I decided to write an article on this subject, as I am aware that NFOPP has recently looked into the popularity, or consumer “perception” of Estate Agents and Lettings Agents, and the TPO (The Property Ombudsman’s) report has just landed for 2012, which always makes interesting reading, and both tell a rather depressing story, that I and my fellow colleagues are up there with the Aliens out of the predator movie as some of the most hated people in the country, so I wanted to explore why?
The TPO report refers to the level of complaints received and what they are about, and it seems that complaints on letting agents has increased by 12% last year but with a 11% increase in TPO membership, this is fairly inline, with a majority of the complaints being about service, (50%) and fees (12%). but the shocking increase in for non TPO members at a huge level of 41% increase, is pretty scary.
The Lettings industry is still unregulated, which means anyone can set up as a letting agent, we and my fellow branches see this all the time, some person says there a letting agent, they have no training, no management set up, the client money is in their personal account, no client money protection, tenancy agreements downloaded off the internet, and only concerned with one thing, making money.
We can see as competitors that any client will get NO service from that agent and yet how do we deal with that? It’s unprofessional to comment when a landlord says, but shifty down the road will do this for me for 5% why do you charge 10%. It’s tempting to say, well we have 4 property managers, 3 client account managers, legally monitored agreements, 24 hour call monitoring and if we go bust you don’t lose out because we have client money protection, not to mention all our contractors are professionally indemnified (as are we) they are checked and qualified to carry out the works etc, we have call recording and time stamped notes for your protection etc, etc but it just looks like sour grapes and they go with the cheapest anyway.
So I can see where the complaints come from and why we as letting agents have such a horrific reputation amongst landlords and tenants, many of the “quick buck” type letting agents, do not have anyone at all to deal with “the management” of their client’s properties for example, so how will they get any form of service?
There are however many of us that train ourselves, our staff, keep ourselves up to date with regulations, battle over minute details to protect our landlords whenever regulation changes, to amend processes to suit all parties, we voluntarily agree to abide by codes of conducts through ARLA, NAEA, RICS etc and indemnify and insure ourselves, join a redress scheme such as the TPO so that if ANY client of ours landlord or tenant is not happy with our service, our redress organisation will work through the complaint and make a decision, and they do, fairly.
But out there in the market place we are just judged on one thing… Price. Unfortunately landlords are comparing apples with oranges, as Christopher Hamers says in his press release, if it looks like a letting agents, then the client expects it to be a letting agents, and we are therefore all the same aren’t we? Many clients do NOT know that this industry is NOT regulated and how would they? It’s the Wild West out there.
If any landlord has any doubts that there exists quality agents, come along to an ARLA meeting or conference, see the regulation we have to learn and abide by, see the liabilities we carry in what we do, the costs we incur and the minutiae that we are expected and have to get involved in on a day to day business for our fee, and see some of the lives we have changed, landlords we have saved from their own ignorance of regulations from causing severe harm to their tenants and to themselves, all for a modest fee and maybe they would realise that it’s money well earned and with the right staff levels, not that easy get rich being a letting agent, and do the job right.
I hope one day Lettings gets the respect it deserves and those that are wrecking our industry are forced out, but I don’t think it will be any time soon, there just does not seem to be the appetite from government for it. But from a 20 year veteran in the industry, I would give anyone looking in, one piece of advice, DONT go with the cheapest, go with the most PROFESSIONAL, with accreditations and insurance to back them up such as ARLA or RICS for example, then at least you know you have somewhere to go if it all goes wrong.
www.arla.co.uk for more information