Monthly Archives: May 2013

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By Steve Roulstone

New portal

Reports over the weekend confirm a story I heard not two months ago, that a serious contender to Rightmove and in a lesser way Zoopla, is about to be launched on the market. Recent price increases on the amount charged for portals have been discussed at length within the Industry and have mainly been as the result of Rightmoves belief that as the leading market provider, they can increase costs at will. I may be wrong, but see no increased level of services for increasing levels of invoices?


Right to reply.

This is a course of action that rightly in my opinion generates responses and in this case we seem to have had a response, which, if successful, will severely dent Rightmoves position as market leader. I will not comment on the scheme in general because we have very little detail as yet and until we do I would prefer to keep my powder dry.



What is worthy of comment and the detail that caught my eye when reading a report on the plans on a property press web site was the initial statement that Agents joining the site would be asked to do so by only utilising the services of one other portal. It seems strange that having stated detail would follow, that such a major requirement should be the only rule released? Unless of course it was released to test the water!


Expected reaction.

If that is the case, the reaction seems to be as expected, that people like to choose for themselves who they do or do not wish to run with. If not, then hopefully notice will be taken of the reaction received because it flies in the face of one of the very principals the new site would be battling against in clearly setting itself up as a competitor with Rightmove.


Visit the reasons.

Please take on board Agents Mutual that you have set yourselves up as an alternative to Rightmove, not only because of prices, but also because of the manner in which they treat their customers. The feeling that we are dictated to by Rightmove, as a customer of theirs, has increased on many levels over the last few years and is in my opinion, a major influence on our perception of them as a Company.


Right to choose.

This is why, when given the right to choose a viable alternative, a large sector of the industry may well do just that. But by telling us in effect, who we can and cannot trade with, is acting in a manner no different to Rightmove in the first place. It is very clear as to why the need for such a rule to be in place is felt to be important to its success. But I would ask those involved to re-consider? Surely a better motivation to potential customers can be found than one that tells its customers how to go about their business?


Landlords that matter.

It must not be forgotten that we exist to provide a service to our Landlords, in doing so we should give best advice at all times. It cannot be in the Landlords interest for Agents to withdraw services from a provider because of a principal of business which may in the long run serve to improve what we offer, but will change little from our customer’s perception. Better the providers work on offering a better service which we need to follow, the principal remains the same, but Landlords do not suffer along the way!

By Craig Smith

3 Agents Fees 290513

The big talking point in the lettings industry at the moment is something I wrote about just a short while ago. Due to the increase in the amount of rental properties at the moment, there seems to be a lot of ‘have a go’ agents popping up. As there is no compulsory regulatory body for letting agents, there are more and more stories of rogue agents leaving their clients out of pocket.

Hidden Extras

There are tales of agents disappearing and their clients having no clue about where their money is. But the other big concern is agents who don’t show a transparent fee structure to their clients which results in a lot of hidden costs.

Naturally, you would expect to pay a higher cost if a higher amount of work is needed. For example, you can buy yourself a pizza but if you want extra toppings you would be charged extra. The same principle applies to lettings, a Landlord taking a tenant find only service would pay extra for additional services such as an inventory. Although charging for additional services is fine some agents will hide the charges from clients in order to try and gain extra business.

I would just like to point out at this stage that Castle Estates have never hidden any fees. Tenants are asked to sign a terms & conditions leaflet before applying for any property which contain a set of possible fees, not just for the application but for almost every eventuality throughout the tenancy. Likewise, our agreements with Landlords contain a list of any fees that may be necessary throughout the tenancy.

Lack of Experience

The problem isn’t just with the rogues of the business out to make an early retirement, it is also down to the amount of agents who aren’t properly trained or have the support they need to know exactly what they need to do. Running an agency isn’t about sitting back and waiting for the money to come in, far from it! There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that not everybody knows about to make sure a tenancy is properly managed & above board.

The BBC have likened the letting industry to the wild west which isn’t entirely true. Yes, there are some bad guys out there but for each one I bet there are 10 times more good agents. But without a compulsory regulatory body, there is often little or no comeback for those who have been affected by the bad guys.

Avoid the Sting

There are ways that Landlords and tenants can avoid being left out of pocket. You should always look for the agents who do belong to a professional body. Although it doesn’t guarantee a perfect service, it does mean there are better routes to go down in the event of a complaint.

By Craig Smith

2 Property Insurance 240513

In our local newspaper this week there was a story of a family who had been awoken in the early morning hours by a fire that had started in their kitchen. Thankfully, everyone escaped unhurt and it was the kitchen that suffered most of the damage. The story itself highlights two important issues not just for homeowners but also to those in rental properties as well.


