Currently viewing the tag: "agents"

Housing charity Shelter has made the news headlines again, after launching another attack on private renting, this time attacking letting agents in Wales over their up-front fees.

Shelter launched a verbal tirade on fees charged by lettings agents in Wales and already has an active campaign under way in Scotland, where upfront fees are illegal, but the timing of the stinging attack coincides with a move by the Welsh government to introduce compulsory licensing for both agents and landlords, a move that could set a precedent in the rest of the UK.

Shelter Cymru carried out a mystery-shopping exercise with letting agents across Wales to investigate fees and charges and how they vary between agents.

Agents were asked about the costs of setting up a tenancy, deposits required, the upfront costs of renewing a tenancy, charges for credit checks, late payment charges and any other fees or charges.

Researchers found that some tenants could be charged as much as £594 in set-up fees for a property at the average market rent.

It means that as well as finding one month’s rent in advance and a deposit usually totalling a month’s rent, prospective tenants needed to find additional fees and charges of around 45% of the monthly rent. With some agents, this sum could be as high as 120%, say Shelter.

Additional charges included fees to renew contracts, check-in and check-out fees to hand over keys and check inventories, and non-refundable pre-contract administration fees for everyone who applied for a tenancy regardless of whether their application was successful.

John Puzey, director of Shelter Cymru, said: “You have to question how reasonable these charges are when credit checks can be carried out online for £20 and tenancy agreements are usually standard template contracts. These kinds of unregulated charges, which are now actually illegal in Scotland, are making the private rented sector even more unaffordable at a time when many people in Wales are already struggling to find and keep accommodation. In addition, we found that most charges were not well advertised so prospective tenants are often unable to discover the true cost of setting up a tenancy until they are well into the process of making an application, by which time they may already have handed over some non-refundable payments. Some agents charged a flat administration fee to all tenants, while others varied the fee depending on the rent level, raising the question of why the amount of administration work should depend on the tenant’s choice of home. This lack of transparency traps people into paying additional fees as it is almost impossible for them to make an informed choice when they start the process of renting a home”.

While a minority of agents published the costs of setting up a tenancy on their websites, the researchers found that with the majority this information was very difficult to obtain without asking very specific questions of the salespeople.

The Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents states that agents should flag up any potential liability for fees, charges and penalties ‘prior to an applicant’s offer being formally accepted’.

But Shelter said that this is a very late stage in the process, by which time many tenants may have already committed money in the form of administration charges or holding deposits. The charity says that disclosure of fees post-application means that tenants are unable to exercise consumer choice in this area, which removes any incentive among agents for competitive price-setting.

Mr Puzey highlighted the proposals in the Welsh Government’s Housing White Paper for the compulsory accreditation of private landlords and letting agents in Wales and urged the Government to ensure that the forthcoming Code of Practice includes clear standards on transparency in agents’ fees and charges.

He said: “The private rented sector is a significant and growing element of the housing market in Wales and so we need to ensure that agents operate to the highest standards. We hope that accreditation will lead to greater transparency and a more efficient rental market for tenants, but if this does not happen then maybe a total ban on premium charges should be considered.”

The Shelter research in Wales showed that two adults renting a three-bed property pays a total of £1,448 in upfront fees on average, while two adults in a two-bed property pay £1,295 and one adult in a one-bed property pays £1,054.

Plaid Cymru’s housing spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd AM, said: “Shelter Cymru’s research highlights some very serious concerns about the hidden charges people can face when renting a home. Plaid Cymru now wants to see some swift action on this issue from the Labour Welsh Government.

“At a time when the Westminster government is reforming housing benefit in a manner that will increase the amount of families looking for a new home, it is crucial that the Welsh government mitigates this by tackling the excessive hidden charges that tenants in the private sector face. While we welcome the Welsh government’s promise to tackle these hidden charges through new legislation on tenancy reform, we are concerned at the apparent lack of urgency. For many Welsh families, action needs to happen now. Bringing forward their proposed legislation on tenancy reform, rather than delaying, is an example of practical action they could take now to stand up for Welsh families. I urge the Labour Welsh government to stand up for Welsh families by taking swift action to tackle this problem.”

