Monthly Archives: August 2011

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By Steve Roulstone

It has been a week of issues that repeat themselves at differing times in our Stafford office and the length of time that we are able to hold property has once again come to our attention.  We always receive calls from people who have decided to rent for a period after selling a home and the advice is usually the same. ‘Call us back at the most, six weeks before you are ready to move’. I have written before about the differences between Renting and selling property and what must be appreciated to understand the Landlords and agents requirements but there is still a lot of misunderstanding about how long a Landlord will hold a property for a prospective Tenant.

Change of mind.

One of the issues that rarely gets mentioned, is the way in which the law operates for Tenants and the fact that they can proceed with the intention of moving in to a property for months, and then have a change of mind for whatever reason, the day before without any penalty. What needs to be understood is that the Landlord has to start the process all over again and stand the loss of rent caused by the Tenant pulling out of the commitment. Experienced tells us that the shorter the period between the Tenant choosing a home and the day they sign the agreement (the day they move in) the less chance of a change of mind.

Normal circumstances.

It is also accepted by the majority of people renting, that apart from the need to give notice in the house they currently rent, by far the majority will move within a three week period. In fact it is still far more common for us to have Tenants wishing to move within one week than Tenants wanting to move in over six weeks! So the market itself produces a normal scenario and this is what most Landlords will expect. Therefore, when we do get asked to hold a property for a longer than normal length of time, as we must always ensure we follow the Landlords wishes, it is very rare for a Landlord to agree, rather, allowing any subsequent Tenants who wish to progress at an earlier date to rent the property instead.

Risk is inherent.

It is when a Landlord does indeed choose a Tenant wishing to move at an earlier date that the problems arise, because even though we confirm that we cannot accept the application for an extended wait, advising people that they have lost the property concerned understandably causes upset. We always ensure that we do not take any payment or accept referencing forms until we are able to commit any Tenant to the process, but even then, by following the Landlords wishes, as we are bound to do by our contract with the Landlord, as the Agent it is our staff that get the brunt of the disappointment, but it does explain why we always try to stop people looking for anything more than six weeks before they wish to move.

By Mike Edwards

A West London agent has been fined £250 with £250 costs, by the Courts for erecting a For Sale board in a conservation area and the story shows just how careful agents need to be and the lesson has to be, never assume! The agency was charged with the fine after admitting the offence at West London Magistrates Court yesterday [August 16]. The agent claims the fee was the minimum possible due to the court accepting that the crime was a genuine error and not a deliberate disregard for the law.

Following Instructions.

The incident happened in May, when a client asked the agent for a board to be erected in the same place as it had been seven months previously, which the estate agent duly completed. However, during the interim seven months, Hammersmith & Fulham Council had designated the road in question as a conservation area. The agent claims it was omitted from the list of estate agents notified of this change by the planning office and the offence was reported on May 9 and the board removed 24 hours later, after which the agent assumed the matter was closed. However, at the end of July the managing director received a court summons relating to the offence, which consisted of 34 pages of evidence, including the council’s claim for costs incurred for three hours of investigation and over three hours of legal fees.

MD Reaction.

The agent was stunned by the turn of events, and while admitting to having been in the wrong, said they thought the prompt removal of the board had resolved the matter at the time. It was not a fly board making false claims of success nor a board left up for months it was simply placed in a road where until October 2010 boards were permitted and erected at the request of a landlord who was also unaware of the new restrictions. The MD is convinced the council intended to make an example of his firm feeling that a simple fixed penalty system would save valuable time and resources with prosecution in the Courts reserved for repeat offenders and warns fellow agents that ignorance is no defence.


Agents need to ensure that they regularly check their Local Authority Planning website and read public notices in local papers. ‘The onus is on the agent to check, not the Local Authority to inform.’ The council had sought a fine of £2,500 plus £500 costs, he said, but after hearing him speak, the court levied a fine of just £250 on the firm plus £250 costs so in the end not as onerous as the agent expected, but the guilty verdict did confirm where responsibility lay.

