Monthly Archives: February 2012

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By Steve Roulstone


Buy to Let seems to be making a comeback, certainly as far as the press are concerned anyway, with several articles being published both at National level and at regional level. One such article in the local paper we advertise in,  The Newsletter in Stafford caught my eye this week and whilst in principal it is a good article, i gleaming issue did come to mind!

Ten Top Tips!

The article was giving what the writer called, his ten top tips when considering But to Let and I would have to agree with most of what was written, what I would take issue with is what was NOTR written. On two occasions in the article, it mentioned speaking to people who had experience in the field, such as others that the reader may already know who had invested in the property.

Who Knows Best?

It even stated that you can use Managing agents to look after your property although we would raise a charge for doing so! Excuse the Sinicism here, but I am yet to find an Estate Agent who would do this for free, or a Solicitor that would provide an agreement at no charge! Of course we would charge and in relation to both of the professions I have just highlighted, could assist in ensuring the purchase was done correctly, especially with so many properties being linked to on site Management Companies now and the agreement we would provide would be certainly as good as any solicitor, but nowhere near as expensive! Sounds different put like that doesn’t it!

Blindingly obvious who to speak to!

No what the article never suggested was the blindingly obvious place to get good experienced advise is from your Professional Letting agent. It is disappointing not to be recognised for the service we can provide and the knowledge we can pass on! I know from the people who have come to us and just how many we have assisted in buying property, that we do a good job here. Yes we do turn such contacts in to business and we do charge! But we have never forced anybody to hand over there keys or their money! Rather that as professionals in the field, the advice has been such that our Landlords have CHOSEN to use our services and the many happy Landlords we have are living proof, that the professional Agent should be top of the tree when considering top tips.


Now regular readers of my blogs will know that I take every opportunity to blow the trumpet of professionalism. Well there is no difference on this occasion. The whole point here is to ensure it is the right Agent and that the advice is good advice. Whilst we continue to wait for the Government to bring in the legislation to make professionalism in our industry the norm, all you have to do to ensure you are dealing with a Company that conforms, is look for the (or ask for the) evidence of the professional bodies they belong to.

Check it out

At Castle Estates in Stafford, we are members of ARLA, (NFOPP) and belong to the ‘Safe Agent’ scheme, as well as being members of The Property Ombudsman. By checking and reviewing the organisations (and all this can be done before you even speak to anybody, because the logos, will all be clearly shown on an Agents web site) you can be sure you are speaking to a professional Agent  and therefore receiving good advice, now isn’t that what we all want? 

By Mike Edwards

Late last year a letting agent was hit with £4,000 of fines and costs after a self-employed handyman was exposed to asbestos while carrying out work on a client’s property. The case highlighted health and safety legislation responsibilities for agents and indeed Landlords instructing self-employed contractors, in particular preparing risk assessments of properties and checking the competence of those who carry out maintenance jobs. All too often the concern is that the contractor is qualified and won’t blow up the property – but there is a Duty of Care at Common Law on those instructing contractors in terms of their safety.       

This would apply to obvious issues like asbestos and other suspect materials, but could also involve working at heights or even, as in a case only last month, safety  and appropriate equipment for working across car port and conservatory etc rooves. An elderly handyman fell through a carport roof and the agent was prosecuted by H&S Executive and were fined £76,000 because the incident involved a fatality.              

In last year’s case the handyman, who does not wish to be named, regularly carried out work on properties managed by agents in Cardiff.  In October 2011, the handyman was sent to a domestic property to fix a leaking porch roof. 
As he was removing a sheet of material from the underside panel of the damaged roof, he realised the insulation board contained asbestos. The sheet was broken during removal and the surrounding area was contaminated with asbestos debris. The Health and Safety Executive, prosecuting, told the Magistrates’ Court the removal of the panel and the sweeping up and bagging of the debris would have resulted in a significant release of asbestos fibres into the air. The handyman wore two dust masks while removing the board, but did not undergo any decontamination procedures and was not wearing a protective, disposable suit. The court heard the fibres could have contaminated his hair, skin and clothing and may also have been inhaled.        
The HSE investigation found the handyman had not been given any indication that asbestos was present in the property. Nor had he attended, as all contractors would be well advised to, a regionally based asbestos awareness training day. No risk assessment was carried out, and the agents were unable to demonstrate they had made any attempt to ensure he was competent to identify or work with asbestos. A licensed asbestos contractor was later called in to decontaminate the area. Meanwhile the agent  was found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and fined £1,500 with £2,500 costs.

