Monthly Archives: December 2010

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By Steve Roulstone

As I said in my last blog and with good timing, news is beginning to spread of a confidence in the rental market and surely led by demand, an increase in Buy to Let products, which will enable growth again next year as Landlords seek to supply property to an increasing demand for Rental housing.

Drive the market            

I do not think we will ever see the type of mortgages available before the property crash, and most would say for the right reasons, but there is no doubt that Landlords buying for a readymade market, where rents and demand are both increasing, could give timely assistance to House sales. Therefore Societies need to have the confidence that products they make available will work. It is there job to place those products at the right level to attract business but hopefully they can also see the demand which will surely increase after both the winter season, which historically has a slowing effect on the market anyway as well as this current spell of bad winter weather.

Spring is round the corner.

So by the time Easter is upon us, again historically the time that the property market increases in volume (take note BBC!) in three months time, the markets and financial houses should be able to recognise the need and start to release the products. This is also the same time that Landlords start to look at increasing their property portfolio as I know only too well from the increased level of ‘Landlord shopping’ our offices are asked to carry out. So historically and with a market as strong as the rental sector is at present the demand and percentage of rental property looks to continue to grow in strength and size.

Walk first!           

So as my own group will be ready I believe what we need now is growing signs of confidence from the markets and it will be the mortgage products that confirms this confidence if they are made available (as seen recently with short term release or special offers made available for limited periods) then others will follow suit, whether they be Agents, Landlords, Mortgage brokers or Providers, the Buy to Let mortgage could soon be the vehicle by which the property market starts to recover. Nobody wants this to be without due consideration and that means careful product pricing and placement, but that is exactly what I both hope for and expect.

By Steve Roulstone

It is one of my favourite times of the Year and because I spend my time writing about Tenants and Landlords and our thought provoking conversation filling Industry of ours always provides plenty of topics to write about, I thought it right to go ‘Off Piste’ for once and wish every Tenant and Landlord and anybody else who stumbles across this Property Franchise Blog a very Happy Christmas and above all a prosperous and fulfilling New Year for 2011.

New Year new hope.

No doubt in the weeks to come, we will again have plenty of ‘ammunition’ to write about and as always, your comments are welcome, but I feel this year is going to be a good one and we are going to see the stabilisation of the property industry, with sustainable levels of transactions and some relaxation of the availability of mortgages, especially in the Buy to Let market, enabling Landlords to supply what the current Rental market requires, more properties to let. After all, market forces do have a way of finding solutions.

New Topics

This will of course bring many new topics to discuss and I will endeavour to continue to supply a point of view and hopefully some helpful ones from within the Industry. I hope that as a professional Agent (there I go with that word again!) a Landlord and a Tenant and as somebody who has been a Franchisee for ten years and is now a Franchisor for nearly the last two have some valued insights and be able to consider all sides to any topic, even if my assumptions and writings cannot always be agreed with!

New roles

So to everybody who becomes a Tenant or Landlord in 2011 and indeed to everybody who becomes a letting Agent a hope your experiences are good ones and that you receive good advice, good service and find success in your new roles.

By Steve Roulstone

It has long been my impression that Utility Companies really do not have a clue when it comes to understanding the relationship between Tenants and Landlords and the implications of a property used for the rental market and nothing has happened over the last couple of years to change my mind in this respect. Then take the confusion every time a tenant does not pay the final bill and the overbearing reaction of the provider to invoice the Landlord for the unpaid bill! Never mind the ongoing question of who is responsible when?

Just what it says on the tin!

How nice that would be! To have a Company who looked after the interests of all concerned and more than that – understood what happens when a property changes hands three times in sometimes as little as two weeks. It is a fact that some organisations in my opinion just see this as a chance to make money. In my own region, the amount Severn Trent WA would invoice a Landlord for the few days he became liable between Tenancies would suggest the actual annual invoice was up to three times the actual annual cost. But what can you expect from an organisation that in my knowledge takes at least £100 more than is needed by those of us who have decided that paying by Direct Debit removes the hassle of calculating and making monthly payments. (Just work that across the region and see how much they have in their account that does not legitimately belong to them)

Services catered for

Well actually not yet! Yes Companies do exist but they have not yet managed to deliver the services they promise. I am sure the intent is good and without a doubt, they do assist us as Letting Agents in removing some of the hassle we have to go through in dealing directly with the suppliers, but as yet, the co-operation that should exist between them does not seem to exist.