By Steve Roulstone


One issue that continues to raise its head from time to time is the condition of property when the Tenant moves in. Not when it has been left in any poor state by the outgoing Tenant, because any agent knows how to deal with that problem. After all it is in the agents power to do what is needed to deal with the state and condition of a property when it is the outgoing Tenant that has caused the problem and of course the Agent will also be aware when the work is going to be carried out and when the next Tenant is due to move in. No the problem I am referring to is when the property is new to the market, or new to the Agent and it is the Landlord who is not carrying out the work they have promised and the work is therefore NOT in the control of the Agent.

First impression.


It is not common for Agents to criticise Landlords, but when this happens it is the Agent that bears the brunt of the complaints from the new Tenant and let’s be honest, why shouldn’t they complain, if the first thing they have to do is clean the property from top to bottom because work they have been promised has not been carried out! I know how I would feel under such circumstances and even if it is just one room, because of say decoration, it matters not, because most Ladies will then feel the whole house has been left in a poor state. Now most of the time, one persons ‘clean’ is a matter of conjecture rather than a definitive condition, but the problems caused by allowing this situation to arise for the rest of the Tenancy can be very damaging.

No choice!


Of course the big problem for any incoming Tenant is the lack of options most would have when faced with a dirty house. In the majority of cases everything depends on the move and having either left another rented or property that has been sold, no other options exist and this is when bad feelings really set in because nobody likes to be left with a ‘fait accompli’ that they have no say in or no other choice. Left to fester, the Landlord immediately has a problem on his hands and I would venture to suggest that if the property is being self managed (Tenant find for the Agent) then it is highly possible that the whole Tenancy will fair badly from that moment onwards.   


Check it out!


There is no doubt when the Tenants do leave it is going to be very difficult for the Agent or Landlord to prove any damage or cleanliness issues caused by the Tenant and even if let’s say the garden is not looked after with an uncut lawn, heels will be dug in if it mentioned because of the state of the house when they moved in. The other area commonly causing problems is the furniture not wanted by the Tenant being left at the property. Put simply, just because the Landlord does not want it, why should the Tenant have to put up with it?

Start well – end well.


Compare that situation to a house presented in excellent order, clean and ready to be occupied. Then the Tenant starts the Tenancy well and knows that they are not the only ones who want or need to look after the property. Over the years we have had many situations like this, where the solution is not in our hands (We cannot employ cleaners or move furniture without permission) and the disappointment is that it continues to happen. Best advice is not always listened to, but the follow up from the Tenants is always heard, because we are the Agent of the Landlord and are duty bound to look after his interests it is our job to do so: But it does not mean we enjoy it!

By Steve Roulstone

So Councils are considering evicting Tenants from Public sector rented property because of the involvement of family members in the recent disturbances. (I will not call them riots because to me it was criminality and opportunism of the worst kind, so to avoid any link or possible connection with any kind of justification what so ever, let’s call a spade a spade!) It will be interesting to see exactly how any such person coming from the Public sector will fare with the referencing system (by professional referencing Companies)in the Private sector, because they have been sheltered from the harsh realities of requirements both financial and procedural by being in Council housing.


The main reason people fail professional referencing is the inability to afford the rent payable, and without the knowledge of the individual circumstances surrounding this particular case as reported above, if they were Benefit recipients, then at the very least a Guarantor would need to be provided, before a Landlord would even consider accepting Tenants on Benefit payments. The main reason is quite simple and nothing to do with the standard of Tenant, but because the Council pay in arrears, in four weekly instalments and because the Tenant has to continually confirm their own circumstances in order to continue in receipt of Benefits. Too often I have witnessed payments stopping because of this requirements and it can take up to six months to resolve in the worst cases and with the slowest Councils.


The other significant difference will be the need to supply a full deposit. At this point I would add, not a Council supported system where no money changes hands, because despite the Council being happy to confirm that they will honour problems when the Tenancy starts (in order to get the person of their books!), all they actually do is create another barrier to the Landlords ability to re-let, by arguing at every opportunity and in one case, just refusing to pay because they did not agree with what the Agent had confirmed. Well excuse me, but we do not need any further hurdles to jump when seeking recourse when Tenants damage or mistreat property! But also rent in advance and paid by standing order, in advance from then on. This can be a barrier, especially for Benefit applicants, because the system just will not make the allowance and pay in advance for those seeking property from the Private sector.


