2019 will be year of change for the leasehold system, a shift of focus for health & safety and a crunch time for build-to-rent.
It’s right that the leasehold system is in the spotlight, and FirstPort, along with others in the industry, will be working to keep it there in 2019.
There are some genuine problems with the leasehold system that need to be urgently addressed. As a first step, FirstPort has responded to the government’s leasehold reform inquiry, speaking from experience on what consumers want, i.e. more involvement and influence in decisions about their home, greater transparency about what happens to their money, and greater rights of redress when things go wrong.
We don’t believe we are going to achieve this by simply abolishing leasehold but that we should be more ambitious than distilling the debate into a simple Leasehold vs Commonhold choice. There is an opportunity for a ‘third way’ that combines the very best of both systems in a 21st century context, providing professional building oversight backed by transparency and strong consumer choice.
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Health and safety
In the wake of a tragedy, there is often a lasting effect on the way we do things. Grenfell Tower has brought the subject of health and safety front and centre.
The Hackitt Review will provide the basis of building safety focus for 2019, but we must go beyond that. This is not a tick box exercise, changes need to be embedded in the culture of the property sector.
For example, we know the relationships between property managers and resident customers need to change. More than ever before, managers must provide a point of connection between those who develop buildings and those who occupy them, and property managers will have a role ‘behind the front door’. This won’t be without its challenges and sensitivities, but together we must find the right balance. Expect more debate at the scope and funding of retrofit on existing buildings.
The industry needs to now deliver the Build to Rent agenda at speed and scale; turning talk into action to monopolise on the booming interest and investment in the market. Expect new institutional investors from Canada, USA, France and the Netherlands to enter the UK market.
Post Brexit the UK property sector needs to quickly mature our collective offer, taking learnings from alternative sectors and international equivalents, and to have a clear ambition.
We’ve learnt already that to focus on culture and amenities alone runs the risk of falling short in the fundamental activities - the ‘bread and butter’ of Build to Rent - such as collecting rent, managing large treasury functions and delivering good management and maintenance. We have also learnt that in this market, ‘customer experience’ is as important as ‘customer service’, and packages of amenities, services and a community environment have become unique selling points.
Now it’s time to take action to create a vibrant and long-term market offer that meets investors’ demands.
2019, finally, will be the year when residential property begins to be regulated to the same degree as commercial property.
Calls for proper regulation of residential estate agency, and the property management sector in particular, are long overdue. It’s essential the public know they can rely on competent, qualified advisers and managers. FirstPort staff are already well trained and are engaging further with the Institute of Residential property Managers qualification. Like other professional managers, FirstPort are already accredited to ARMA-Q standards. We urge all responsible property management companies to do the same, and flush worst practice from the sector.