Lettings industry reform does not go far enough

It is good news that the UK government is going ahead with its Tenants Charter that will better protect renters from the worst excesses of rogue landlords and lettings agents and it is much needed.

My current experience personally dealing with lettings agents has been a poor one and has confirmed in my mind that change is long overdue.

The charter aims to combat the problem of hidden fees and also pave the way for much longer rental periods beyond the current common six months followed by two month rolling contracts so that families in particular can be more settled.

The government says it will raise the quality and choice of rental accommodation and rental agents and property management companies will need to join a compulsory redress scheme so that complaints about hidden fees and poor service can be investigated properly. It is damning that currently 3,000 agents, around 40% of the industry, do not belong to such a scheme.

But the proposals fall short of making it compulsory for lettings agents to have qualifications. It will remain the case that anyone can set up as a lettings agent and this, in my view, is a major problem judging by my experience currently trying to find a house to rent while our house in France is sold as we are moving back to the UK.

Customer service is woefully inadequate and the ability to answer basic questions about a property, such as if there is a shed in the garden and the moving in date, has been quite frankly appalling.

As I write this I have been waiting a whole week for a letting agent to get back to me with a moving in date. Not once have they actually called me and I have called them on a daily basis for an update. Well they have lost a potential tenant as we are now looking at other properties.

Not only do lettings agents need qualifications but they need the basic ability to deal with customers and that means calling them back. I even phoned one agent to discuss whether the rather steep rent on one property was negotiable as it has been advertised for rent for some considerable time. His response was that it had only just been put on the market. I pointed out that it had been listed for four months and he blatantly denied this was the case and then backed down by saying it was a property he was not familiar with.

It took three attempts to get an answer from another agent about a garden shed. But there is some hope. One agent did actually get back by email, said my telephone number didn’t work, within half an hour about a moving in date.

Now, in my opinion, the reason I have had to chase agents about very basic details is that they don’t bother putting the information on the website adverts despite the fact there is plenty of space to do so. This has to come down to basic training.

Regarding hidden fees, these should definitely be on the advert. The adverts usually give the deposit required and then it is only when you actually tell then that you want the property that you might find out there is a £200 fee for credit and financial checks to be done which is non refundable if you are judged to be credit worthy. When I asked one agent what was needed for their credit check he replied that he didn’t know as it was done by an outside firm. It is beyond belief that this man can actually call himself a letting agent.

I am sure others have much worse experiences and this is why the government is right to act. But I don’t think enough is being done. I also wonder if the landlords using these less than helpful lettings agents actually know that they inefficient and actually could be losing them bone fide tenants.

Getting back to the agent who still hasn’t come back on a moving in date after seven days, I will not be renting this property not just because they haven’t been able to answer a pretty crucial question but also because if they can’t do that what are they going to be like in terms of actually getting the keys on an agreed date and how are they going to handle future issues such as repairs needing done or a broken boilers? I can imagine that anyone renting one of their properties in the middle of winter without central heating because the agents can’t be efficient enough to sort out a boiler repair will be pretty furious.

Since then I have heard anecdotally that these agents are indeed pretty inefficient. So currently I am going with the one that actually got back to me with an answer to my question, albeit by email rather than engaging in a telephone conversation which can help the customer and move the potential rental process further along.

So dear communities and local government minister Eric Pickles, you just aren’t going far enough in reforming the lettings industry.

Ray Clancy
Editor Property Wire

Article courtesy of Property Wire

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