Evolution of a letting agent

Letting Agents - Survival Of The Fittest

Over the last few years, the UK media have spread fear and panic among the renting public, reporting doom and gloom about the state of the property sales market and countless news stories about letting agents closing down, failing their landlord clients and taking hundreds of thousands of pounds of client funds with them.

Reports like these have led the British public to believe that anyone with a passing interest in property or business can set up a property management or lettings agency.
That may or may not hold true, depending on the experience of the individuals concerned, but in reality, what does it take for a property professional to be able to maximise the potential of a rental property business and provide a reliable quality service for their landlord clients and their tenants?

Many self managing property investors and landlords had viewed property management companies and lettings agents as a money grabbing, larger business concern designed to accommodate all sections of society who treated all parties with whom they did business, with equal disdain.

Is this 1970’s Rachmanian stereotype really true? ….. Of course it isn’t!

However, it does take a certain kind of person to make a property lettings business successful?

Among other attributes, a good letting agent needs to be:

  • A Good communicator – Must be able to speak to investors and landlords as well as tenants
  • Customer orientated –both landlords AND tenants are your customers, so you need to find a happy balance
  • Analytical –Especially if you are dealing with the rents
  • Systematic – Capable of following systems and dealing with problems
  • Sales driven – you need to sell your services to prospective landlords and tenants to generate business.
  • Focused – Providing good quality of service requires determination and concentration
  • Professional – Every aspect of the business needs to be conducted to protect the clients best interests.

 

How To Get The Best Out Of The Business

Unless the property rental business is in the fortunate position of being able to employ staff, with the relevant skill sets needed, from day one, then the business owner will need to be master of all of the above skills, or at least be competent, otherwise business will be lost.

When starting any business, the main aims and objectives of the venture need to be clear, including identifying the niche it will operate in. If this is not done, how can the business push forward and in the right direction?

There are thousands of UK letting agents managing Billions of pounds (GBP) worth of property out there, so what separates them?
Why should landlords and property investors choose your letting agency instead of anyone else’s? Are you a HMO specialist, do you manage top end properties? Do you deal with LHA tenants?

New letting agents spring up and disappear again within 6-12 months because the business owners did not know enough about the local property market, the lettings industry in general, the niche market of the area they were operating in or even the demographic of their client base, in other words they did not have enough forethought to be able to survive and profit. In business, failure to plan is planning to fail!

If information and responsibility is not handled correctly, it can be a very steep and expensive learning curve for a new property lettings business, leading to a host of financial and legal issues that interfere with client’s expectations and obligations. Such matters could also force the closure of the business, costing your landlord clients dearly.

Knowledge and experience are the keys to success so business owners need to realise where their knowledge is lacking and plug the gaps with employees or other members of a support network, such as solicitors, insurance brokers, mortgage advisor, builders etc.

Landlords using an ill advised or ill equipped letting agency, (forced to close because they failed to move with the times), risk finding themselves with no tenancy agreements, (AST), no gas certificates (CP12), no rental income, no deposit and no fallback plan. In cases reported by the UK media, some failing letting agents had stopped paying rents to Landlord clients several months prior to closing, meaning that the landlords ended up falling foul of the law and many thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Don’t Let This Happen To You!

To be successful in property lettings, as with any business, you have to have knowledge and experience, not only the practical side of property management but also on the legal side, and keeping up with the latest government legislation, including all welfare reform changes and their impact on landlord clients, can be a minefield at times, but knowledge is power and only the strongest survive.

 

Letting agents can also get help is by joining the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) and/or the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA).

Tenants attempt to negotiate PRS rental prices

Tenants attempt to negotiate PRS rental prices

More working tenants are attempting to renegotiate with their landlords to try to get their property rents reduced. Many tenants are increasingly struggling to pay their rents on time due to mounting financial pressures, leading to calls from specialists within the lettings industry for more Rent Guarantee insurance products.

41.2% of members surveyed by the Association of Letting Agents (ARLA), reported an increase in the number of tenants struggling to meet their rent payments to their landlords in the six months up to March 2012.

Legal 4 Landlords Spokesman Sim Sekhon, said: “With financial pressures mounting on both tenants and landlords, there has never been a greater need for landlords to thoroughly tenant reference all prospective applicants and attempt to secure their rental income, that’s why we developed our market leading Rent Guarantee Insurance for Buy To Let landlords”.