All round benefits

What is needed is not somebody acting as a middle man, resulting in services at good prices (Still amazed at how much prices vary in the utility market, especially if you do not keep on top!) but somebody who can be trusted to look after the interests of all parties, especially the Tenant in ensuring they buy competitively and the Landlord in ensuring they do not fall foul of DATA protection legislation (or indeed be threatened that they have, which can be just as upsetting) and that they no longer get silly little invoices for short periods when a property is empty. (Take note STWA!) The problem for us as Agents, is that we are only ever going to be able to pick the best system whilst not being able to do the work needed to improve the service supplied.

Future competitive market                                            

And the point is that it is very competitive now! The private rental market alone is calculated at being over 14% of housing stock in this Country and I would hope that Companies that are able to work at the way in which utility providers go about their business would take the time to look seriously at the option available by providing both a system and a service which is simple and time saving for all concerned.

By Steve Roulstone

I was reading an article this week about the Court of Appeal rulings on two recent cases and whilst I believe there is some underlying common sense in the decision in the short term, it has also been confirmed in my opinion, that long term, Landlords, who will probably have costs awarded against them in such circumstances, continue to risk the full weight of the penalties as laid out in the Tenant Deposit legislation if they do not register deposits correctly. It has of course raised a question of whether the legislation is now toothless, but it is the more practical fallout that I would like to look at.

14 Day rules

What the review has done is confirm that the 14 day registration is just that, a rule and therefore whilst it is right and proper that all Agents should register within the rules of the approved scheme that they are using, failure to do so is not covered by legislation confirming the appropriate penalties referred to within the legislation. It has also confirmed that should the Deposit not be registered within the 14 ruling then allowance will be given providing it is registered and therefore protected before any court action commences. In fact, all approved agencies cannot refuse to protect the Deposit. But I feel it is right and proper that whichever scheme an Agent or Landlord belongs to should be allowed to take appropriate action in such cases, but at present this is not the case.

Grey area

I hear that the matters ruled upon are now a subject of further appeal to a higher court. Add to this the ability for judges up and down the Country to still make rulings which do not have a common theme and we have what can only be described as a ‘grey area’ and this is the main factor that should be taken from this ruling.


To continue to risk penalty by failing to register a Tenants Deposit within the Tenants Deposit Scheme, apart from flying in the face of the intent of the original legislation, is a poor decision and will probably, to quote a well known saying ‘ all end in tears’ It is the role of National Companies such as ours and the Government approved agencies that carry out the role of protection, to discuss lobby and suggest ways of making this and any legislation work within the intent of the original act. At Castle Estates we will continue to carry out this role and as the agencies go about their task in getting the clarity we all need, to act against the intent will only give purpose to those who would argue against practical changes to make the legislation work to the better for all concerned.

By Steve Roulstone

I have constantly voiced the opinion that our Industry progressively gets more professional year upon year. I was totally behind the recommendation of the Rugg review that both Landlords and Agents should be licensed and or registered having qualified in some prescribed manner. I believe the benefits will be for all to see and enjoy and enforce the movement away from unlawful activities. I also understand the current Government saying they would not pursue this policy at the moment, with the current financial situation to deal with they have bigger fish to deal with!

Breaking the Law

This week, I have had two reminders that what was recommended by the review is still important and that the review was correct to recommend the introduction of legislation in the first place. I have reported in these pages that as an industry we are moving away from horror stories and that renting has become embedded in our way of life as an acceptable and in many cases preferable way of life, but what I have heard this week has reminded me that some people still believe they can act outside of the law!