I also note with interest the reference to problems in getting cases through the courts. The system of using Section 8 notices is of course designed to get action quickly and there is no doubt that the courts let Landlords down time and again, but there are other ways and other notices, such as a section 21 notice, which can be issued at the start of the Tenancy to protect the Landlord, because the courts have no choice but to award possession to the Landlord under a section 21, but once again, unless the notice is current, some courts will not allow them. But the final point I just cannot resist making, is what the courts reaction would be to a Landlord wishing to evict in the Private sector if a Tenant was found guilty under similar circumstances? Just a small bet on the BBC reacting through one of its typical early morning sound bites, raising concerns on behalf of Tenants!

By Steve Roulstone

I have been somewhat surprised to hear that after many years of insisting that the only way to start in our Industry was to have a High Street presence, with all of the associated costs that this envelops, one of our major competitors has now made a major switch and started to market a start from home operation and from what I know about the industry and process I can only surmise that this is purely a cost motivated decision, because all of the evidence from my own Franchise offices is that the need for a High Street presence has never been stronger!

Historically not needed.

I took over the running of our Franchise two years ago, prior to that, the previous Management had assisted people to open offices in not only the High Street, but also from serviced offices and from a home start. The fact that this was possible at that time is confirmed by the fact that these offices are still trading and indeed have been doing so for many years, in some cases approaching a decade! But what is also clear is that this is not the case now, as I have had confirmed as I travel around our offices and discuss current trading levels.

Inherent differences.

What has been confirmed to me is that the offices with the biggest profile are the ones that are enjoying good increases in numbers of both property and number of Landlords. (This is an import point because it needs to be recognised that the number of Landlords is growing significantly and the growth is not existing Landlords buying more properties) This is not the same when smaller offices are concerned because of the massive increase in competitors. Through both the growth in Letting Agencies and Estate Agencies ambushing our trade, the customer has very soon learnt to look around and there is no doubt that even in a technological age, the best place to look is on the High Street!

Web sites tell no story.

 There is very good sense behind this, because on the internet it is very difficult to see any difference, in fact, the better the web site does not automatically mean the better or larger the Company and because of the financial implications of a poor service, the customer has taken to seeing with their own eyes! At Stafford, I recognised several years ago that when Landlords turned to the web for research, we needed something to make us stand out from competitors. Therefore with apologies to potential Tenants, if we only listed all properties we have available (as Rightmove eventually insisted, because of course Tenants are their customers) we would not look very large, so we have left all properties on our books on our site.

Best advice.

What this current trading pattern dictates, is that any new start (as we are only too aware!) needs to look very closely at where they are going to get new opportunities, because it is only new Landlords who will become their Customers (unless you have friends with property) because Landlords do not change either easily or often! It is the practical day to day reality of Management that confirms this, because unless you make a real hash of matters, you will always have the opportunity to resolve issues before any change is reasonably possible. (Consider standing orders for rents and relationships with existing Tenants) I always believe in placing myself in the position of the potential customer and what needs to be answered may be a hard reality, but one which needs to be faced straight on; Why should Landlords choose somebody operating from home, as against the choice in the High Street?

Starting again?

Not something I would like to do again at present and explains why those considering Franchising are not exactly rushing to the plate at present! But even and probably especially in hard times, we as Franchisors need to be both truthful and realistic for the benefit of potential investors in our Companies. Without and probably until professional recognition for Letting Agents, via licensing or qualification is introduced, however the Government decide to proceed as they surely eventually will to deal with an increasing level of complaints, we have nothing to differentiate us from the rest of the market I believe that the choice for Landlords will not diminish until such legislation is produced, so until then, we have to accept where we are and why!