HSE said: “There are specific rules and laws regarding hazardous substances like asbestos. If we do not enforce these laws, people’s health can be put at serious risk. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and should be treated with extreme caution. “Those in charge of maintenance and repair of buildings must ensure work is carried out by competent tradesmen, and that consideration is given to the presence of hazards such as asbestos.”

Agents should be aware of these risks, and act accordingly. You don’t need to be a building surveyor to understand that asbestos was widely used in old properties, and that it is extremely hazardous if disturbed. If you’re taking on a property that potentially has asbestos in the construction then you should carry out a risk assessment either when listing it, or at least prior to any work being carried out on it. Making yourself aware of the legislation and risks involved surrounding asbestos is a small price to pay for the sake of a contractor’s life.

By Steve Roulstone

Last week I posted a Blog about the changes to the way in which any Tenancy is viewed once it becomes a periodic agreement in relation to the Tenant Deposit Scheme and the various protection schemes that exist. I made a very simple mistake, because I did not take into account the initial legislation, which stipulated that the Tenant could not be charged for the procedures required to register the deposit in any way. My post, which has since been removed, suggested they could, so it is now time to correct that statement.

The changes.

The changes as brought about by the Localism act 2011 and a court case (Suupere v Nice) from July last year. They are clarification of what has always been the case, as far as what needs to be done with paperwork once an agreement becomes periodic. (Passes the fixed term without signing a new agreement) As far as the legislation is concerned, it now makes it clear that the best advice and therefore the only way to deal with the matter to hand, is that a new PIN form will need to be issued and signed, confirming that as far as TDS legislation is concerned, a periodic agreement becomes a new agreement the moment it passes the last day of the fixed term.

Cover all matters.

It therefore also makes sense to issue a new set of Terms and Conditions at the same time, to ensure there are no errors in relation to any changes that have been made to Terms and Conditions during the initial Tenancy. This is of course dependent upon the scheme with which the deposit is protected and can change from scheme to scheme.


The one area which is still under consideration is from when it is best to issue new PIN and T&C’s from? The court case was heard last July, the legislation becomes law in April, but was entered on to the statute books last November. The jury is still out on this one, but it seems a date of the turn of the year would be a good date to start from. This means retrospectively issuing new documentation and ensuring all new agreements are dealt with from now onwards as they become Periodic. It also means ensuring that Tenants are made aware of what they will be required to do within our information packs (given to Tenants at the beginning of their Tenancy) from now on as well.

Landlords to pay.

Now to correct my mistake from last week, of course Landlords will have to pay for this service, because the initial legislation, which this interpretation of requirements is based upon, does not allow Tenants to be charged for the service. In retrospect (how easy that is!) we do of course understand why, but I have a feeling many of our Landlords will need to be convinced of why. Not the physical why, but why once again they are being asked to bear more costs!

Effect in the market.

We will now discuss how this will proceed and will be writing to Landlords whether they be Full Management or Tenant Find, to explain what they must do and what our costs will be for carrying out the role. No doubt Landlords will wish to push longer fixed term agreements on Tenants now which some could argue is not in the Tenants interest, but that is a small matter when considered against what may happen to self managed properties should Landlords ignore the requirements. So overall, another gentle nudge towards Full Management may well be the outcome, a situation we are not going to complain about! Oh and the costs, as far as we are concerned will not change whether paid by a Landlord or Tenant, so we can clearly state that we had no intentions of charging the Tenants any more than we will now have to charge our Landlords!