Landlord jailed

The first case concerning unlawful eviction was reported back in November and was referred to this week in a conversation with a colleague. A Landlord looking to remove a Tenant who had become a Housing Benefit applicant attempted to do so without proper recourse to legal methods and then physically removed the Tenant when they refused to move out. Oxford City Council took the appropriate action and the Landlord was charged and convicted being jailed for three months. Whilst it is always sad to hear about Landlords trying to act outside of the law, at least the Law caught up with him and justice was seen to have been done. Although of course the Tenant still had to go through the indignity of being dealt with unlawfully in the first place!

Unlawful Agent recommendations

The second case was I admit hearsay, but I have no reason to doubt the source or the motivation for telling me what had been heard, as it was bought out in normal conversation and not raised intentionally. In concerned a Local (to me) Agent, who advised a Landlord when discussing the methods of dealing with Tenants who fail to pay due rent and when discussing notices served within the Housing Act in such cases, with a sideways tap of the nose saying; ‘Of course there are always other ways of dealing with Tenants who do not pay’

Legal Methods

Well there are not! Any method of eviction which is not within the Housing Acts is of course unlawful and what amazes me is that agents should still recommend some midnight knock on the door method openly to a Landlord! Perhaps I should not be surprised that the agent concerned was not a specialist Letting Agent being involved in other aspects of the Housing Industry! So bring on the legislation and I shall report such matters that come to my attention wherever possible to further legitimate professional Landlords being recognised as just that!

By Steve Roulstone

It never ceases to amaze me how the press and in particular the BBC never fail to jump on any ‘announcement’ relating to property and place a negative spin on what is being reported. Today I see a Headline which states ‘UK House prices fell in November’ on the BBC web pages as once again, it is the BBC who decide to tell the nation that housing is in decline, still! (this is not the frist time in fact this could be said to be a trend) But lets just look a little bit closer at what is actually happening?

Massive decline

Of exactly 0.1%! That is what has actually been reported by the Halifax now is that significant enough to report a decline? Firstly, house prices are always more liable to fall at this time of the year, because the winter season is always slow for house sales, as anybody in the industry is aware. But is such a small reduction worthy of such headlines? Does it not rather suggest that such a fall at this time of year, is more representative of stability in the current level of house prices? Not it seems, if you are the BBC!

Worldwide media take note!

You see, if you look at other reports on the same subject, then a more balanced approach is taken. In The Wall Street Journal report ‘UK House prices fall as demand slips’ on the same Halifax announcment (Still a negative headline but then good news never sells!) the first lines confirm that this is because of lack of demand, giving credibility to the headline they use, because they report, less owners are looking to place property on the market. This would reflect the increase in owners looking to the rental market as they seek to maximise the return from their assets, as reported by ARLA this week. They do state it is because houses cannot be sold, I would surmise that many have not even tried!

Facts behind the fiction

Only at the end of the report by the BBC do we get to some positive and supportive quotes about what is actually happening, I would suggest the damage is done by then, because most people scan the first few lines. Do this in the WSJ report and a truer picture emerges. The facts are that the Housing market is mainly flat, would expect to slow down and probably fall in the winter and under these circumstances I think a fall of 0.1% is a good performance.

Rental market

My market continues to do well, so why should this concern me? Because I believe that it is overall confidence in the housing market that matters the most and we would all benefit from a confident market. Reports that dwell on the negative and headlines that do the same may be better news, but they also do further harm and delay confidence. So please BBC let’s see the details delivered in a more factual manner, I think we all expect better!




By Steve Roulstone

Franchise News: Renting on the web.

Earlier this year, I posted a Blog about the importance of web presence. Wrapped in the web’ I stand behind what I said in that post, but I have noticed just lately, that it is being suggested that it is possible to open new Letting Agencies solely using the web. This, in my opinion is not correct – not yet and certainly not for the majority of current Landlords.

