Monthly Archives: July 2011

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By Steve Roulstone

In a recent release from the NFOPP in the form of an e-mail newsletter, the writer tried to infer that in this difficult market, prices will automatically come under pressure as Agents and Agencies try to compete with an ever increasing number of Letting Agents looking to take a share of what they describe as a ‘diluted market’ As usual when I read these articles (and no doubt just as people see when they read mine) several points jumped to mind, which could both explain the perceived problem and also the manner in which the writer fenced around the reasons why the matter was worthy of a newsletter from the NFOPP when in reality it was an advert for  inventory services!

Industry wide representation.

The main bodies covered under the NFOPP banner are National Association of Estate Agents and the Association of Residential Letting Agents. Therefore, the NFOPP cannot be seen to post a comment which actually states that the majority of new Agents are not from the Lettings Industry, as anybody in Franchising in this market will confirm, rather Estate Agents turning to our market as a way of earning income because of the lack of sales and as I have confirmed before, because the percentage of Private rental Property in the UK is now close to 20% they can no longer ignore what so many Estate Agents have treated as its poorer relation for so many years.

More should not equal less.

 

But no matter who the competition is, the very fact that we are seeing close to three times the normal increase in property coming to the rental market, would not in my book be described as a diluted market! It is my belief and the evidence I see from our National organisation, is that those offices that have a good profile and are readily visible on the High Street, are receiving good prospects and growing business because of this increase in available property. The problems occur because so many new Landlords are a captive audience with the Agent who has failed to secure a sale and stay with the same organisation, or because the Agency who is struggling to compete does not have high street presence.

Smaller can still be good.

 

That does not mean that smaller Agents are poorer Agents, far from it, but I do and would have reason to question any such agent who also pays for services that as a Professional Agent they should be able to undertake themselves, because as the evidence confirms, our potential customers are being very discerning about where they spend their hard earned money! This is why I believe, it is important to have as big a profile as possible and I would suggest that carrying out every aspect of Managing a property through the staff employed by the Agency itself, is important not only to the Agent, but more importantly, to the potential Landlord and cutting prices is not the way to deal with the needs of your Customer.

By Steve Roulstone

I have said before that the Sales market, which when healthy helps to ease finances in the UK market as a whole, would benefit from support for Landlords wishing to feed the demand for rental properties and current reports on rent increases confirm that the market is reacting to the demand in achieving the reported rises. The market (rent) will of course find its own level and whilst that needs to be looked at as a wider picture rather than just what is happening now, there is no doubt that the flicker of easing of availability we saw earlier this year is needed now more than at any other time in the last three years.

Lack of available property.

The report confirms that the demand has continued to increase over the last year and whilst once again the majority of what is reported refers to the market in London, the rest of the Country is also seeing higher demand, for as has been said for many a decade, what happens in London, flows through the whole country in time. But one point I would like to pick up on is that it is unusual for property to be let within one day! Well at my own office, this happens every year and far more often than the reporter would seem to appreciate for it to be worthy of note. Perhaps they have so much property available in London that renting in one day becomes unusual, for the majority of the Country it is not unusual and hopefully helps to explain for the rest of us why the need for more property is greater outside of London.

Rents catching rate of inflation .

One thing that the current increase is confirming is that the rate of inflation for the last ten years matches the increase in rent for the same period. I am of course aware that region by region this will differ, but locally when the average rent for a three bed semi (most common and popular type of property) is viewed for the last ten years, the increase falls just short of inflation, being between 2.25 and 2.5% per year. Therefore Landlords are not taking advantage of the situation financially, by charging more than is justified, rather the increases are placing rents where they would expect to be in line with inflation. The only area where they perform better, is when set against other methods of investment, for whilst value of property may have declined recently, increased rents, especially for those with flexible mortgage rates, have continued to repay Landlords for their investment.

Is anybody watching?