By Steve Roulstone

As a Letting Agent I looked at three houses yesterday, all at the invite of the Landlord and all for evaluation. Three Landlords who were all asking for my opinion on the readiness and valuation of their property in the current market place, and all three were due differing responses for varying reasons but the issue that stood out was that the message about legislation and property readiness is still not getting out there and we still need to preach to either the unconverted or the unknowing.

House of Mulitple Occupation.

The first was a terraced property which had been lovingly restored by the owners. The Gentleman had made a really good job of renovating the property and had managed to change a property so much that it no longer felt like a traditional terraced house, even though it was. The issue for this Landlord was whether the property would take three or four Tenants as a room let. What came as a surprise to him were the requirements for a House of Multiple Occupation that he had to adhere to, because even though he had been carrying out the work for several years, he was not aware of what was needed. He will now speak to the Council, because even though the property did not need a License, the regulations surrounding safety, once more than two family groups occupy the home, remain the same. He will then be able to decide between renting per room, or renting to a Family.

Property in fit condition.

The second was a house that had been purchased cheaply and the new owner, having started some work, was looking for advice as to a valuation. Unfortunately, I had to confirm that in my opinion it needed far more money spending on it before it was even fit for purpose. This concerned a new RCD fuse board, new carpets, all of which were badly fitted, new decoration, all of which was multi prime colours, repair and make good to several areas such as stair rails, chipped tiling, poor flooring and a general electric check because of the obvious additional wiring installation that had been added to the original for what looked like several years. Not forgetting what looked like unvented wall mounted gas heaters and we had a property which was far from fit for purpose.

Unwanted information?

 I certainly felt that the Landlord did not feel the property was far from ready once he had completed the new bathroom, and my sincere hope is that some other agency does not take the property on without the work being carried out, but such calls do become one of the hardest things we have to do as Agents.  Hopefully my message set around my central point that with such choice of quality housing about, why should a property in this condition be rented out in competition with the rest of the market was understood. The worry is why both of the properties above should get to the stage of what we saw yesterday without knowing what was needed before this stage?

Good advice.

Perhaps it is that people do not really want to hear? But this is not the case with the first Landlord, because we have already looked after two of their houses and they are good Landlords, so it is a fact that the legislation message has not got through, which is doubly compounded, when we heard of just how much time the Landlord had spent negotiating with the local council over matters surrounding access to the property over the last three years? There is a lesson to be learnt here, even for us as Agents, for whilst we knew the Landlord owned the property and was carrying out renovation, we were not aware of its intended use until yesterday and I definitely feel we should have had a conversation prior to the properties completion. As Tenant Find Landlords, we have assumed they knew and the lesson is clear for us to see, enquire ask and speak at every opportunity and what came as a surprise could have been avoided.

Third time lucky.

The third visit came as an absolute pleasure, here was a Landlord who had moved back in too his home, between Tenants whilst he bought a new house for himself having sold his last house before buying again. In the meantime, he had taken the opportunity to refurbish the house again, fitting new carpets, re-decorating and fitting a new Bathroom. Every task he got spot on, using clean fresh schemes with neutral colours, taking the opportunity to tidy up the garden, laying slate along the edges of paths to reduce the burden of weeding for the next Tenant and improving the appearance. Seven years ago, when the house first came to the market, it looked just as it does now and all the time we have been asked for comment and opinion as to what was being done. And therein lies the answer, no matter if we feel we are interfering, to do our job correctly, we must speak and spread the word to Landlords as much as possible.

Lesson learnt.

Of course we cannot speak if we do not get the chance to speak as with the second Landlord, before we are invited to the property, so to put that right, apart from just offering it to the people we do speak with, we are going to physically advertise free advice to Landlords for the next three months. That way, we might just save a Landlord on another day, being so surprised about what was needed from him in presenting his property to the market in a fit and proper state in the first place! 

By Craig Smith

How time flies when your blogging! Today is the first anniversary of our lettings blog and whilst we’ll hold off buying a cake or organising a party we did think that this would be a good opportunity to look back on the last 12 months and look towards the future also.