ARLA operations manager, Ian Potter, said: “With unemployment predicted to rise and average rents also increasing in some parts of the country, it seems more and more tenants are finding it impossible to make ends meet. It is likely that the same is happening for landlords, who may find their mortgage rate is rising. At worst, this double whammy may result in landlords defaulting on mortgages and tenants being forced to move out of a property.”

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued new guidance for landlords and letting agents to control the threat of legionnaire’s disease to tenants.

The HSE want landlords or their managing agents, to carry out risk assessments for legionnaire’s disease, and if necessary, take action.

The revised Approved Code of Practice: “Legionnaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems,” underlines the legal requirements for landlords and managing agents to ensure that the potential risk to tenants from exposure to the legionella bacteria from all water systems in UK PRS residential rental properties is controlled.

The new guidance insists that landlords and property management / lettings agents must carry out risk assessments to identify and assess potential sources of exposure, and steps take to prevent or control any risk that is identified and record details on all aspects of their risk assessment controls, keeping records for at least five years.

Landlords and property managing agents need to be aware that the legionella bacteria can thrive and multiply in hot or cold water systems and storage tanks, and be spread throughout the property by showers and taps.

Risk assessments should include assessing whether conditions are right for bacteria to flourish and the following items should all be checked or inspected:

  • In water temperatures between 20C and 45C.
  • Water Storage Tanks, (inc header tanks)
  • Thermostatic mixing valves
  • Debris in the system
  • Infrequently used outlets
  • Areas of stagnant water

Steps taken to control the threat of legionnaire’s disease include disinfecting the system, ensuring water cannot stagnate anywhere, insulating all pipework, and keeping water tanks and cisterns free of debris and covered at all times.

Tenants should also be advised about potential risks and told to take precautions such as flushing through showers they rarely use.

Anyone with concerns can contact their local Health and Safety Executive (HSE) office or Local Authority Environmental Health Department.

The Property Ombudsman’s 2011 report, released last week, has shown a large increase in the number of complaints made against UK letting agents managing residential Buy To Let (BTL) properties in the Private Rented Sector, (PRS). .

The Association of Residential Letting Agents, (ARLA) have backed the UK Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, in his call for proper regulation of the UK letting agency industry.

Mr Hamer’s report noted the need for a dedicated council that promotes the importance of using letting agents that are recognised members of either ARLA or the Property Ombudsman Scheme.

However, ARLA want legislation be put in place which demands the registration and licensing of all UK letting agents.

ARLA Operations Manager, Ian Potter, said “As an organisation that strives to achieve the best possible standards within the private rented sector, we are disappointed to see a rise in lettings complaints over the past year. That said, it comes as very little surprise given there is no national regulation in place to stop rogue agents setting up shop and taking advantage of what is a fragile market, 26% of complaints were against agents who did not belong to an Ombudsman scheme.”

Mr Potter then went on to recommend that tenants looking to enter into agreements with letting agents should, for their own protection, ensure they are members of the Property Ombudsman Scheme at the very least.

ARLA calls for more investment in UK buy to let

ARLA Calls For More Investment In UK Buy-To-Let Property Rental Market

The Association of Residential Letting Agents, (ARLA), have urged the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, to use the forthcoming Budget to encourage more investment into the UK’s Private Rented Sector, (PRS).

ARLA have called on the UK coalition Government to support the observed growth in the UK Buy-To-Let sector and remove many of the prohibitive barriers to further investment.

ARLA’s Budget submission calls for landlords to be treated as running businesses for Capital Gains Tax purposes, for the introduction of roll-over relief for landlords looking to reinvest, and for UK Stamp Duty to be made fairer.

UK landlords currently have to shop around for a wide range of landlord services in order to help them save money and operate as a business. The emergence of Tenant Referencing and Tenant Eviction services and the development of specialist Landlord Insurance products have ensured that there is still money to be made, by UK landlords, from the UK PRS rental market.

ARLA’s Operations Manager Ian Potter, said: “Buy To Let landlords must be treated as the entrepreneurial businesses they have now become. Supporting growth and encouraging greater investment into the private rented sector will help boost our economy and is an open goal for the Chancellor. Demand for private rented housing continues to grow, with 3.4 Million tenants living in the private rented sector – an increase of over 1 Million tenants since 2005. The tax system can be used by the Government to incentivise investment in housing stock in the PRS, and therefore improve the conditions in which those 3.4 Million tenants live. Some landlords face tax bills of up to 28% when selling a property, preventing them from reinvesting in the market.”