To return to my initial point in this Blog, if those in a position of influence are looking at this demand and increase in rents closely, then hopefully Buy to Let Mortgages will show signs of being more readily available again. Last time I made the same call, the financial situation was not as poor as it currently stands, with European Country after Country struggling to maintain its own economy without being bailed out and the possible fall out to our own markets should our exports be badly hit. Add this to the effects of our own stringent financial measures starting to take effect, especially in the public sector and it is difficult to be positive, so any request for easier terms would be matched by more demands for care. However, I am sure that there is room for some movement and as heard on a report earlier this week (cannot confirm where as I was passing a radio in the middle of Oxford supposedly on Holiday!) Buy to Let mortgage applications are on the increase and the return is increasing and by ignoring this improving market again, I believe another opportunity to kick start the sales market will have been lost!

By Steve Roulstone

There are times when you just cannot avoid reports on TV that paint a totally false picture, even when you are not looking for it and last Saturday morning as a crowning example of just one of these times. All I was doing was enjoying my breakfast at the start of a long weekend’s holiday and as is my usual routine, catching up with the early news at the same time.  So I was watching BBC Breakfast news (although I do see this programme becoming more of a magazine than a true news programme) when once again an ‘expert’ was being asked for his opinion on this month’s attack at the rental market, increasing rents and the effect on the Tenant under contract.

 Same old same old!

I must say I do get entirely sick of the way the BBC constantly appear to ‘have a go’ at our market, not just because I am over protective, which would be true anyway, but because they never tell the whole story and always leave these sound bites (because that is what they, not a subject debated, just two minutes of perceived problems) with the impression where our market is concerned that it is unfair, badly managed and led by greedy property owners!

Ignoring the law.

The impression left for those who are not aware, is that rents are increasing in many areas of the Country and Tenants already in property are being asked to pay ever increasing rents or being thrown out! Of course this is just not the case. The Housing Acts of the last thirty years have ensured that a legal framework exists to allow increases and to protect the Tenant from ever increasing rents. This is because Landlords are only allowed to increase rents once every twelve months and then by notice, ensuring that if the rent is too high for the sitting Tenant (something that every Landlord I know tries to avoid, because as was equally ignored by the report, Landlords do not like down times when property sits empty) they have sufficient notice to find an alternative. This way Landlords can ensure the rent received is in line with current rates (Thought; if increases were not allowed, would the BBC bother to report on how Landlords are trapped when Mortgage rates increase? Somehow I doubt it!!) and Tenants know they have twelve months between increases. It is worth pointing out, that this notice period is longer than home owners get when mortgage rates increase!

Does the BBC care?

I have to wonder just how many other industries are treated in the same manner, because the damage done by such powerful organisations in this type of reporting is immeasurable. I would like to feel that through the pages of this Blog I can put the record straight but I could never hope to reach the same numbers as the BBC, even in my wildest dreams! No doubt other industries get treated in the same way, but what really put the top hat on this item was that the ‘expert’ was nothing to do with either our industry or the housing market, rather their own in house financial advisor. Now this to me just confirms that they do not care, for if they had done the right thing and actually spoken to someone who knew the industry, the whole article would have been thrown out, as the actual methods as highlighted above would have thrown the whole concept of ill-treated tenants out of the water! So in conclusion, to me at least, it is obvious that the BBC actually do not care, as long as they have what they believe to be a ‘story’ with a point, truth, facts and of course by default ‘The Law’ are not important to the BBC!

By Steve Roulstone

I always find it very interesting to visit other property blogs available and having done so over the weekend, there was one recurring theme that I kept on coming across, and by thinking through the situation one answer that cries out to protect Tenants from what is obviously a recurring problem. The focus of the questions was the state of property and the promised changes that were not made or belongings not removed prior to the agreement being signed.

You have to be there!