The Past…

When we decided to begin publishing our lettings blog, the aim was simple; to keep tenants and Landlords informed of the big news and upcoming events in the lettings industry. We do feel like we have achieved this although with an office as busy as ours its not always easy to post as much as we would like but we have managed to keep up to date with the bigger issues.

With 12 months of blogging behind us this will be our 21st post. We’ve covered almost everything from changes to EPC rules to deposit disputes and no doubt this has been useful to a good number of readers.

The Present…

Right now we’re keeping a watchful eye on the news, not just in the lettings industry but worldwide events too. Every main news headline at the moment seems to concern the world’s money, or should that be lack of it?! Everything that happens has a knock on effect on others, such as if a factory closes down and 50 jobs are lost, that’s 50 less people who live in the area that are unable to pay their mortgages or rents.

It’s a tough time for almost everybody at the moment and things cant just change overnight. Forecasters can predict what is going to happen next but nobody knows exactly what is around the corner.

The Future!

Our aim for the future is to keep growing and providing the up to date information and continue to be at the forefront of the lettings news. It’s not all bad news so we hope to focus on some more of the positive updates rather than the negatives. 

By Steve Roulstone

I have used these pages on many occasions to object about the manner in which the BBC report on Property matters in the News, but lately I have been watching with more attention to the manner they report on any subject and I have to say that they are not just treating Property in a negative way, rather, everything they do seems to be done in a negative slant, a kind of; ‘the subject for discussion today is (whatever the subject may be) and here is somebody who disagrees with it!’ approach.


I may be old fashion in my expectations, but I have always looked to the BBC to be the provider of the News, as it is, as it happens, but that is sadly no longer the case! I have stated for years that the BBC the News and insisting we listen to the opinions of everybody and anybody who takes the time to get in touch.

Mind of my own.

My problem with this is that I want to be able to work out for myself what is happening instead of being led down a line of  what the BBC construes is happening, never mind having the extreme views of ‘Mr Angry’ being added to the equation. We are told the BBC is not dumbing down, but in trying to put a spin on the News for 24 Hours a day, they have little choice if they don’t want to repeat everything every half hour!


But that is just the half of it, bad enough that we get individual extremist comments from people who have the time and inclination to get in touch read out as if it is a legitimate opinion (Listen to Radio 2 lunchtime show, they rely on comments from the public) but when the commentators that they produce, live or my video link, all point to a negative take on whatever they are reporting upon, what are we supposed to think?

Is it just me?

I had to make sure it was NOT just me and sure enough, over the last five days, I have failed to find any report that the BBC commentators (or guest they requested to comment) did not find a negative stance. This morning’s prime example was the news that we will soon be able to transfer monies using our phones only, really a simple process for all those who heard it, but the reporter actually stated how complicated it was! It isn’t – it’s simple!

Relating to Housing       

The issue for me now comes in how I am supposed to relate to any Housing news, when the BBC are so obviously being negative, how can anybody view the reporting if it is done to be more interesting, because it is the only reason I believe they can give for reporting in this manner, because they will be aware that people take more notice of issues made to look poor; a kind of ‘oh how can they’ reaction rather than stating that ‘ a problem has been solved’ or ‘our lives are easier because’. So where does the real news come from now if not from the BBC!

By Steve Roulstone

I am taking a break from my normal role to give ourselves at Castle Estates Staffordshire a good old slap on the back and wish ourselves Happy Birthday for reaching our twelfth birthday today. It was on Valentine’s Day in 2000 that I first started trading from a rented desk in the middle of Stafford and as we speak we have just opened our second office in Marston Road, so that we have a specialist office for Property Management as well as our main Rental office. Add to that the two satellite offices we run with specialist in house Wardens and we have come a long way in this period.

Humble beginnings.

You will I trust excuse me this moment of self congratulation, but we have taken the opportunity to advertise the fact in our local paper because they are running an article entitled ‘get to know your Agent’ and as it is all happening this week, it has focused my mind on that day twelve years ago and just how the Industry has changed over these years. It has already struck me that twelve years ago, I was concentrating more on where I would be in twelve weeks, and not even twelve months as I ventured into the market for the first time.

