False Gods With Good Publicists

We have a lot of false gods in property; those in the know don’t regard them as gods at all, just rather well-oiled image machines.

Another property blog describes the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ housing market survey as not actually meaning anything. Yet another asks whether the RICS survey “has plumbed new depths of daftness”. They don’t explain their comments but let me attempt to do so.

The RICS’ press office makes a splash when its monthly market survey is issued, and the print and broadcast media give it plenty of space (and I have been known to do so myself), but its methodology is basic in our era of almost forensic exactitude. It is an “index” based on the opinion and judgement of just a few score of agents around the entire country. If the RICS called it something like “a gut feeling index” that would be more accurate but of course its credibility would fall.

There are several other false gods like this in our property world:

• The National House Building Council portrays itself as a consumer body with a near-monopoly over new-home warranties. Yet its 15-person board is vastly more representative of house builders than of consumer protection. Its refusal to say how many complaints are upheld against specific builders is unhelpful to consumers and shows a lack of transparency we would not accept from, say, MPs or banks these days;

• ‘Overseas sellers federations’ with stickers in agents’ windows have almost no power to help buyers of homes overseas who say they are mistreated or conned. Ask any law centre, Citizens’ Advice Bureau or property lawyer and they will say numbers of aggrieved buyers have risen many-fold in recent years – they also say so-called ‘federations’ suggest a level of consumer protection that they cannot deliver when something does go wrong;

• Agents’ property indices are widely-quoted (again I plead guilty from time to time) but just try finding out their methodology. Some do a thoroughly sound job with wholly valid results but others are flakey, producing ‘indices’ based on very few deals in a spattering of areas selected to produce results that flatter the agents’ own markets. By clever wording, and the services of an expensive PR, these ‘results’ receive wholly undeserved gravitas.

But we know all this, don’t we? The problem is, the public doesn’t – at least not always – so it’s down to the grubby hacks of this world to exercise more care when quoting from and explaining the background to these reports.

Right then. On with the election…

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