And in all seriousness, that is the answer short and simple. If you are promised by a Landlord, or Agent, that repairs will be undertaken or decoration carried out prior to the date you expect to move in, or not wanted furniture and belongings removed for the same timescale, then always without exception, do not sign the agreement until you have confirmed that the work or removals have been carried out or removed. Of course, more simple matters, such as cleaners who have failed to turn up, or a spare bed that is not required can be dealt with on the spot. No the situations I was reading about were matters that needed referring to Environmental Health, or rooms still full of somebody else’s furniture! The best way to achieve this aim? Arrange for the signing at the property on the day the agreement is due to commence.

That means you!

You must look on this as an important date and even if there are several people signing the agreement, they should treat it seriously enough to be present on the day. Then, everybody will be able to see that promises have been carried out and the agreement can be executed (signed) without any issues remaining. Even in the situation I studied the most, where one person was not moving in for a few weeks, either still be present on the day, or have arranged for a signature by proxy and stay in touch (This could be one of the other Tenants or better still your own representative.

Achieving completeness.

This is the name of the game, after all the Landlord or Agent is not going to release keys until all monies have been paid and accounted for (at least no Landlord or Agent I know would consider completing before being paid) so if the outstanding work is that important and I would say state and condition is a good marker for any new Tenancy (how will the Landlord react if and when further problems occur?) do not pay or complete!

Prior arrangements make for better action.

The other important issue here, is that as my own Agency would never consider starting a Tenancy without the Tenant present at the property by advising the people controlling any Tenancy that you as Tenant wish this to be part of the arrangements, it should, if those very same people have any intention of completing the work in the first place, focus their minds to the fact that they are walking in to a problem by not completing what they have promised, so by just confirming this practical and sensible routine, you could be ensuring the work is carried out. And if it has not, then do not sign and think very seriously about if you really want to under these circumstances!

By Steve Roulstone

I have just read a report in the Daily Telegraph, about the rise in Accidental Landlords over the current year and the reasons why so many are looking at the Lettings Industry as a viable method of allowing them to ‘move on’ during this period of inactivity in the property sales market. The reason given for the lack of sales is the locked position of seller and buyer not wishing to negotiate on price, but fails to point out the reason why there is an impasse, which is the difficulty potential buyers have in either amassing the deposit or affording a mortgage. This points more to buyers being unable to negotiate any further and therefore the actual need is for sellers to lower their expectations, or indeed, turn to the rental market!

And why not!

Because this is a very viable alternative and one that is continuing to increase year on year (Let’s face it,  Estate Agents up and down the Country should be praising its growth, because without it, many more would have been in grave danger of closing their doors) and a market which offers many professional Letting Agents, who, because of the manner that Accidental Landlords come to the market place, never actually speak to Professional Letting Agents, rather sticking with the Estate Agent who has been unable to find a buyer, without the knowledge that (I would suggest) there is another layer of services available from our industry which when visited, would open the eyes of these new Landlords to what our market is about and how property can be looked after.

Registered by Law?

Now that does not mean that all Estate Agents do a bad job in the rental market, of course not. No more than all Letting Agents are perfect, far from it. But an interesting statement is made in the article about all Estate Agents needing to be registered by Law, because this does not apply when they all started to manage property in the rental market (if you read my pages often you know what is coming now!) because no registration is needed for a Letting Agent and it is something that we have been asking the Government to address for many years now. But I feel it is somewhat short of the mark to suggest in this statement that Estate Agents are better able because of registration, because if Letting Agents were asked to prove that they were professional, many of the Estate Agents who fell on our industry as a lifeline two years ago, would not be able to qualify.

So the difference!

This is really what my point about this article is, it proves something that I have seen all over the Country, that sellers who turn to the Letting Industry and rent their property instead, should make sure they speak to an agent for advice and judge the difference for themselves. The Letting Agent they choose should be a member of a professional body and registered with Safe Agent, the Industries latest attempt at providing re-assurances for its customers. I believe that no matter what the local market charges (because not all of the country is able to charge 15% (London?)) they will not only have price competition, but knowledge, experience, training and service competition as well. vive la différence!!