By Steve Roulstone

Yet another report on the state of the Lettings Industry confirms the increase continues to gather momentum in our industry and unusually, I totally agree with what is being stated. However, because the writer is London / Surrey based, whilst they are seeing the majority of the current growth, I doubt they are also seeing the full effect of the Estate Agents who are now trading in our market.

Same outcome wherever you are!

One thing that does not change is the outcome of untrained or unprofessional people involving themselves in a market they know little about! The dangers are not always so clear and because of the lack of information supporting any Landlord looking for Management services it is not really clear about what they should look for when choosing the right Management Company.  There are many attempts at the moment through Safe Agent and TPO to give Landlords security, but the message is both new and from what we see on the ground, not yet getting through and if I have any complaint about this article, it is that another opportunity to advertise security and professional schemes has not been taken.

Differing degrees across the country.

What is very clear is that the increase in numbers does not always apply as you travel Northward through the Country. I am currently travelling around our offices and not all are benefitting from the increases in opportunities, but it is clear and again confirmed in this article, that a large percentage of this increase is staying with the Estate Agents, who as I have confirmed before, will not wish to walk away from what is fast becoming 20% of the UK housing stock in the Private rental market. Therefore, we need more than ever to get our message across, that there is a reason we are called Letting Agents as opposed to Estate Agents.


Nobody should complain about increased competition in the market place; however what we have seen over the last two years can be best described as more of a flood! When I started in 2000 I would have been competing with probably no more than five Agents. Now, this figure has grown four or five fold! It is clear from what I have found that when Landlords do look for a service provider, the offices with a greater profile are the ones who benefit the most. At my Stafford office, we are still seeing five Landlords a week on average, but the smaller offices are not seeing anywhere near the same numbers.

Professional noises.

So every opportunity must be taken to shout loud and clear that there is a very large difference between trained and qualified Letting Agents and anybody listing themselves as a Letting Agent or providing Rental services. You cannot beat time served (real experience) and of course asking what qualifications are held. It is difficult to prove otherwise and at Castle Estates we would not wait to be asked, providing the information from the start! Of course as the writer confirms, one major difference can be the price for the services requested, but as with all things in life you do not get everything for nothing, so I would suggest the question that needs to be asked is what are you getting for next to nothing, because cuts have to be made somewhere and it is important to find out where!

By Craig Smith

When a tenant leaves a property, some Landlords think that they are automatically entitled to have items such as carpets replaced or walls repainted at the tenants’ expense. But this isn’t always the case as Landlords must take into account fair wear and tear.

What is Classed as Wear & Tear?

As a general rule, wear & tear is usually worn carpets or  a reasonable amount of scuffing to walls in high traffic rooms such as a hallway or stairway. Over time a cooker or hob may start to look a little shabby purely because of the amount of use it has had. Landlords should expect this during a tenancy and need to make reasonable allowances when a tenant vacates.

Certainly staining or deliberate marks are not just wear & tear but can be classed as damage. Yes, everybody has accidents from time to time and the odd drink will be spilt or food dropped at a meal time and replacing a large carpet could be expensive, but don’t forget that tenants can take out insurance for such incidents. (Refer to our previous blog regarding insurance.)

Longer Tenancies Means More Wear

Something that you learn very quickly in this business is that everybody has different standards, one persons ‘filthy dirty’ is another persons luxurious palace. It is very difficult to police how somebody lives in their home which is something that some Landlords forget. Generally speaking, the longer someone lives in a house the more wear is to be expected. For example, a property that has been tenanted for 5 or 6 years should expect more wear than one that has been let for just 6 months. Obviously there are some exceptions where there may be an exceptionally good or bad tenant.

The More Tenants, the Higher the Wear?

Another factor to take into account is the number of tenants who will be occupying a property. Imagine a typical 3 bedroom house, with a tenancy that has run for 3 years. If the tenant was a single person living on their own, you would expect less wear than a family with 2 adults and 3 children.

The same can be said for pets. Most pet owners are responsible people who look after their pets and the property they live in. However, if a Landlord chooses to accept a pet in the home then the Landlord should also expect some additional work at the end. Yes, it is the tenants responsibility to leave the property in the same condition as when they took it on (not forgetting some reasonable wear & tear!) but the Landlord should make some allowances when discussing any costs.