The first is that the lady in question did not have any insurance to cover the damage caused by the fire. There are a lot of people tightening their purse strings due to the way the economy is at the moment but we cant be sure whether this is the reason in this instance. The costs of food, fuel and energy have all increased no end over the last few years so it is no wonder some people look to cut costs elsewhere.

Insurance is never an area we would recommend scrimping on as, like it has here, it can backfire dramatically. The kitchen will probably need ripping out and a complete new one going in, which is most likely to be a cost of four figures at least! Compare this to the cost of the insurance and it is easy to make a decision as to whether the insurance is worth it.

It is easy to find the right policy you need especially with the help of internet comparison sites and brokers. It is usually the responsibility of the owner or Landlord to ensure the building is covered and the tenant to cover any accidental damage.

Electrical Safety

The fire itself was started by an electric can opener that had been left switched on at the plug. This highlights the second issue of the day.

Although it may be more convenient to leave electrical goods left turned on, the fire brigade and other safety experts recommend turning them off to prevent the likelihood of fires such as this. It is also a reminder that appliances, plugs and leads should be checked for any wear, frayed edges of potential hazards. Again, we don’t know the reason why the can opener had become faulty but couple an unsafe item with lack of insurance and it could spell disaster!

Other Important Safety Factors

Lets not forget that each property should have a working smoke alarm. We still hear of so many people who have the viewpoint that it will never happen to them but it could happen to anyone! Just last year there was a fire in a property that we manage, caused by a faulty kettle of all things! It was only the fact that the smoke alarms were working correctly that the tenant was alerted so quickly, preventing the fire from getting out of hand and keeping the damage to a minimum.

By Steve Roulstone


Many have commented on the Queens speech and it will come as no surprise that it is the element included in the forthcoming immigration bill that I now make the subject of my latest Blog.


Much has been said about the lack of detail contained within the speech and most will see this as a hastily included promise, aimed mainly at the ears of those who chose to support UKIP at the recent local elections. I believe they would probably be correct to do so! I do not wish to comment on the political rights or wrongs of this situation, but there is no doubt the clamour to make political gain from the lack of detail have themselves repeated the same lack of detail in what they have written.


Rather, what detail is known, confirms that anybody writing without including how the current checking systems work in our Industry are showing themselves to be short on knowledge and it would appear, purely intent on causing embarrassment to the Government or making some kind of gain themselves. The best report and summary of where we actually are with what has been suggested against how the Industry deals with references now, comes from A R L A who have summarised very simply the reality of what is being suggested.

In the know!

What happens within the vast majority of Agencies in the UK is that professional referencing is carried out by professional referencing agencies, which include taking the potential Tenants National Security Number which assists in confirming identity and employment records. In effect, we are already able to confirm very easily the status of all applicants, meaning the check is already being carried out and is therefore available for any Landlord who wishes to avail themselves of the services most Letting Agents offer.

In the know but not known!

It is the Landlords who take advantage of the system to accept Tenants without ensuring such checks are carried out that are being addressed by this potential legislation. This point is missed by nearly all reports as the writers pursue their own cause through print. It is therefore hardly a blind leap, to see just how easy it would be too introduce the same tests carried out for others, to the few who have created the apparent need for action to be taken.

Sensible reaction.

Mine is a small point but relevant none the less and I just hope that the promise not to introduce yet another hurdle for the vast majority of honest good Landlords to jump, is upheld, especially when all Landlords who utilise our system for example are in effect already complying. Now for those who read my ramblings regularly, I am reaching for the cupboard and reaching for the drum!


What I do not agree with, is yet again it seems the clear and once and for all legislation required to turn the industry into a professional service is being sidestepped. Whether it is via licensed Agents or registered Landlords, the solution lies with the Government that has the strength to research and legislate in an organised and industry sponsored manner. Every professional body would work alongside a Government to produce what would deal with all of these side issues in one step and give the public the comfort and trust all professional Agents and Landlords justifiably feel they already deserve.


By Craig Smith

BBC Watchdog 150513 CS

Yesterday the BBC aired a program which looked into the ways that some clients can find themselves being ripped off by rogue letting agents. Some of what was said does ring true as, believe it or not, the regulations surround lettings agents are very loose.

The Big Issue

If you didn’t see the program yesterday, there is a clip of it on the BBC WEBSITE HERE. It featured TV favourite Nigel Havers who had a bad experience himself (quite ironic considering some of the characters he has played on the screen!). Sometimes it does need someone like him to add a little weight to an argument, in this case the argument that there should be stricter regulations surrounding letting agents. Nigel, if you are reading this, we agree with you!