 

 

 

By Craig Smith

A lot of Landlords may not realise that, even if a property is unoccupied, they could still be liable for utility bills at a rental property. Usually, unless a property has been let with bills included, the Tenant would be responsible for payments. But what happens during the periods that a property is empty?

Ensuring the Accounts are set up Correctly

During an empty period, the utility accounts need to be set up in the name of the Landlord. It is important to take meter readings at the start and end of a tenancy to ensure that Tenants and Landlords don’t pay for each others energy used. A lot of companies will automatically send an estimated bill so regular meter readings should help to keep costs down. Most utility companies will be happy to send billing to another address, such as the Landlords home or letting agent address, which helps to prevent any debt letters coming through the post.

Debt Chasing and Court Action

If a bill gets missed, the utility companies usually send reminders and letters threatening court action, regardless of whether or not they intend to take you to court. (Further information Blog)) The best action is to act quickly to resolve any issues, the majority of cases are where the companies haven’t taken note of meter readings or start/end dates of a tenancy.

Choose Your Suppliers Wisely!

Landlord cannot force a Tenant to take a particular supplier for gas & electricity, although there is usually no choice for water and Council Tax! However, different suppliers charge different amounts for energy used. If a property is going to be empty for a period of time, it is always worth looking into the prices charged by different suppliers. Some suppliers will charge a standing charge, so even if no energy is used at a property a daily charge could still be payable!

Whenever a Tenant leaves a property, the Landlord should always aim to obtain the gas and electricity providers. If the Tenants don’t give the information, the suppliers can be found by contacting National Grid for gas and MPAS for electricity.

Water Supply

Some water companies will also make a standing charge even if no water is used. This is to cover costs of drainage and maintenance to the pipe supply. If the stop cock is turned off in a property, inform the supplier! Usually, if the supplier has been informed that the stop cock is turned off then the standing charges are normally cancelled (from our experience with Severn Trent).

Council Tax

A property can have an exemption from council tax payments if it unoccupied & unfurnished, usually for up to 6 months in each financial year. After this, a 50% rate is applied and will become payable, although after 6 months you would certainly hope that the property has been relet!

By Craig Smith

Each advertising platform may try to tell you that they are the best to market your property, whether it be online or in your local newsagents. But which really is the best way of advertising a property?

Internet Property Advertising

Well, I guess there can’t really be a right or wrong answer to this as there are so many factors to take into account. Perhaps the most wide reaching method is the Internet with, according to the Office of National Statistics, more than 30 million adults having Internet. In turn, some of the more widely recognised property advertising sites advertise using television and radio campaigns, which then generate more users for the agents using the sites.

It is a fact that most enquiries we take are from Internet sources. The majority seem to be either from our own website, Zoopla or Rightmove just to name a few. Some of these sites are particularly useful to working professionals who might not always be at home to read the local newspapers or they can perhaps even look whilst they are at work or travelling with the aid of modern mobile phones or a laptop.

As an ARLA regulated agent, Castle Estates also display available properties on Property Live (refer to our previous blog on agent regulating).

Your Local Newspapers

If you are looking to stay in your local area, most local newspapers have sections for property for sale and to let. The disadvantage to this is that it will only reach a local audience and won’t appeal to the national audience. We see a large number of professionals who move from various places around the country and even abroad for work or to be closer to family. However, newspapers might only be published once or twice a week, whereas Internet advertising can be changed as and when properties come available.

Of course, there are still a number of people who don’t have Internet access or prefer not to use it, which is where the local newspaper will reach more prospective clients. Most areas have a weekly free newspaper which will be distributed throughout the area and should reach a large number of people.

The Good Old Advertising Boards!

Some people will see boards displayed at a property as a nuisance, particularly if a number of properties are available in a small road. However, on busy roads and popular housing estates, these boards can generate a lot of interest in a property. A lot of people will see a board and then go onto the Internet to find out further information. They also come in very handy if your not sure whereabouts the property actually is!