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Mortgage approvals, residential property sales and first time buyer numbers increase

Is the UK property market making a comeback?

January figures from a variety of trusted and respected sources offer a major boost for the UK property market as mortgage approvals, first time buyer numbers and residential property sales all increased during January.

Data gathered from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), British Bankers’ Association (BBA), National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is viewed as a major boost to the UK property market.

UK property buyers have been taking advantage of the two-year stamp duty exemption due to end in March 2012, with the number of First-Time Buyers (FTB’s) registering with estate agents also being the highest since May 2011.

The British Bankers’ Association (BBA) say that, 38,092 applications were approved in January, 34% up on the same time last year, and the highest figure seen in two years.

The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) figures show that 23% of overall property sales in January were made to First-Time Buyers, a rise from 21% in December, marking the third consecutive monthly increase.

Mortgage lenders have claimed that one of the driving forces behind the increase in activity has been the imminent end of the two-year stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) reported that the £10.5 Billion (GBP) loaned in the form of mortgages during January 2012 was the sixth month in a row that the year-on-year figure has risen, and overall mortgage lending in January was up 10% on a year ago.

Despite general consumer caution around borrowing, first-time buyers have flocked to get on the property ladder, showing stamp duty was a major deterrant.

NAEA President, Wendy Evans-Scott, said: “The figures suggest that stamp duty is a key factor for those on tight budgets who are considering a property investment”.

Overall residential sales across the UK property market increased from 5% per branch in December to 6% in January.

The number of residential properties sold in the UK was 12,000 up on January 2011 and also at its highest level for four years.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) figures showed that a total of 64,000 property transactions went through during January, up on the 52,000 deals in January 2011 and the best start to a year since 2008’s tally of 79,000.

David Dooks, BBA statistics director, said: “January saw the high street banks approve more mortgages for house purchase than of late, despite low household confidence, as some people try to complete transactions before the stamp duty holiday ends in March.”

All in all, this is great news for the UK property market and a warning sign to property investors that they are no longer the only people buying property.

Two Executives have been suspended at the UK’s largest tenant referencing firm, HomeLet, while an investigation into the selling of tenants’ insurance policies is under way.

The investigation follows a crackdown by the Financial Services Authority on the selling of contents insurance policies by HomeLet, which is one of the brands owned by insurance giant Barbon, (the company formed from the former insurance wing of the collapsed property services firm Erinaceous).

The probe revolves around a clause in lettings agents contracts, making it a mandatory requirement for tenants to take out tenants’ content insurance.

It is understood that the clause – which was apparently a long-standing one and not objected to by the FSA during earlier inspections – was originally inserted by agents on the advice of HomeLet.

HomeLet sells its policies to landlords and tenants through letting agents, and claims to sell one in five of all tenants’ references. It has a network of 3,000 lettings agents, all of whom have apparently been contacted and told to remove the clause.

It is understood that the FSA, which requires HomeLet to make sure the agents do not breach the regulator’s rules, has been concerned on two fronts: first, the possibility that making purchase of insurance a condition of tenancy could be an unfair term; and secondly, because the clause breached FSA and OFT guidelines which state that a tenant cannot be asked to buy their own contents insurance – although, confusingly, a tenant can be asked to buy insurance that covers their landlord’s possessions.

The HomeLet spokesperson said: “HomeLet is involved in a review process which may lead to policyholders with tenants contents policies being contacted about how such contracts were purchased. This is a thorough process to ensure it meets the company’s required standards. HomeLet continues to provide insurance products and services to existing and new customers. HomeLet is committed to best practice in the service it offers to landlords and tenants via agents.”

The next step in the investigation will be for HomeLet to contact tenants who were sold the HomeLet contents insurance. HomeLet says the tenants will be contacted ‘shortly’.

It is thought the FSA could have other lettings insurance firms in its sights.

Source: Estate Agent Today

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Free Tickets To A Place In The Sun Live Property Exhibition
If you’re thinking of buying a property overseas, you can’t afford to miss A Place in the Sun Live, the UK’s biggest overseas property exhibition taking place at Earls Court London on 30th March- 1st April 2012.

