Legislation, Regulation & Aggravation

We’re very close to launching our new website and I’ve been busy writing all the copy from scratch which is quite a mammoth task. One section I’ve just started is about all the rules and regulations for landlords to abide by and having written the list it even surprised me how many different pieces of legislation there are that we have to adhere to.

We have to work hard to keep up to date with all the changes that could cause a problem for us as agents and it got me thinking what chance does an individual landlord have of knowing exactly what to do to protect themselves?

Rules & RegulationsRecently I had a call from a landlord arguing with me about the need to protect a tenant’s deposit within one of the government approved schemes, this is legislation that changed back in 2007 and could very easily result in the landlord not being able to issue notice to the tenant and/or being fined up to 3 times the amount of the deposit paid.

The legionella risk assessment that is now an obligation for all businesses regardless of whether you have a water tank or not also applies to landlords.  This was disputed recently by a landlord who said that other agents had told him it wasn’t necessary, the confusion appears to stem from the fact that the Health & Safety Executive have stated that testing for legionella is not an automatic requirement, which is true. I am not too bothered what other agents advise their own clients but it is annoying when it is incorrect and causes us to have to spend more time confirming to our landlords that it is necessary to assess the risk adequately.

When I think about landlords with a family, managing one or two properties alongside their full time job or business, it amazes me how many people want to spend their free time doing things such as viewings, decorating or dealing with problems when they could be paying an agent to take all the hassle away from them.

When not to call the Fire Brigade

I had a call on Saturday afternoon from our out of hours call answering service informing me that one of our tenants boilers was on fire.  I was quite shocked to hear this and obviously asked them to put the call straight through to me, it turns out that it wasn’t actually on fire but the boiler cover did have some scorch marks on it.  I was pleased that they had decided to call me on my mobile to ask if I wanted to take the call as it really could have been an emergency.

fire-engineI discovered that the tenant had an electric shower and an immersion heater and was therefore able to cope without the boiler for a couple of days. I asked him to turn the boiler off until we could get a gas engineer out after the weekend which he was very happy to do.  It would have been very easy to call out a heating engineer over the weekend but it just wasn’t necessary on this occasion.  The landlord thanked me for not incurring him in extra cost, he’ll still have the cost of someone going out to look at it but not at a premium rate.  Our general rule of thumb on deciding what action to take, is what I would do if it was at my own house and common sense usually rules.  Tenants don’t always appreciate this unfortunately as they sometimes feel that because they are paying to live there, we should be able to magic up a solution when despite our best efforts it is not always immediately possible.

When you manage as many properties as we do, maintenance issues come up on a daily basis, some of which need instant attention whilst others are naturally less pressing.  We have an online reporting tool which is also available as a mobile phone app to allow our tenants to report any maintenance issues clearly and easily.  It’s amazing how often we receive several almost identical queries in a short space of a time, as people start turning boilers back on after the summer we’re bound to get a number of boiler faults so it looks like our heating engineers will be kept very busy over the coming months.

Are Estate Agents worse than Double Glazing salesmen?

When the lists of least trusted occupations are published in the newspapers each year Estate Agents usually rank quite highly (or lowly, depending on how you look at it!). According to an Ipsos MORI survey in 2015, as an industry we are trusted by just 25% of the public which is the same as journalists and only 3% higher than politicians.  It doesn’t specifically mention mechanics or double glazing salesmen so maybe that’s why they’re not below us (apologies to any mechanics or UPVC salesmen reading).

double-glazingI visited a property last week where the vendor seemed somewhat confused about my arrival at his door but he invited me in anyway.  I provided my opinion on likely marketing figures and suggested what could be done to enhance the appeal of the property to which the vendor told me to ‘Give it a go!’.  I felt that he didn’t understand exactly what I had gone through with him and wasn’t keen to get him to sign any agreement, despite the fact it would probably have been very easy to get him to do so at almost any rate of commission.  I had his son’s number, as he had initially called up to book the appointment and called him to discuss the situation, he confirmed that his Father was suffering from some form of dementia and that the family were helping him to move closer to them.  My view was that I was going to treat the gentlemen just like I’d have wanted anybody to deal with a relative of mine and I felt secure in knowing that I was doing the right thing by not taking advantage of the situation.

Having started in the business 25 years ago I have spent enough time seeing and hearing of how some agents feel the job should be done and can fully understand why the profession is held in such low regard by many.  When you look abroad, the real estate agent is generally a licensed profession where you have to have relevant qualifications and accordingly is far better thought of.  There are moves to further regulate the Estate Agency business, which most trustworthy agents will welcome, as it will hopefully weed out those who perhaps shouldn’t be entrusted with people’s most valuable asset.

Thankfully in our local area we mostly have good agents with plenty of integrity to go along with their qualifications, but as we dive headlong into the world of online only ‘agents’ who get rewarded regardless of whether the property gets sold or not, I’m sure that there will be some characters who will do their best to give the public what they really expect of us.

It’s not always as ‘Easy’ as it appears

AirplaneI read a review of a well known brand’s online letting agency offering the other day and it made me laugh.

The reviewer has split the service being offered down into its’ constituent parts and looked at each part individually including comparing the costs.  I won’t go into all the details but some points really stood out:

  • “I have never met a tenant yet who knows how to read a floor plan, or would care about one. In my experience, most buyers don’t understand them either.”
    • I couldn’t disagree more with this comment, most viewers love to see a floorplan and properties with them get 30%+ more views online
  • Inventory – Quite expensive, the main cost is the time for the agent to do this on your behalf. Usually less than an hours job.
    • I would counter the cost of not completing a thorough inventory would more than outweigh the cost of having a professional do one and most will take longer than an hour even with experience
  • An agent won’t care if your prospective tenant looks like a dirty, unkempt mess, they will only care about the money they earn for an hours work.
    • What a ridiculous comment! Agents who value their reputation will only put forward suitable tenants to their landlords even if they are not going to be managing them.
  • Letting boards are a bit pointless to a private landlord.
    • Why would you not want prospective tenants to know your property is available to let?

The most telling part of the review was this:

“It would probably be cheaper and better managed to employ an regular agent.”

There will always be people who prefer to do everything themselves but thankfully most landlords realise that employing a professional to do the job will save them time and hassle.

Invariably a good agent will save a landlord money by getting a higher rent, ensuring compliance with all necessary legislation and by not putting in the wrong tenant in the first place.