So Then, Which is Best?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive conclusion on this. Each way of advertising has is benefits and disadvantages, which might suggest that the best way is to use all of them. The best would be whichever suits the clients that are being targeted, in our area there are rural villages where many people prefer a local paper than using the Internet, but also people relocating who find it easier to look at the up to the minute details on the web. 

By Mike Edwards

Under the provisions of section 5 Housing Act 1988 when a fixed term tenancy reaches its last fixed date from the next day onwards it becomes a periodic tenancy. This is an automatic process, no-one has to do anything and it happens whether or not the landlord is happy about it, or would prefer a new fixed term agreement to be in place. Either party can state if they want another fixed term but if the other party doesn’t agree then they are going to end up at best with a periodic tenancy. Or if it is the landlord that is insisting on a fixed term then his only option is to give notice to the existing tenant and find a new one.

Landlords decision.

Few Landlords normally feel that strongly but occasionally if the initial agreement is ending at a date that could make the end of any replacement tenancy awkward – say between mid November and mid March, then it is not uncommon for that Landlord to seek a longer term in an attempt to avoid having to re-let at what is generally acknowledged to be the worst time of the year. It is very much horses for courses at the end of a fixed term as to what the parties would prefer, or indeed insist upon. There are advantages and disadvantages for both parties both in being committed to a fixed term or in having a periodic tenancy. The most obvious for the Landlord is he is at the mercy of a month’s notice from the tenant at any time.

It’s that last day rule again!

The notice must expire on the last day of a period of the tenancy, so if rent is due as per the agreement 1st monthly the notice and any obligations under it – such as rental payments – must continue until that date unless the parties mutually agree an earlier surrender of the tenancy. The Landlord must give two months notice if it is an AST or an AT with the same end of notice period dating requirements. These were clarified in Church Commissioners v Meya (2006) in the Appeal Court and thus the decision is binding on lower Courts.

Notice period.

The requirement of two months notice in a periodic tenancy sometimes causes Landlords real difficulties so the trick is to do a standard visit 10 – 12 weeks before the known end date of the tenancy and while looking around subtly sound out the tenant’s intentions. If there is any hint they might want to go periodic rather than sign up for another fixed term (if that is what the Landlord wants) then serve a s21(1)(b) during the fixed term as a belt and braces position to protect the landlord. The matured notice can then be used at any time during the periodic state. This was enshrined in Case Law many years ago as there is no time stipulation stated in the Statute for how long a matured s21 notice remains valid and can be used in Court. So you could serve a s21(1)(b) on day 2 of a 6 month AST if you like and use it to evict the tenant after he has been periodic for 5 years or any time.

Agreed solution.

Finally if the tenant does want to go periodic then on giving one month’s notice a 13(2) notice can be used if a rent increase is due. A fixed term does give the landlord more certainty – but like the tenant it does mean he is stuck with the other party if his plans change and he wants the house back, so the key to unlock any problems? Discussion! Talk to your Tenants and reach an agreement that satisfies everybody – ah the art of Management!

By Craig Smith

There have been a number of news articles recently about the number of letting agents going out of business whilst still in possession of money that is owed to Tenants and Landlords. Sometimes the office may relocate to save costs but sometimes poor communication can lead to a lot of confusion and Landlords being out of pocket.

Professional Bodies

There are a number of professional bodies that agents can join, there is ARLA, RICS and NALS to name just a few, and Castle Estates Staffordshire is an ARLA regulated agent. By being members of a governing body, this can give Landlords and Tenants reassurance that their money is safe and protected as necessary.

Is Your Agent ‘In the Know’?

There is no current law that says a letting agent must be governed and near enough anybody could start their own letting agency. Some of these agents may be charging very low management fees which will no doubt attract some Landlords due to the lesser amount of money that they would have to pay out. But do some agents have the experience and the knowledge to manage a property correctly?