As well as the opportunity to meet the TV presenters and talk to over 100 agents selling property from around the world, A Place in the Sun Live is the most comprehensive place to gather information and inspiration for your home in the sun

The Main Stage at A Place in the Sun Live is the heart of the exhibition, with interviews and top tips from television presenters Amanda, Jasmine and Jonnie as well as other experts from the world of overseas property on buying your home abroad.

The Buying Advice Seminar Theatre brings together developers, agents, consuls and lawyers in panel Q&A sessions, so is the place to go armed with your questions about buying abroad. There’s a packed schedule of sessions throughout each day, covering different countries and topics to help you make the most out of your property overseas.

There are also series of country-themed villages and pavilion areas within the show with dedicated seminar theatres, where you can get specific advice on the most popular destinations to buy a property abroad.

The French Village in association with the experts on France, French-Property.com and sponsored by Halo Financial has its own dedicated seminar theatre and is surrounded by agents selling property from all four corners of France. Plus there are experts on tax, healthcare and all the other important topics you need your questions answered on before buying a property in France.
The Portuguese Pavilion in association with the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce will showcase properties from the Algarve, Silver and Green Coasts.

The Pavilion is hosted by bilingual Portuguese property owner Christina Hippisley, who will be joined by other experts from the Portuguese property industry, who can answer all your questions about what its like to buy a property and live in Portugal.

The Florida Pavilion at A Place in the Sun Live is a dedicated area featuring hundreds of properties for sale from both coasts of Florida and features its very own dedicated seminar theatre. There will be a collection of licensed realtors along with experts that can advise you on rentals, currency and legal issues.

The Italian Pavilion in association with the Italian Chamber of Commerce visits our Earls Court show for the first time and is home to a selection of agents and developers from across Italy. There will be a dedicated seminar theatre with sessions from experts on the property market in Italy, where you can learn about everything from the buying process to the intricacies of the Italian tax system. Come prepared with your questions to make the most of your day.

Click here to get your free tickets worth £12 each:
You may have as many free tickets as you like, but you must complete and print a ticket for each person.

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Private residential renting on the decline?

UK PRS faces mounting rent arrears

The demand for Private Rental Sector (PRS) residential property and the rise in the number of tenants struggling to meet their rental payments on a regular monthly basis is expected to see the decline of the UK residential property rental market.

According to the latest lettings survey from the Association of Residential Letting Agents, (ARLA) 55% of its members reported more tenants than available properties in the last quarter of 2011, down on 74% reported in the previous quarter.

39.2% of ARLA members reported an increase in tenants struggling to pay their rent, over the same period, a figure up from 36.7% the previous quarter.

President of ARLA, Tim Hyatt, said: “With household income decreasing and job uncertainty prevailing, it could be that increasing rental arrears is a sign that the wider economic malaise is having a tangible impact on personal finance – some consumers may have reached the limit of their access to finance, while others may be cutting back as many commentators have predicted. We are reassured by the fact that the number of new tenancies is stable, but we will be watching the market closely in the coming months to determine how significant these latest figures will prove to be”.

The number of First‐Time Buyers (FTB) able to secure finance isn’t expected to significantly increase during 2012 so the demand for the limited supply of private sector rental accommodation will only continue to rise. It won’t be long before rents will resume an upward trend.

With the mortgage market still facing more financial fallout from the Eurozone crisis and the wider economy remaining sluggish, UK credit conditions are unlikely to ease significantly in 2012. As household income become even more stretched during the course of the year, it is expected that the current rental boom will begin to decrease outside of prime areas in the latter half of this year.

With the numbers of tenants having trouble paying their rent being on the rise, UK Landlords are encouraged to use Rent Guarantee products from reputable suppliers such as Legal 4 Landlords as a means to keep their rental income flowing in.
If you are a Landlord who lets a property then you run the risk of rent default by your tenant. Even the best checks and references cannot predict a tenant falling on hard times and not being able to pay their rent. Could you cover your expenditure if this happened?

In the current economic climate, many landlords are finding their default rates soar as tenants struggle with rising unemployment and increased bills. Recovering arrears can be difficult and costly for landlords, without any guarantee of success.
At Legal 4 Landlords, our Rent Guarantee Insurance will cover you against your tenant defaulting or failing to pay the rent

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