So. What’s coming down the track for the housing market in 2017, and what is the industry gearing up to do about it?
And, as important, what are the industry organisations going to do to ensure their own houses are in order?
We know that so-called agent’s fees – in reality excessive mark-ups on credit referencing, inventories and check-outs, and ridiculous prices charged for tenancy agreements that are not even tailored for individual properties and circumstances – are all destined for the chop, primarily as a penalty for excess.
There is not much the professional bodies can do about that except, as well as reining in the culture of mark-ups, they also can make sure that charges are not merely passed on through the landlord to the tenant through higher rents.
Having done that urgently, these organisations might then have a case to negotiate with government to allow a fair charging method to cover external costs such as credit referencing or inventories.
Agents will have lost the battle over excessive charging for tenancy agreements. The cost of printing ready-made agreements will have to be seen to be covered by commission charged. An Agreement can no longer be allowed to be an extra charge passed on through the landlord to the tenant. Not if the letting industry is to maintain public confidence.
This, demonstrably, means total transparency for all charges and commissions to landlord or tenant. And that is for the professional bodies to monitor and enforce.
Put simply – everyone, regulator, professional body, agent, landlord and tenant, must recognise and expect agents to perform their services in return for the commission earned. Market forces will then regulate both commission and rent, so protecting the public.
But it is not just a matter of putting honesty and ethics at the top of the agenda for 2017. The fight for a well-organised housing market must also be taken to government over property taxes, the highest in the developed world.
The concept of treating private landlords differently from those who have incorporated when allowing costs against profit is plainly iniquitous.
It makes no more sense than it would to tax sole traders more than limited liability companies in any other business or profession. Costs incurred doing a job are costs for tax purposes. To charge private landlords – sole traders – more than landlords who have incorporated is plainly wrong.
The professional bodies should spend this year (and beyond) fighting this by every means possible including putting the case that the private landlord is, in fact, key to the health of the housing market as whole.
This has not been put across to government, the media or the consumer. So far, the tenants’ pressure groups have had it all their own way.
And the fight must be taken against the most absurd tax of all. To penalise people for buying a second home with a surcharge on Stamp Duty, particularly in coastal towns and villages and rural hamlets, some of the most economically and aspirationally deprived areas of the country, is to jeopardise the only sources of income and development these areas are likely to find.
Coastal villages and rural hamlets have nothing else to live on except to provide goods and services to the better-off urbanites. This may be unpalatable but it is fact.
Providing so-called affordable housing while failing to attract incoming second home owners is to jeopardise economic development. Cheaper housing will merely end up empty of wage earners as those looking for work end up moving to the cities. This has been the case for centuries, and to penalise the very source of preventing the decay of these communities seems a peculiar way to square the circle.
2017 is likely to be a year of change. Perhaps it could also be the year when housing industry organisations – regulators and professional bodies – rigorously put their own houses in order and then fight government policies likely to damage the private rented sector, reduce economic growth in the poorer communities (and also in the cities where, with Brexit, the country will need to attract investors to live and work} and cause the construction industry to mark time – so leading housing nowhere, possibly along with consumer confidence. That would be a real own goal for a government trying to keep up public confidence while negotiating a deal out of Europe.
However, if you want transparency, sweet reason and no vote catching to rule in the housing sector this year, try wishing upon a star!
* Malcolm Harrison is a former adviser to ARLA