The problem at the moment is that anyone can setup a letting agency with no prior training or qualifications. I was speaking with someone yesterday who has heard of one business selling letting starter kits over the internet for a small fee. So quite literally anybody could be setting up in your area! Apparently the renewal rate after the initial purchase is very low but it is the initial sales keep the money coming in and that particular business afloat. I’m yet to see one of these packs myself (perhaps you have one and could let us know if it was useful?) but without any proper training or support, what is the likelihood of that prospective agent surviving & doing the right thing?


I know we have waffled on about this before but Castle Estates are proud to be ARLA members. It isn’t just a fancy logo that can go in our window and it certainly cant be purchased by just anyone! Anyone who wants to become a member needs to pass examinations (been there, done that) to prove they have the knowledge and what it takes. Or let me put this in another way, your property could be worth a lot of £££’s, would you really want to trust someone to manage it who has no idea what they are doing?

There are 5 people in our office who have currently gone through the necessary training and 1 more studying at the moment. Although these aren’t compulsory in the eyes of the law, we prefer to show our clients we are prepared to do this so that they have faith in us as their agent.

Further Complaint

The other issue that the program highlighted was that of utility companies being very difficult to deal with. The main company named was Spark Energy and I’m not going to comment any further on this at the moment. If you are really interested, just read their reviews in Money Supermarket to make up your own mind.

We used to work with such companies after them making so many promises of great customer service and easy to use facilities but they all seem to fall down. We have had so many complaints from tenants that we now no longer use any specific company and let the tenants decide who they should use. We do still encounter problems, usually relating to specific suppliers, but thankfully nothing quite as bad as some of these reviews report!

By Craig Smith

When the law was changed back in 2007 it meant that any deposit taken for an Assured Shorthold Tenancy needed to be protected. There were 3 schemes set up that could offer this service, each working in a slightly different way but all with the same goal in mind. (There are now 4 but more news on that later!)To ensure that tenants’ deposits are properly protected.

Each of the schemes have their own set of rules and terms & conditions but the law governs that the deposit should be protected within 30 days of receiving it. Each Landlord or agent tends to stick to one of the schemes, knowing that all of the deposits that they take are in one place which makes everything that little bit easier to deal with. Although there is no right or wrong answer, which scheme do you think is best?


Unfortunately, Castle Estates have never used My Deposits but there are a few of our tenant find Landlords that do use them. This is a ‘pay as you go’ service where any Landlord or agent has to pay a registration fee per deposit registered. The current prices for individual Landlords start from a £36 joining fee and £18-£24 per deposit, depending on the amount of the deposit.

Depending on the amount of deposits registered, this could turn out to be costly for a Landlord but the money can still be held by the Landlord themselves. My Deposits is what is known as an insured scheme where only the details of the deposit are registered.

Should any deposit deductions go to dispute and the adjudication service is used, they aim to resolve any disputes within 15 days which does seem very speedy.

The Dispute Service (TDS)

TDS is another insured scheme and offers a similar service to My Deposits. Castle Estates did use this scheme when the legislation first came in to place and continued to do so for around 3 years. It was only when the agent registration fees were hiked up, by around 400% in some cases, that the decision was made to switch to another.

Although we haven’t used this for 3 years since, they do now say that there is no joining or administration fees for Landlords. This is another insured scheme so the Landlord can keep hold of the money themselves, although if a dispute is raised the amount in dispute then needs to be paid over to them so they can pay it to the relevant party when a decision is made.

The Deposit Protection Service (DPS)

The DPS now offer an insured scheme, working in much a similar way to those above, running alongside their original custodial scheme. The custodial is basically what it says it is, any deposit monies registered are held physically by the DPS rather than sitting in the Landlords account. Currently, they are the only organisation who offer the custodial service.

This can put a lot of minds at rest, both for Landlords and tenants. There was one agency in our local area a few years ago who ceased trading for one reason or another and we had a number of their Landlords approach us who didn’t know where the deposit was. Some of the deposits were registered in an insured scheme and there is some protection offered but within a certain timescale. Some tenants didn’t realise what had happened until too late and ended up losing out.

As the DPS can hold the money themselves, should a Landlord (or tenant for that matter!) disappear without trace, the money is still held securely.

Your Choice!

So there we have it. There is no right or wrong answer as to which scheme a Landlord should use and everyone will have their own personal choice. The point is, each scheme has the same goal in mind; to protect the deposit that is held in line with the Housing Act 2004 legislation.