The Franchise way for me!

Castle Estates were my chosen partner at the time; I had reviewed the Franchise market and made a connection with the staff (Mike Edwards) who of course I eventually ended up working alongside as we looked to turn the tide of the Franchise. Back then, I was concentrating on how to get my name out and about, with of course the assistance of the then Head Office, planning my days to talk to as many people as possible. Of course the rental market was nearly half the size of what it is today, and there were certainly far less Agents on offer.


It would appear that the way to get your name about has changed as well. I am not a fan of placing your boards at the entrance to every Leasehold site or Estate, when you do not have a property to rent, but it seems that is the chosen way of the new organisations we have locally. On one occasion at the end of a private drive, three boards were present, all for new Companies, but what we knew, as the Block Managing Agent for the site concerned, was that none of the properties were for rent because the lease did not allow it!

Market increase.

Of course we are seeing a proliferation of new Letting Agents and Sales Agents trading in the Lettings market because of the vast increase in property available to rent. We are currently running with a list of 50 properties, when we would normally have no more than 25 -30 at this time of year! Traditional Sales Agencies are of course in a very good position to hold captive the properties they cannot sell, by offering the option to all of their clients, what we now concentrate on is letting our potential market know that there are different levels of knowledge and experience in this industry and by getting people to speak to us we normally would manage to confirm the difference.

Still hungry.

However, the single thing that pleases me the most in this ever changing market, is the continued desire to succeed, which is not only still in my blood, but that our staff, who have all been with us for several years, also show the same desire. To see somebody that you have worked alongside for many years, not only strive to develop the business but also do it in the correct (professional and knowledgeable) way is food for the soul. These are difficult times at present as everybody knows, but we have gone through it before and will no doubt do so again, so at the moment, while the hunger for growth exists, I say, bring on the next twelve years! 


By Steve Roulstone

It looks as if the rent increases that we have seen on average are beginning to have the effect of allowing Mortgage brokers to have more confidence in the’ Buy to Let’ market as reports this weekend in The Daily Telegraph confirm.  Such providers as Mortgage Works and Paragon are clearly confirming their stance and the fact that potential Landlords have more choice is an added benefit with the amount of choice that is available.

Differing options.

The report makes clear that buyers have options at the moment, with deals to be done both in the open market and of course with new build as Builders need to move on and complete sites as soon as possible and move to the next plot of land that has more than likely been purchased for some time and for builders where land lies without being broken, it is no different than an unsold completed house.

Landlords taking note.

In this case, the article was bought to my attention by an existing Landlord as it had raised a query in his head about the level of rent that was being achieved at his property rather than any advantage in buying further property at the moment. His call was all about the opportunity to achieve a higher rent than he was currently enjoying and of course that is a scenario that we look after for all properties and Landlords we are charged to look after.  

Regular undertaking.

What we do every year is to look at rent levels in the spring, which is the time when most rents increase as the market achieves its natural seasonal high and the time when most people look to move. We do this by reviewing every rent where there has not been a change of Tenant in the last six months (ensuring we review in line with Landlords rights for every property at least once a year) But in this case whilst rents may be rising Nationally year on year, I had to advise the Landlord that the time was not yet right.

Market trends.

We are currently in one of those periods, where the amount of property coming on to the market is outstripping demand. Having ensured we are renting the number we would expect considering both the time of year and current popularity of renting, we know that the effect, which will exist throughout our area and therefore with our competitors as well, will be to encourage offers from tenants and mean some properties will stay void for longer than we would wish. Our answer is to attract as many Tenants to us as possible by reducing our Tenant fees for the spring.

Good advice.

So my advice had to be to hold on any rent increase until we see an increase in activity. (which will not be during the current cold spell) in the meantime, we will do everything we can to attract the Tenants and when the time is right acknowledge the increase in rents on behalf of all of our Landlords, but to encourage Tenants to look at the market when so many properties are available and when we know that Landlords will be encouraged to accept offers does not do the Landlord good service, which just goes to show, that not all reporting can be echoed in the market place and not all areas of the Country react in the same way at the same time! Perhaps it would be better if such reporting pointed out those areas can vary, because on the ground, we know that they do!

