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Leasehold reform is our sector’s opportunity to bring confidence, clarity and choice to customers

By Nigel Howell, Chief Executive of FirstPort

The importance of quality housing and a positive home experience was emphasised by the Government’s parliamentary agenda laid out in May’s Queen’s Speech. Four of the proposed Bills related to housing, covering areas such as building safety, leasehold reform and resident empowerment.

Whether the mechanism is traditional leasehold, Right To Manage, Resident Managed Company, or Commonhold, the legislation is an opportunity for all of us in the sector to bring confidence, clarity and choice to our customers.

Bold and balanced reform

The extra clarity that the revised legislation will bring will not only help homeowners, but also those of us who serve them.

These changes are not only important because they will be law, but because it’s the right direction for our customers. At FirstPort, we’ve long been an advocate for bold and balanced reform, because it will enshrine standards across our industry that we have long argued for.

Resident empowerment

Greater resident involvement means everyone who lives in a development will have an opportunity to be more involved in how it’s run, with more control over day-to-day tasks and also big decisions. This is a good thing, and brings great opportunities, but it’s not without challenges.

As property managers, we’re the ones interacting with residents day-to-day as they go about their home lives. Consumerism is, of course, familiar in all aspects of our lives – a ‘consumerised society’ means customers expect a more bespoke and tailored service, but it’s perhaps more complex in a communal living setting.

One hundred customers living in an apartment building will each define and experience ‘good service’ and ‘fair costs’ differently and some will have strong views at either end of the quality/cost spectrum. We’ll never please everyone, but we think our much improved Trustpilot score shows we’re on the right track, although there’s always the opportunity to do better.

Harnessing technology

Investment in digital solutions is important as there is an opportunity for property managers to use the improved digital tools and new innovations that are now available to deliver the quicker reaction time, better communication, and greater transparency we see in so many other aspects of our consumer lives.

As with the leasehold reform agenda, technology can help us to raise standards across the sector so that choice between different operators can be meaningful for empowered residents.

Our industry has historically been slower off the mark when it comes to digital engagement. However, the industry is catching up, and FirstPort is leading the way in recognising the positive impact to be had from developing people first technology and embracing the opportunity to use data to inform better decisions and provide a better experience.

Navigating complexities

Different buildings work in very different ways, and some will find the shift to increased resident involvement easier than others.

With modern buildings come increased complexities, especially in multi-purpose and mixed-use settings. Then there’s the new responsibilities for building safety that has, in many ways, dominated the industry agenda since Grenfell.

Although we don’t design, build, or own the sites we manage, we’re often at the front line with those living with the uncertainty of getting cladding affected buildings remediated quickly and affordably. We also want to deliver on our collective commitment to protect leaseholders and residents by making sure that all the homes we care for meet today’s building and fire safety standards. Though sometimes we get ‘shot’ as the messenger in working through these tough projects, we hear daily the very genuine concerns of decent people inadvertently caught up in a system that wasn’t working correctly for decades.

Empowering residents will mean more responsibilities, and as they are granted greater control over things like fire safety (amongst other things), informed advice will become much more important. Sadly, we will be living with this building remediation issue for many years to come so, for property managers, having a team with the expertise to make sure buildings navigate the various safety, financial, technical, and communication issues this will entail, remains crucial.

Unravelling the legacy and bringing the housing stock up to standard is extremely complex and we sympathise, too, with the Government and all across the sector as everyone tries to choose a workable solution from a series of difficult alternatives.

No profit pledge

There’s a risk that if the building safety reform fails to solve the underlying problem, residents will inherit significant responsibilities and potentially additional liabilities. This is something we all want to avoid. We’re sympathetic to the plight of our affected residents, and FirstPort has pledged to make no profit on our work in this area and we will continue to do everything we can to support residents affected.

As the leasehold reform agenda evolves, so too will our partnership with leaseholders and residents. We’re looking forward to this next chapter – the improved confidence in the industry, increased clarity and transparency to encourage informed decisions, and choice when it comes to how their home is managed.