Excuses, Excuses

So we should avoid any tenants with pets? Wrong! If all Landlords avoided these sorts of tenants, there would be an awful lot of homeless people! Don’t forget that obtaining good references before a tenancy commences will help to determine how good the tenant is and, although circumstances can change, will give a Landlord good indications of whether to proceed. The same can be said for gardening, if a tenancy started with a neatly cut and well presented garden but left overgrown and weedy, the tenant cant say that this is because they aren’t gardeners. The property should be left in the same condition and this shouldn’t be used as an excuse! 

By Steve Roulstone

The press is once again full of adverts for Landlord Insurance at the moment and apart from the fact that they mean Building Insurance for Landlords (as opposed to Landlord Insurance for Rent and Legal expenses) when this week a property we manage was involved in a fire for a second time in our Company’s History several important points were raised and although on this second occasion ours was the property next door to the one which caught fire, our systems and practises were put to the test. The fire started in a shed, but spread via the garden fence to the house and subsequently next door.

When Fire strikes.

The important point about any Building Insurance for any Landlord in a Management scenario is that the Managing Agent is aware of all the details and has copies of the policy to hand. This week we were made aware in the middle of Wednesday afternoon that a fire had broken out and quickly established that it was the neighbouring property that was being attended by the Fire Brigade. We visited site straight away, established that our Tenants were OK and started to deal with the problem without delay, because the Fire Brigade had advised us that they were unsure at that moment that they were going to be able to allow the Tenants to return that night for safety reasons. This of course presented several problems and both the Landlord and Tenants were relying on a quick reaction to sort the problem out.

Proper procedure.

This meant that we had to contact the Insurance Company and loss adjusters, confirm the policy, confirm we were able to act on the Landlords behalf, for which with a signed Landlord contract to hand, we were able to do in moments and confirm within under an hour, that should the Tenants need overnight accommodation, they were covered by the policy and made it known that the damage to our Landlords house was added to the inspection and subsequent damage costing by the loss adjuster on day one. Details of who to contact and how were sent in writing and by the end of the day (for which our staff once again have my thanks for staying until all had been dealt with and everybody advised) everybody knew where they stood and how the problem would be dealt with.

Timely reminder.

One of the big issues raised here, is the point emphasised in the current adverts that I mentioned above, because should this not have been a Landlords policy, then the insurers would not have provided accommodation for the Tenants and probably refused to cover the damage because the house was rented without their knowledge. As a Managing Agent, it is therefore important to both advise and ensure that all Landlords are aware of what they should advice their property Insurers and take out the correct policy for a rented property.

First time.

The first time we experienced was the actual property e managed and was caused by a chip pan, left unattended because of a phone call. Again thankfully nobody was injured and the correct cover and thankfully fire protection was in place and the Landlords even provided alternative accommodation for the Tenant until the property was re-built, which considering the reason for the fire in the first place, was a very responsible response. I know that the Tenant, who returned to the original home after the work was completed, has never cooked a chip at home, ever again!


I trust we have now had our share of fire related incidents for another ten years, because the initial thought of possible injuries or casualties is something nobody wants to have to go through but without a doubt, our systems and practises came to the fore for all concerned in both instances and confirm that there is more to Residential Letting Agents than just finding a Tenant and moving people in and out of houses. Good practise and attention to detail may never be needed for individual properties, but when it is I know which side of the fence I would rather be on!

By Michelle Strassburg

Wood flooring is popular in many homes as well as in commercial properties. Landlords often fit wood flooring due to their durability and in an attempt to give the property’s decor a modern touch. We know from speaking with property developers and landlords that in order to reduce costs, those individuals with do-it-yourself skills will often fit the floor on their own.

 As a service to Castle Estates readers we wanted to share first hand the more common mistakes that unless taken into account and corrected could seriously degrade the durability of the floor, resulting in more costs.