By Steve Roulstone

Before Christmas this year, I wrote about an LVT case where having proven that the RMC we were acting for were correct in their actions, the remaining Leaseholders had been left to pay the not unsubstantial costs for fighting the case bought by one Leaseholder against the RMC. These costs, as pointed out at the time, were mainly bought about because of the manner in which the LVT instructed us to respond to each and every point raised by the Leaseholder, both in substance and number of points raised.

No recourse.

I have spent several weeks, again making sure no further costs were generated in investigating the situation and without charging for my own time, discovering, that even though the case brought against the Management Company failed in every point, that there is no re-course what so ever to the leaseholder responsible, at all. I am staggered by this, because it now means that the remaining Leaseholders will all share the resulting liability between them and be forced to pay for one persons inability to understand the Landlord and Tenant act and its implications when applied to accounting methods.

Wring case, wrong time.

It would be impractical to list the case as presented to the LVT, but I really cannot understand how, with the knowledge of what the case was based upon, we were instructed by the LVT to have to go to the lengths we were instructed to go to, when had they insisted upon a pre-trial hearing, which is in their power to call, the facts behind what the Leaseholder wanted from the action bought, did not fall within the remit of the LVT in the first place. Having requested such a hearing, I do not believe it fair either to hide behind any lack of request ‘with specific detail listed’ as the LVT should direct in these matters, exactly as they did during the three day hearing!

This is a result?

So the LVT instruct us to put a great deal of time and effort into answering to the case, which has the effect of generating cost that the LVT awarded, so they can be recovered, but not from the Leaseholder who brought the case in the first place, apart from their equal share, but from the remainder of the Leaseholders on the site, when the actual wishes of the Leaseholder who brought the action, did not fall within the jurisdiction of the LVT !! We have done our best to gain instruction from the LVT of our options to seek direct recourse, but rather than tell us the law will not allow such actions, we were again advised to seek the information elsewhere, which, if not for relationships called upon from our contact base, could have caused further cost in discovering the RMC is powerless under these circumstances.

Some may call that justice; some may say that the LVT exists to protect Leaseholders, not by my book, not in this case!

By Craig Smith

There are many reasons why someone may want to let out their home. A lot of home owners at the moment are struggling to sell their property but still need to move on with their lives, perhaps a job offer in a different part of the country or moving abroad. Putting a tenant into the property can keep the mortgage paid and the house looked after whilst the Landlord is away.

Basic Health & Safety

A lot of these Landlords can come into this situation knowing nothing at all about renting a property and it is our job to keep them on the right path. The Landlord would be responsible for ensuring that the property is safe, for example ensuring that any gas appliances are tested annually and that anything that the tenants are left with a safe environment to live in. Don’t forget that Landlords can (and have been) jailed for failing to ensure that their rental property is safe!

Then there are the less well known items that can catch out unsuspecting homeowners, such as ensuring that stairways are safe. One property that we looked after for a Landlord had no banister rail along the stairway and although it did look great, something did need to be done before a tenant moved in to prevent any accidents occurring. A simple banister was fitted in order for the stairs to be deemed safer, the Landlord would much rather have a small expense at the start of the tenancy than a claim for damages from an injured tenant!

General Repairs

Repairs also need to be covered by the Landlord throughout the tenancy, not just to the building itself but also to any items that have been left for use by the tenant. Of course, if a property has been let furnished and a tenants pet has ripped the cover on a sofa then the tenant would be liable for the damage. But it is the Landlord who should cover any wear & tear such as a cooker breaking down or rotten window frames.

Who Can Carry Out the Repairs?

For general repairs such as gardening or decorating a lot of Landlords prefer to do this themselves which will help to reduce any costs but for more specialist items such as electrics, qualified contractors need to be used. Some of the most well known include using a GasSafe registered engineer for works to gas appliances and most electrical works that are carried out must now be certified under Part P building regulations.