Crystal Horwood Blog
Friday 24th February 2012
Self-service agencies are popping up all over the place and claiming they will change the face of lettings in 2012. Is that so?
I’m biased, of course, but I think there are many good reasons to use a good, traditional, local agent over the self-service option. Here are some reasons.
The largest self-service agent has around 650 properties around the country at the time of writing. This might sound sizeable, but when you take into account that this is nationwide, one needs to put a certain company’s claim that they are set to ‘revolutionise the lettings world’ into context.
As a landlord and ‘traditional’ letting agent covering Southend, we successfully let 38 properties in January in Southend. What would that be if you multiply by the number of towns in England?
A lot more than 650 certainly. So will they be able to help landlords accurately value their property as they claim? A traditional agent will have a much better idea of the local market. Online agents will often use online advertised prices which may, of course, be different from final prices which they won’t know, as they aren’t usually involved in the completion of the deal. Even if landlords feel they have a good grasp of the local market, they don’t have the everyday exposure of a busy local lettings agent.
The Changing UK Household Market Report in 2007 highlighted that over two-thirds of landlords have another full-time job and mainly rely on other sources of income. A look at our client profile suggests that still holds true. Many of our clients work in London or abroad and simply do not have the time to accompany viewings themselves.
Is this really the best use of their time? Assuming that they are good at their jobs and paid well enough to have bought investment property in the first place, isn’t their time best spent on their core competencies and letting the agent get on with theirs?
Letting a property requires specific skills and knowledge to identify a ‘good’ tenant from a ‘bad’ one, and that’s even before starting the negotiations on obtaining the best rent. Then there is what to put in the contract, getting a reliable credit check, dealing with housing benefit payments, and so on.
These are all skills landlords can learn for themselves, of course, but the market is constantly changing and even though we’ve been doing lettings for 15 years we constantly improve and tweak our procedures, contracts and service to make sure we stay one step ahead. If you are only renting out a few properties a year, rather than a day, might you get caught out?
I know all agents say it, but we do have waiting applicants. We have over 300 people registering a month for our property alerts. Some of them will be ringing for specific properties, but if they turn out not to be suitable, we try and find them something that is. When a new property comes on, we email it out to our database. You don’t get that when you just pay for the listings. Nor do you get a trained salesman getting to know his applicants and stock and putting them together.
Now, I am most certainly not against advertising a property online – but not everyone is online and we still get tenants saying they saw a property in the paper, popping into the office for a list and looking in our window display. Plus, as an ARLA approved agent, we list our properties on ARLA’s Property Live. In fact, Property Live has seen a 300% increase in search engine traffic over the past year alone with 100,000 unique visitors a month.
Some tenants will prefer the presence of an agent, rather than dealing with a private individual – particularly if that agent is a member of a professional body or redress scheme such as ARLA. I know there are many good landlords out there, but you do hear some dreadful stories.
A member of my staff was renting privately until recently and was startled to see her landlord knocking on a window facing her private garden while she was sat in her nightie – he’d got into the garden by taking a fence panel out.
And that’s all just for the initial lettings process! Many of these online agents are offering ‘full’ property management services as well. I’ve got plenty of arguments against that too – but I’ll save it for next time.
Crystal Horwood is a landlord and also managing director of PACE property specialists in Southend, Essex
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