 Common DIY Mistakes When Fitting Wood Flooring:

 Selecting The Wrong Thickness – Quality wood flooring allows you to sand and treat the wood if it looks warn, thereby giving it a fresh and new look. Only thick floorboards will react well to such treatment.

 Choosing The Wrong Floor Finish – Different areas require different floor finish. If you are planning on installing the floor in high traffic areas such as halls and entrances, you should look into selecting Lacquered, Varnished or UV oil as they all offer better resistance to stains and spillage and much easier to clean.

 Not Taking Into Account Underfloor Heating – As a rule of thumb, unless the wood flooring you bought specifically mentions that it will cope with underfloor heating, do not fit wood flooring over such heating systems. Otherwise, with time, the wood will expand and erupt.

 Fitting Wood In Damp or Humid Areas – Wood and water do not mix well, and you probably don’t need us to tell you that. Fitting wood flooring in areas with high humidity such as basement or bathroom is ill-advised unless fitting engineered wood flooring. These types of wood flooring are made from a mix of materials (including wood) and are better suited for damp or humid conditions. In any way, it is better to first solve the cause of dump before fitting any flooring.

 Going For Inadequate Underlay – This thin layer which is fitted above the sub-floor is traditionally thought to make the floor more comfortable to walk on, however if your property is in the shape of a flat with downstairs occupants a quality underlay is essential. It will silence the footsteps of the property’s tenets.

 Fitting Over Humid Sub-Floor – Another typical mistake is fitting the floor over a humid surface. The most common humid sub-floor is concrete that has not been allowed to dry sufficiently. When fitting a wood floor, it’s essential that the humidity level of the sub-floor does not exceed 6%.

 Failing To Leave Gaps – Wood is a natural material that can expand in hot temperatures or shrink cold in temperatures. When fitting the floor, it is recommended to leave a gap of 1cm to 2cm between the floorboard and wall to allow this natural reaction to take place without damaging the wood.

By Steve Roulstone

There are three items of news this morning that are all worthy of note and comment, but not I feel, in their own right so I have added them all together in this Blog. They are about a Private Landlord who overstepped the mark in attempting to save money, a report on what TPO is trying to achieve and finally evidence that TPO are indeed acting where required against Agents who carry their logo, when they are not members and do not have the right to do so.

Property flattened in Twickenham.

This report in the Daily Mail today reports on a property owner who, on a property refurbishment, flattened the house concerned to enable him to rebuild the property, because allegedly, he wanted to avoid paying VAT which is exempt on a newbuild project. Quiet an extreme to go to I am sure you would agree and far be it for me to suggest he was justified in doing so, as the courts have indeed confirmed, but the case for reviewing the VAT charges for refurbishment contracts is overdue. Of course as a Letting Agent, we advise many an investment Landlord buying property for long term investment and whilst it is difficult to suggest that VAT should not be chargeable on either newbuild or refurbishment building works, there has to be a scenario which would better cater for both and this report confirms what people will allegedly do to make best use of current legislation.

TPO move closer to OFT approval.

Property Wire are carrying confirmation of the TPO Agents code having passed stage one of the review and subsequent request for approval by the OFT. This is alongside the new Kitemark, as introduced by The National Approved Lettings Scheme that the Industry is also adopting. As regular readers of this post will be aware, I support any move for professionalism in our industry as long as it has teeth (which is what the final article confirms!) and is in the best interest of the industry. This is where I have to take issue with this news, because whilst I am absolutely in agreement with what the TPO are doing and would support any move to have professionalism rubber stamped the Industry as a whole must be wary of confusing the public in what such organisations are trying to achieve. It will be to the Industries loss should our customers be confused by more than one code of practise or conduct being trumpeted at the same time.

TPO wield its power!

It is with great relish that I read the final article, namely that an organisation in the Midlands have been fined for wrongly displaying the TPO and OFT logo on its web site and thrown out of the voluntary membership of the scheme. In this instance the Company concerned were Estate Agents, but never the less the very fact that standards are being upheld for the right reasons (even if the judgement does seem a little ponderous) shows that the TPO does intend to operate as an association where membership does stand for professionalism within the industry it covers. Good news from where I stand!