Paul Owen was working at leading estate agent VEF when he came up with the idea for the Association of International Property Professionals (AIPP). "People in the industry kept saying: 'Why can't we be more professional?'" he says.
"They were saying: 'Here we are trying to do a good job, but the place is full of cowboys. Why isn't there a professional association, like financial advisers have with the Financial Services Authority (FSA)? Something that could regulate everyone and where we could show a quality kitemark for membership?'"
Owen found that FSA members believed the process of regulating financial services could have been considerably less painful if the industry had got its house in order before the Government forced its hand, and he was keen to see the international property industry avoid the same mistake. So he set up AIPP on March 16 2006. The organisation is run on a not-for-profit basis and in its first 56 days had acquired 90 members: Owen hopes to have at least 200 by the end of 2006.
Most AIPP members are estate agents, which have full membership, but there is also provision to join as an associate member for firms, for instance, on the legal side, or in PR or marketing. French Entrée and MoneyCorp are also associate members.
Membership criteria include three years legal trading experience, references from lawyers, and members must also voluntarily sign up to a Code of Conduct. This requires, among other things, that members adhere to the 'highest standards of honesty and professional integrity both in their dealings with the public and in their dealings with each other'.
Owen aims to introduce more membership criteria, including a financial audit, as time goes on. His ultimate aim, he says, is that people won't buy overseas property unless they see the AIPP logo displayed on the advert or the shop front.
"The AIPP will be the voice of the industry," he says, "setting standards of practice. It will allow members to say to prospective buyers, 'We're covered, so you're covered'."
Enquiry levels about membership are rising, he adds. "Every six weeks we send out a newsletter to a database of 22,000 firms. In the first couple of weeks ago, it rose from 2,500 readers to 4,000, so interest is definitely growing."
AIPP initially covered only the UK, "but we did join with Ireland, as we had a lot of interest there," he adds, "and there's also a lot of interest from other countries, including Denmark."
Membership of the AIPP costs 360 per member of staff per year, up to 10 members. This is partly to reduce the cost for larger companies, but also to prevent large blocks of funding coming from the larger firms, which might lead to their having undue influence on the organisation.
"It also makes it easier to expel members, no matter how big and important they are," points out Owen. "Our criteria for membership are strict, and our organisation must have teeth if it's to succeed.
"The AIPP is really the collective face of what most people in the industry are already trying to do," he adds.
"The challenge is take that message to consumers, give them confidence, and make the AIPP the official stamp of approval for the overseas property buyer."