We are proud to have 4 fully ARLA trained staff in our office and 3 more staff members currently working their way through the training material and examinations. By having staff members completing this training, they show that they understand the current legislations and practices that dictate the world of lettings as well as receiving regular updates in lettings news.

Safety Risks

As mentioned earlier, some agents may not have the experience or the know-how when some matters arise. In turn, this could compromise Tenant safety during a tenancy, for example not having a Landlords Gas Safety Certificate completed each year. The safety check is perhaps the most commonly thought of but there are dozens of other examples, such as the Fire & Furnishing Regulations Act 1988 where furniture provided by a Landlord must meet certain safety criteria.

So Who Can We Trust?

There are a number of unregulated agents who are more than trustworthy and we do not aim to ‘tar everybody with the same brush’ where this is concerned. Likewise, there are still a few rogue agents who will be regulated but may still choose to deal in an inappropriate manner. Sometimes the best marketing tool is the simplest… recommendation! 

By Steve Roulstone

I have looked at three pieces of news this morning, all surrounding the property market and I believe all good, proving yet again that the rental property market continues to be positive in a period of time even for the current downturn we are experiencing that has seen nothing but negative news on closures, redundancies and negative forecasts. Other items I read this morning even hinted that ‘savvy’ business people might continue to look to the property market as a better investment than the more traditional stock and finance markets.

Squatting made illegal.

The really interesting point about the news released by the Government recently, is the amount of reporting that defends both the action of squatting and the need for squatters making this bad news for the public in general, but I would like to pick on two points that the majority of commentators have missed. Firstly, it is totally inappropriate to say that Squatters in some way make use of empty property and are therefore unlocking living space for those without a home of their own. This is just a way of turning the eye from the reality of the fact that they have no legal standing in occupying any home they choose, empty or not! I am not in disagreement that empty property could be better used, but only with the acceptance, knowledge or permission of the owner. I do not need to point out the damage caused to owners who are unable to utilise their property because of somebody squatting.  Secondly, all this does, is continue to take pressure of local Councils. This is where any move to utilise property that is truly left unused, as the Government and therefore local Council need to be the vehicle given the power to unlock property that is left empty long term, and is genuinely available to ease our housing needs. One further point for the writer, it is at least Mr Cameron and the words Prime Minister are suffixed by a capital letter!

Gazumping on the increase.

There is no doubt that rents are on the increase, but we are not seeing any great evidence of Gazumping outside of major cities, but before anybody starts to jump up and down about Landlords making profit, two points again that need to be confirmed. It is not often that I comment that we are in a similar position to Estate Agents as letting Agents, but it needs to be confirmed, that we are duty bound to advise our Landlords if a better offer for a property is received, just as Estate Agents would do for their customers, even more so because our contract with our Landlords gives us a duty of responsibility to comply with and therefore we have no choice but to both advise and react to our customers wishes. But holdfast! These were the same Landlords who were faceing offers on property below the asking price only two years ago and this current trend is only really redressing the balance from that period of rent reduction.

Renting numbers still increasing.

This is of course good news and confirms that by the end of this year, the percentage of rented property in the Private sector in the UK will have increased to something close to 20% and overtaken the Public sector at the same time. The issue that jumped out of this report at me was the mention of avoiding rogue agents in the links. Sorry to be a bore, but how simple would that job be if the Government were to protect this now significant and continually increasing sector, by introducing licensed Agents! (Now where have I heard that before?) For me, as a Professional who spends most of his time pushing the message that qualified Letting Agents are both the Tenants and Landlords best way of managing and finding property, allow me to add one more reason to the case: One of the main reasons we have an increase at present is because the Sale market is unable to move property for owners who need to move on and the rental market provides the outlet owners need. But by default, the Estate Agents who now have a captive audience are the beneficiaries of this business. My comment to owners is that they should try at least one qualified specialist Letting Agent. By doing so, you should be amazed just how knowledgeable they are and therefore better protected and prepared you will be in the rental market! This is what being trained in our market means and only by speaking with a specialist office will you find out for yourself what that difference means.