from that period.

I have not seen either show, but I do worry that the script writers believe that an incompetent letting agent will become a comedy legend on par with Del Boy and Captain Mainwaring!  For an industry with an image problem I am not sure that portraying a lovable rogue is going to do it any favours.

Still, it is a reflection on the times and it’s not a coincidence that the media tap into the mileage that is generated from the political wind that is blowing. To be fair it is not just a perception of the industry that needs to be tackled, it is also a reality and the media is right to highlight these worrying abuses. My colleague Paul Shamplina has been at the forefront of exposing the worst elements in the sector and the Channel 5 programmes he has been featured in are widely viewed and seen as valuable investigative TV.

It is however what emanates from what a lot of people think is the ultimate comedy theatre, namely Westminster, which is far more a poignant reflection of what the public think of the property sector. Politicians are now tuned in to the public consciousness and the concern - no anger - surrounding the so called “Housing Crisis”.

This prompted the new (aren’t they always) Housing Minister – James Brokenshire to make another landmark speech to the Policy Exchange. (I have always thought that the Minister’s surname would make a fantastic name for a sitcom, but I am sure Channel 4 would urge me not to give up the day job.)

The speech outlined a number of key policy considerations and announcements and of course launched the obligatory consultations.

The headline announcement from the lettings industry perspective of course was the announcement that the Government was looking at introducing minimum three-year tenancies. Little detail was given but it would come with a six month break clause and exceptions, for example, of student lets.

This announcement came as a little bit of a surprise to the industry as the Government had only a few months back, come out in favour of encouraging rather than imposing minimum tenancies. I was, therefore, not surprised that, when I posted the BBC’s breaking news article on a lazy hot Sunday 1st July on Linkedin, it attracted almost 2,000 views. As usual Government chose an apt time to drop this bombshell, but I suppose during the height of the World Cup is a good time to launch a political football.

It is interesting that shortly after the announcement, the Government stressed that they were considering financial incentives to help encourage the process - a carrot and stick approach? Possibly. 

Again, this is not an actual policy announcement and there is no firm commitment to implementation but once again a consultation has been launched and will run until 26th August.

From my perspective, I do not look at whether the idea is good or bad for any side of the letting market but on the impact and unforeseen circumstances that may lead to increased complaints and tensions in the market. Many other organisations representing tenants, landlords and letting agents will have much to say from their own perspective. I only urge you to make your voice heard.

The Minister also mooted the idea of a Housing Court and will be launching a call-to-evidence later in the year. I will no doubt keep you posted on this. I was also interested in the commitment to reforming leasehold and that no Government money would be used to build leasehold houses.

The Government are still committed to promoting themselves as being the champions of home ownership and whether this is real or rhetoric will depend on how many brickies start actually work with their trowels to build the new homes we need across all tenures.

To be honest, this was a serious speech with a commitment to innovation and competition but it is a big challenge and we have to get it right.

We often ridicule politicians and see ourselves with clowns to our left, jokers to the right and I, to be fair, class my boxset of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minster as true comedy classics - but this is no time for ridicule or farce, the stakes are too high.

I cannot however leave you without one last word of levity. This time from the immortal comic creation, Sir Humphrey Appleby.  

“Well, almost all government policy is wrong, but… frightfully well carried out.”

Only time will tell if these ideas are either, neither or both.


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