Current Trends

As Franchisor when discussing possibilities with new Franchisees, I would not recommend starting a new business, in what has become and will continue to be driven as a professional market over the last and probably the next ten years as well. It is my role to ensure that all new offices are given every opportunity to succeed and that includes the need for visibility from a business address, preferably in the centre of any operation. Even five years ago, this was not the case, but at present it definitely is!

Personal contact

I believe that there are two main reasons for this, firstly, as a people we still prefer the ability to have ‘meetings’. The internet has not yet provided a way of assessing us technically, enabling Landlords to employ Agents without meeting. As a Landlord, distant or not, I would still wish to get a feeling for somebody through meeting them, a point which was summed up only today, by one of our Franchisees, who stated in an e-mail, ‘meeting is the professional way to do it’ well I know we would wish to stay professional!

No office to call home

Secondly, we are a conservative nation at heart, and like our traditional methods. For Landlords, that means a Letting Agent should preferably have an office, whether it be retail or serviced, it is where we are expected to work from. I have experienced all forms of working locations in my time as a Franchisee and I know the difference it made once we had a ‘presence’ in our town. We have never looked back! So do I believe in the web, absolutely unequivocally, yes! it is just as important to have a ‘presence’ on the web, but look at it like this would you expect a legal Company who provides a service for the public which encompasses the lives of other people as well to work from an invisible address? Now tell me if I was describing a Solicitors office or a Letting Agent – they both provide the same style of service after all!

Crystal ball time

But in the future, no doubt this will be true, as new technology spreads, we already have the ability to hold meetings across the net, no doubt soon we will have the technology to sign agreements via the net as well, but not until all of our Customers have the ability, equipment and understanding of such procedures will a true Internet based agency be supportable. For Tenants, no doubt web based is perfect, although viewings still have to be held of course, but at the moment Tenants are not our Customers, Landlords are. In the meantime, we continue to give Tenants the information they require through the web, whilst respecting the need to give the type of servcie our Landlords expect.

By Steve Roulstone

I have spent the last few weeks seeing many prospective Franchisees as a result of the National Franchise Exhibition at the Birmingham NEC held last October. This is a very busy time of year and of course very concentrated when it comes to discussing Franchising in general and the issues that affect people when they are considering joining the growing numbers of Franchisees in this country. As I said, concentrated, because I am being asked several questions on a daily basis and one of the major issues seems to be one of cross Territory trading.

Whose customer are you?

Boundaries are of course easier to define in some industries than in others. For example, we cannot insist that a Landlord only buys his property in the Territory that we ‘own’ as part of our Franchise agreement. This is easier for example if we were delivering produce, or providing a specific service at any particular address, rather than a centralised style of Management Business, especially one that the general public are associated with as Tenants, not because we are a Franchise, but rather because as a Franchised industry, we provide a service they want, such as housing.

Whose choice is it anyway?

The question that gets asked so often is how do we cope with property that falls in a different Franchised area, but where the Landlord wants to use the services of a different Franchise than the Franchisee who ‘owns’ the area where the property is situated. This will also be a problem for some service providing Indistries, especially where Family are concerned as they are bound to want to favour their own, and indeed may not even use the Company at all if it was not for this specific relationship.

Let the customer decide!

The answer is of course common sense, well it is for us, I cannot confirm for others. At Castle Estates we offer larger areas than most from the start, this means that our boundaries are always further from the central point (Office location) than others that operate within our (Management) Industry. This greatly reduces the chances of cross border problems, especially as we try to link areas that are both socially as well as geographically linked. But at the end of the day, by allowing the customer to decide and by accepting that it is the relationship with the preferred Franchisee that has given the opportunity for the business to be enjoyed by the brand in the first place, we ensure the customer (which for us means the Landlord) makes the decision.


All we ask is the courtesy of advising your neighbour of what is happening, which again, because of the size of territory we offer, usually means co-operation in marketing anyway! Of course the other result of larger Territories is that we do not encourage cross border trading, as most of the Franchisees activity is bound to be close to the centre of operation and when borders are correctly positioned, for example, wherever possible, NOT through the centre of Towns and Cities, the risk is greatly reduced.